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EMMER'S TALK

 

To listen to the original WOBC recording, you can access the Windows Media Audio (.wma) file by clicking hereIt's slightly more than six megabytes and runs 8 minutes 53 seconds.

 

(During an anti-war demonstration at Oberlin College on February 20, 1969, senior Bill Hedges introduced a guest, SDS representative Howard Emmer.)

Now we're going to talk about this, and specific things about Oberlin, some more in a minute.  But there's a person here who goes to Kent State, who last summer met with representatives from the people in Vietnam that have gotten together and seen what the power of those people can do.  He met with the NLF in Budapest, and he's going to talk for just a few seconds on what he learned in talking to those people.  Howie Emmer.

(Applause)

There are a number of things that just the fact that I had the opportunity to meet with the NLF and representatives from North Vietnam say about our struggle and their struggle.  And there are things that I learned that were facts that have to do with the kind of struggle that they lead, facts that carry their struggle on.

But there was also something else.  There was a feeling that we are part of the same struggle.  That the Vietnamese and the Americans, although we fight in different ways because our situations are different, we're all fighting U.S. imperialism.  Now I'd like to talk about those two things.

The National Liberation Front

First I'd like to talk about a few things about the way in which the NLF works, what it sprung from, and specifically how their struggle, how their armed forces, how their villages, are very different from the kinds of institutions in our society.

The NLF is a combination national liberation movement and class movement.  That is to say that we learned from the people of the Third World that the Vietnam War springs from something called imperialism.

What imperialism means to them is that the United States is interested in using those countries to fulfill the military and the economic needs of our country.  At the same time, because of those kinds of interests, we prop up the Vietnamese elite, an economic elite.  There are rich Vietnamese landlords.  There are rich people in Vietnam, even though it's a so-called poor country.

So that in their, in the process of their struggle, between '54 and '59 they had peaceful demonstration.  They walked down the street; they appealed to the government.  “Don't draft our boys.”  You know, “We want elections.”  That kind of stuff.  They were repressed.  They weren't allowed to have the things they wanted.

What they understood was that it was the very basic core of the institutions in their country which kept the rich landlords up and kept the peasants down.  That's to say that the land couldn't belong to two people at the same time.  They understand to have real freedom, they'd have to take their own land back.

Okay.  So, some of the dynamics of the kind of struggle that's based on that idea, that's based on The People are the ones who deserve what happens in the institutions in the society, and The People are the ones that should control.

For instance:  The rank and file, the rank and file in the Liberation Army in Vietnam elect the commanders.  Before every action, they sit around on equal footing discussing the nature of the action.  Have they done good political work with the people?  Will the people understand the action?  How to carry it off just plain physically?  And if a commander f---s up (although it doesn't happen too often), the people in the army, the rank and file, have the opportunity to relieve him of his duty.

And why that can work is because all those people in that army were peasants, were poor.  Or the ones who weren't understand that the poor in that society are the ones who deserve a good life.  And that it's that kind of internal democracy in institutions which can flow freely and well and flexibly with a good feeling when there's that understanding of who should control.

Western Imperialism

Okay, so how does that relate to our struggle?  And I think that's very important.

What I think that means is that the Viet, um, when the Vietnamese started talking about imperialism, and we started having marches with 500,000 people down the city of New York and we couldn't change that, we listened a little closely — closer.  And we read our books a little more about imperialism.

And what we saw was that in this century, Woodrow Wilson and then later David Rockefeller, the important political and economic leaders, decided that the way in which the United States ruling class could keep their financial stability — because of the need for, uh, the relative need between consumer consumption and production — they decided the way that it could be only done was to go beyond the bounds of this country.  And we started exploiting peasants in Guatemala.  In Guatemala, there's a struggle now that's at the stage that Vietnam was in '61.  In Cuba, United Fruit owned 80% of the agriculture.  All over Southeast Asia, America has a lot of interest.  That was a conscious decision on the part of the rulers in this nation to do that, to keep this economy strong.

