A few years ago, I started seeing the #MayThe4th hashtag on Twitter. At first, I was thrilled. People around the country seemed to be finally talking about the day soldiers massacred a crowd of students at my alma mater. Perhaps there will finally be a national reckoning, if not real justice.
Not so. They were not talking about May 4, 1970. All the tweets were inane banter about Star Wars. It was internet noise. It wasn’t even funny or useful.
Worse, it didn’t seem that anyone had even ventured the short leap from “poorly outfitted rebels resisting a well-armed empire” to “kids with rocks and flowers demanding soldiers leave their campus.”
And for the first time I began to feel the same righteous anger the Tent City protesters must have felt in 1977.
I will not delve too deeply into the politics of May 4. It is a rabbit hole populated by hippies, townies and even a Maoist revolutionary splinter group, all of whom believe they know “the truth of what happened.”
But I will briefly describe the Tent City episode of 1977. During the same late spring that A New Hope premiered in theaters, over 100 students, faculty and area leftists converged on the site of the Kent State massacre, which killed four students seven years prior. There they erected a Tent City to prevent the university from bulldozing a portion of the kill zone (in reality, a bit to the south of it) to put a building there.
The protest failed. (To learn more, you can read this timeline or Miriam R. Jackson’s definitive account.) After about two months of protest and failed appeals to the Ohio Supreme Court and U.S. Department of the Interior, university police entered Tent City and arrested 193 people. The building is called the Gym Annex.
Star Wars Day is the new Gym Annex.
At the time, the university claimed there was no way to move the proposed site of the building. It would be too expensive, and Kent State’s finances were hurting after the murders. I am generally unmoved by financial appeals when large institutions are involved, but let’s give the 1970s university administrators the benefit of the doubt. Let’s say there was no other option but to literally bury a part of the May 4 story.
Disney has no such excuse. They did not create the #MayThe4th hashtag (it seems to have been popularized in England). But they smelled an easy social media win. Even the Toledo Mud Hens, a minor league team near enough to Kent to know better, embraced the fake, nonsense holiday.
This year it has gotten completely out of hand, with Disney attempting to commandeer the copyright of other people’s tweets:
Unlike the Disney stunt, at least something good eventually came of the Tent City episode. The legacy of that resistance helped to normalize the May 4 Commemoration, which the university now embraces as a historical responsibility. Administrators this year were even willing to weather a storm of controversy and pay $83,000 to have Jane Fonda speak at the 50th commemoration, until coronavirus canceled it.
We could do something similar with this Disney hashtag.
Here’s what I’m thinking.
It’s not too late to take back Star Wars Day for those four students, gunned down like enemy combatants. If they had lived to see the movies, maybe they too would have loved the underdog story of Luke, Leia and Han. The story of regular people (and droids, etc.) who stood up to power.
So please, go ahead and tweet #MayThe4th be with you. But add #KentStateMay4 to it.
In real life, human bodies are no match for guns and heavy machinery. At home and abroad, the earth is pocked with the graves of martyrs, marked and unmarked.
But their stories remind us why we carry on. In life as in fiction, no one roots for the Empire.