99% Movement – 1970 Style

A Facebook friend who has become taken by the Occupy XXX movement of late can’t understand why I’m so cynical about it, particularly since she perceives me as being somewhat left of center.

I tried to explain to her that I’ve been the protest / demonstration route, got the T-shirt AND the gas mask.

When I was working at The Athens Messenger in Athens, Ohio in the late 60s, early 70s, we didn’t get up to Columbus all that much. I don’t have any idea why I shot this Tax Reform demonstration in the state capital on April 18, 1970. It has a lot of the trappings of the Occupy Wall Street movement.

(You can click on any photo to make it larger.)

These guys are wearing blazers and wingtips

A number of things caught my eye in this photo

  • The two black guys in berets in the front row. You generally didn’t see blacks involved in demonstrations in Athens unless it was a Civil Rights issue. They understood how things could suddenly get ugly and they were pretty sure who would be the first targets when the cops started taking off name tags, covering badge numbers and breaking out the bats and hats.
  • There are frat-type business majors in suits and blazers walking next to some neatly scruffy students. Some of these guys are wearing loafers and wingtips and TIES, no less.
  • There’s a conspicuous absence of stereotypical hippies in tattered clothes and long hair.

How is the message being received?

Based on the expressions on the faces of these two women, it looks like a mixture of curiosity and “What’s the awful smell?”

Youth response isn’t much different

This boy’s furrowed brow and crossed arms reads to me that he’s wondering “What’s this all about and what does it mean to me?”

Deja vu

So, why am I cynical? Our political system is broken. It’s all about politics, posturing and fundraising, not about governing. I’d love to see it changed, but I don’t think that 99% of the people feel that way. Even when young males had a personal stake in not being shipped off to a war in Southeast Asia, there wasn’t 99% acceptance of the antiwar movement.

The folks who are in the Occupy XXX may be in the group of the population that is not in the top 1% of the wealth, but they are far from having 99% of the country behind them. If I had to do a breakout, I’d say you have the 1% who control the wealth and have the focus to keep it; you have the .0001% who are in the movement, and the remainder of the population is watching Dancing with the Stars.

What happened to these kids?

I wonder what happened to the people at this demonstration? They have a serious look to them, for the most part. They have a mixture of union support, black militants, preppies in ties, a Clean for Gene overall appearance (referring to the kids who made the ultimate sacrifice – cutting their hair and dressing up to campaign for Gene McCarthy) and an air of seriousness.

The young man on the left looks defiant and challenging with his clenched fist salute, but the young fellow on the statue at the right, is delivering his salute with a smile. In fact most of the faces show a mixture of smiles or boredom.

What a difference a few weeks makes

The envelope sleeve says that these photos were taken April 18, 1970.

  • President Richard Nixon announced the Cambodian invasion on April 30.
  • Ohio Governor James Rhodes said student protestors were“worse than the Brownshirts and the Communist element and also the night riders and the vigilantes. They’re the worst type of people that we harbor in America. I think that we’re up against the strongest, well-trained, militant, revolutionary group that has ever assembled in America. We’re going to eradicate the problem, we’re not going to treat the symptoms.”
  • Four students were shot dead at Kent State on May 4.
  • Ten days later, on May 14, police fired for about 30 seconds on a group of students at Jackson State in Mississippi, killing two and wounding 12 others.

For What It’s Worth

So, where are we headed? This demonstration’s import was so little that I don’t even recall what it was about.Whatever it was about was buried by the events of the next few weeks.

The Buffalo Springfield’s song For What It’s Worth has become a cliche for the 60s. I’m beginning to hear it being played again.

There’s battle lines being drawn.
Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong.
Young people speaking their minds,
Getting so much resistance from behind.
It’s time we stop, hey, what’s that sound?
Everybody look what’s going down.

What a field day for the heat.
A thousand people in the street,
Singing songs and carrying signs,
Mostly say, “Hooray for our side.”
It’s time we stop, hey, what’s that sound?
Everybody look what’s going down.

Here’s an excellent interpretation of the song, by the way.

Is the next verse going to be a replay of OHIO?

I wonder if this generation will have a Neil Young song to commemorate it?

Tin soldiers and Nixon coming,
We’re finally on our own.
This summer I hear the drumming,
Four dead in Ohio.

Gotta get down to it
Soldiers are cutting us down
Should have been done long ago.
What if you knew her
And found her dead on the ground
How can you run when you know?