Okay, so what we understood were the roots of imperialism, that imperialism comes from a society that's a class society, because ruling leaders who make the decisions and institutions needed to exploit poorer people, and need to use us as middle-class people in the slots that they want to put us in to fulfill certain functions.  So that imperialism is only needed because of the class society that we live in, and it flows out of that.

The Wider Perspective

So how does that relate to us, again?  What that says is maybe the struggle is longer and is broader than just protesting.

Maybe it means that if we see ourselves in terms of really doing something, stopping imperialism, maybe it means a fight to the point at which not only do we protest but we stop recruiters from coming on campus.  We stop Chase Manhattan from coming here.

Everywhere, though, see, on every campus, we've got to see that this struggle at Oberlin is powerful if struggles like it take place all over the place.  That if students decide that recruiters aren't going to come on their campus, all over the place, that ROTC — there are 348 ROTCs all over this country — and if those ROTCs aren't going to function, then we can make a direct effect on imperialism.

[An ROTC, or Reserve Officers' Training Corps, trains college students to be military officers.  Until the 1960s, many major universities required compulsory ROTC for all their male students.  Kent State had an ROTC program; Oberlin did not.  Nationwide, antiwar students were violently opposed to any military presence on their campuses, and they would burn 30 ROTC buildings in May 1970.]

But, but, the power structure in universities, which is linked to the corporate and military elite, ain't gonna give us that.  Ain't gonna.  Before the ROTCs are thrown off campus in this country, all the students will be thrown off campus.  And that's true, and that's serious, because they need second lieutenants.  They need them.  Second lieutenants are dying fast in Vietnam.  (Light laughter)   Really.  They're getting killed off.  And that's us.  That's not only . . .

So what I think we've got to understand is what we've just been beginning to understand.  So the process by which you struggle, you've just got to learn from it by doing it.

But what we've got to understand, it's that the Vietnam War is only a representation of something much bigger that goes to the very roots of this society; that we've got to transform the institutions, not just reform them.  And we want to build a movement that can stop imperialism, that can build a society which doesn't keep people into classes, which doesn't necessarily exclude black and white working class from coming to Oberlin, and which doesn't specifically include middle class coming to Oberlin.  And we've got to decide to do that.

And I think it's at that point, when we understand how hard it's going to be, how long it's going to be, that that changes to that and we start fighting.

(Applause) 

[The phrase “that changes to that" must have been accompanied by gestures.  Perhaps the speaker began by giving the two-fingered Peace sign, then turned the back of his hand toward the audience while clenching his fist.]

 

AFTERWORD

Eight weeks after giving this talk at Oberlin College, Howard Emmer was arrested at Kent State University.

Internet research indicates that he came from a Communist family.  “By 1964, more than a dozen ‘red diaper babies,’ sons and daughters of old-line Communist Party members, were infiltrating and building the ‘New Left’ movement on U.S. college campuses,” wrote Eugene H. Methvin at National Review Online in 2008.  “Bettina Aphtheker, a secret CP member, led Berkeley's infamous ‘Free Speech Movement.’  Howard Emmer, another red diaper baby, led ‘the movement’ at Kent State.”

On April 8, 1969, SDS members chanting “Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh” marched through Kent State buildings to disrupt classes.  A disciplinary hearing for two of the demonstrators met on April 16.  Wrote Alan Stang in American Opinion in 1974, “About one hundred revolutionaries smashed into the Music and Speech building where the hearing was being held, destroyed property, and again attacked police officers.  Of the fifty-eight demonstrators arrested, ten were not even students at the school.”

Among those arrested, according to Clark A. Thomas, were SDS leaders Colin Neiburger, Edward O. Erickson, Jeff Powell, and Howard Emmer.  These four spent the next year in jail.  They were released on April 29, 1970.

The following night, President Richard Nixon announced that American troops were going into Cambodia.  The next day, demonstrators including Emmer began their protest at Kent State.  The night after that, they burned the ROTC building.  The National Guard was called out, and on May 4 there was gunfire.  There were four dead in Ohio.

Methvin notes that “the ‘rads’ used these ‘martyrs’ to promote nationwide sympathy strikes that shut down some 1,700 college campuses.”  I described the situation on one of those campuses in these letters.

 

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