Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

Half a century later the emotions still sting. May 4, 1970, with “tin soldiers and Nixon’s coming,” per Neil Young’s lyric, four young anti-Vietnam war protesters were shot and killed by National Guardsmen at Kent State University.

Many friends at Yorktown High School were outraged enough to join the angry thousands who hit the streets. They crossed the Potomac for a coming of age that boomers never forgot.

The subsequent nationwide Kent State protests came just a week after the original Earth Day demonstrations. (Several years ago, Earth Day founder Dennis Hayes told me he never made it to the big Washington march because he was on planes between New York and Seattle.)

For us teens, such happenings brought run-ins with school authorities. On that first Earth Day, Yorktown student government president Steve Dryden and pals “skipped school and rode our bikes to the mall for the big demo,” he recalls. “I remember Alan Holt, student council adviser, standing in the parking lot pleading with us not to do it.”

Anger over Kent State came just six months after 500,000 gathered in D.C. for the biggest Vietnam moratorium march (for which I was a marshal). A year later came the more violent “May Day” 1971 protests designed to shut down the Washington “war machine.”

Brian Hazeltine remembers that after Kent State, Yorktown student activist Jimmy Massey “came to school with black armbands and flyers to encourage a student protest at the school board. For handing these out, we got hauled into the office, where discussions ensued in regards to our demands.” (Massey was unsuccessfully prosecuted by the county.) “We did get a sense of power from making the administration sweat,” Hazeltine said. “We got an assembly to air our concerns about school and the war.”
Downtown protesting after President Nixon invaded Cambodia, classmate Hugh Hegyi was “trying to meet up with our friends. I don’t think I ever found the main protest,” he recalls. “All I remember is washing off in the middle of the Reflecting Pool. About a dozen mounted Park Police charged some protestors” who may have been throwing rocks.

The youth protests were divisive, draft resistance scorned. My conservative football teammates insisted we had to defeat overseas communism. Sarah Anders, who still has her poster from the April 24, 1971, anti-war march, said she doesn’t “remember any of the speakers. The guy I was seeing was tripping. He was not having a good time, and none of us could get over how stupid it was to trip in an enormous crowd.”

Jean Lichty’s memories revive the 1971 May Day riots. She was scheduled to intern at Common Cause on K St. “I caught the bus on Lee Highway. As the bus approached Key Bridge, I saw a National Guardsman lining the bridge and ramp as if it were a military zone,” she said. “But once debarked, I was not able to walk a block before encountering protesters blocking traffic at an intersection, chanting `Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh.’ I walked with them in solidarity to the next intersection, but within minutes, chaos ensued as police threw canisters of tear gas at us. I arrived at Common Cause disheveled and upset.”

Telephone scammers, always unwelcome, are active during the corona crisis. I’ve received three calls purporting to come from Dominion Energy. As I explained to an interviewer for WUSA9-TV, one was a baritone male warning me my power would be cut off in 30 minutes if I didn’t settle my “past due” payment. A second was a female rushing me to punch a key to learn more about “discount” emergency subsidies for which I’m allegedly eligible. Both implausible, as Dominion confirmed.

Back in the legit world, the crisis has prompted affluent Arlingtonians to step up food donations. Though we’re fortunate not to be facing the overwhelmed food banks reported elsewhere, the Arlington Food Assistance Center has seen a 30 percent hike in referrals for needy families. Government and nonprofit organizations have formed a Coalition for a Hunger-Free Arlington.