Sorry for getting all political on you. Someone on Facebook posted that journalists have the right, if not the obligation to take political stands. I argued that was wrong. As soon as you are seen as an advocate, then you cease to be effective. People assume that you are unable to cover an event objectively. For that reason, I never actively supported a political candidate, sported a bumper sticker nor participated in any action groups. I commented in the thread that I was sure that no candidate I ever covered had any idea what my personal feelings were.

“One of these days you’re going to have to choose a side”

My biking partner, also a journalist, said she was discussing the thread with a friend who mentioned my comments. I was pleased to hear that he told her, “I worked with that guy for 16 years and I never had a clue where he stood [politically].”

I had some classes at OU with a young activist I truly admired. She was smart and did more than talk about being involved. In her spare time, she worked with poor Appalachian children and took up other causes that weren’t mainstream.

One afternoon I was at the jail when a busload of protestors was being brought in for booking. I recognized my friend and asked if she was OK or needed anything. I’ll never forget the look she gave me when she said, “Ken, one of these days you’re going to have to put down that damned camera and choose a side.”

She was wrong.


Is Cairo Worth Saving?


By the time you read this, Cairo may or may not still be there. It all depends on how much higher the river gets and whether the Corps of Engineers has to blow the levee at Bird’s Point to reduce pressure on the city’s floodwall.

I’m not going to get into the Sophie’s choice argument about whether farms in Missouri should be flooded to save a city in Illinois.

I am going to spend several days sharing photos that I hope will answer those folks who ask, “Why should we care about Cairo?”

Fort Defiance

I was on my way back to Ohio Oct. 14, 1968, when I shot this photo at Fort Defiance, the southernmost point in Illinois, where the waters of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers meet  It’s long been one of my favorite pictures.

Songwriter Stace England wrote an album of songs about Cairo. One is titled,  The North Starts in Cairo, where he points out that black bus travelers coming from the South were segregated from whites by a curtain until they crossed the Ohio River into Cairo. Here’s a sample of The North Starts In Cairo. It’s worth buying the whole Greetings From Cairo, Illinois album. (If you click on this Amazon link, I get 6% at no additional cost to you.)

It’s a great selection of songs, all historically accurate and done in a variety of ways.

Where the waters mingle

It’s just as pretty today.

How safe is that flood gate?

I’m sure that everyone who has driven under the massive flood gate at the north end of the city has wondered, just how safe is that thing, anyhow?

A plaque in the tunnel says “The Big Subway Gate” was built in 1914. It’s 60 feet wide, 24 feet high and five feet thick. Even though it weighs 80 tons, it has a counterweight that weighs almost as much, so it can be operated by two men, one at each end.

The other thing that Dad always impressed upon me was that Cairo was a notorious speed trap. Don’t go even one mile per hour over the limit, he warned on every trip through.

My first riot

I covered my first riot in Cairo. Actually, by the time I got there, the National Guard had been called out and things had pretty much settled down. Still, I learned some lessons that served me well during the turbulent 60s and 70s and 80s.

I’ll have photos from July 1967 and will touch on the turmoil that sent the city’s population into a freefall.

Elegant mansions

Cairo is noted for its historic buildings. The Magnolia Manor is one of the most famous. Within a block of it, I saw one that could be fixed up equally as nicely for an unbelievably low price.

I have to admit that I haven’t spent much time on the pretty side of town. Years ago, when I was first getting into this racket, someone asked, “Do you want to shoot for National Geographic?”

I responded, “I don’t think that’ll work out. National Geographic photographers stand on trash cans to shoot pretty pictures of roses. I trample roses to shoot photos of trash cans.”

Collapsing buildings

It’s equally noted for its decaying buildings. I took this picture Oct. 28, 2008.

Whole block knocked down

When I came back in April of 2010, the whole block had been knocked down.

“Why?” the sign asks

“Why?” reads the sign on what I think had been a bar. I’m assuming the 1933-2005 refers to the years of operation.

The bigger question is “Why didn’t a city located at the confluence of two of the nation’s largest rivers ever meet its potential?”

I ask your indulgence while I step outside Cape County for a few days to share with you some of the hundreds of photos I’ve taken in Cairo over the last nearly 50 years.

I hope it’ll still be there on my return. The bridge leading to Wickliffe was closed, so I couldn’t go that way on my way back to Florida this trip.