New Priorities: July 1970-May 1971

The events of May 1970 marked the pinnacle of  the anti-War effort at Northeastern. After months of  protests, strikes, and police riots, students were exhausted and still felt ignored at both the local and national level.  Faced with a declining economy, many spent the rest of 1970 -- and the remaining years of the War -- focused on finding jobs, landing co-op, and protecting financial aid amidst rising tuition and federal aid cuts. Even as Nixon began to de-escalate military intervention, many students seemed to question how consequential their organizing had been, and grew increasingly disenchanted with the anti-War movement.

July - August 1970

Several reports were released in the summer of 1970 pertaining to student life on campus. In July, the Mayor’s Office of Human Rights released a report acknowledging that city police had used excessive force in the Hemenway Street incident. That same month, the Boston Police Department launched an official criminal investigation into the events, following pressure from the Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, and the Mayor’s Office. In the report, Police Commissioner Robert McNamara admitted that police in the second charge had been “over-zealous in carrying out the duties”, “did not maintain their professional self control”, and “did use unnecessary force in dispersing this unlawful assembly" ("Hemenway Report Issued" 1970). The officers themselves denied any misconduct, and there was no further investigation into individual perpetrators.
The following month, President Knowles released his annual report which addressed the growing pressure college presidents faced in sharing responsibility and power with students and faculty. In the address, the President asserted that Northeastern’s public image suffers from “faculty members, who support radical students, especially those who take over facilities and destroy property" (Cauldron 1971, 250). Students criticized the report for ignoring their political activism and social reform efforts.

September - December 1970

More than a year after their appointment, the ROTC Committee finally released a report recommending several changes to Northeastern’s chapter. These included a reduced curriculum from 396 to 196 hours and continued discussions with the Army to expel drills and weapons from campus. Knowles stated that he would rather a central Boston ROTC headquarters than smaller training campuses, and suggested the Committee’s recommendations were related to decreased enrollment in Northeastern’s chapter.
Indeed in the fall of 1970, only 110 of Northeastern’s 3,196 incoming freshmen joined ROTC and small protests against the chapter continued on campus. An anti-ROTC sub-committee of the Freshman Orientation Board formed over the summer and planned a rally for the Tuesday of Freshman Orientation Week. Despite claiming to have requested permission for the event, four students lost their Student Center privileges during the rally.
Dwindling enrollment in Northeastern’s ROTC chapter did not mean a singularly leftist student body. Only three percent of students identified themselves as “radical” in the fall of 1970, a drop from eight percent the preceding spring. Despite a growing sense of political apathy among their peers, many students continued to petition and protest for social reform and student power throughout the 1970s, particularly in relation to African-American student life and financial aid reform.
The remainder of 1970 saw several small anti-War protests on campus. In September, the Student Council helped organize a hunger strike in solidarity with detained leaders of the Saigon Student Union. An evening of fast was planned for October 2, with proceeds going to the National Student Association to support the prisoners’ release. Tensions on campus rose throughout the rest of October, when the school experienced dozens of bomb threats at nearly every campus building. A series of smaller anti-ROTC rallies occurred in November, before the end of what the 1971 Cauldron would call Northeastern’s “most active and depressing year" (268).

February - May 1971

Boston’s next major anti-War protest occurred on February 10, 1971, when several thousand gathered on the Common to protest the American sponsored South Vietnamese invasion of Laos. Despite freezing temperatures, about 50 Northeastern students assembled in the quad around 2 p.m. to join the march down Huntington Avenue to the Common. Crowds moved closer to Northeastern in the afternoon, and incidents of campus vandalism were reported. The day ended in accounts of flag burning, ice throwing, and window smashing, with over a dozen people arrested and over half a dozen injured.
National anti-War groups collaborated to plan a new spring offensive and moratorium to commemorate the events of the previous April and May. On April 24, about 200,000 rallied to end the War on the National Mall in Washington. On May 5, Northeastern students joined about 25,000-35,000 for a demonstration on the Boston Common. Speakers like Boston University professor Howard Zinn encouraged civil disobedience and criticized police actions.The evening ended in a rock concert followed by rain, mitigating vandalism and dispersing a largely peaceful crowd. An op-ed in the Northeastern News later criticized the event as a “party” rather than a protest, similar to “all legal demonstrations lately -- stagnant and ineffectual" ("No More Parties" 1971). The article concluded: “The movement no longer means passive action. People must decide just how deep their commitment to peace and justice really is.”
Less peaceful demonstrations overtook Washington from May 3-5, when a record-breaking 12,000 people were arrested in what would be known as the May Day protests. In Boston, a reported 2,000-3,500 people staged a sit-in at the John F. Kennedy Federal Building in an attempt to disrupt federal business on May 6. Wanting to keep arrest numbers down following the previous days’ events in Washington, police arrested only 115 and were praised by Mayor Kevin White for refraining from excessive force. Despite these claims, protestors charged police with clubbing, macing, and beating in what one organizer called “selective brutality" (Botwright 1971). The Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts issued a statement criticizing the force for focusing more on minimizing arrest numbers than on enforcing appropriate officer behavior. Though few if any Northeastern students were arrested in the May Day protests and JFK Building sit-in, students again clashed with police on Hemenway Street. On the morning of May 11, students distributed leaflets announcing a party that night to commemorate the events of one year prior and to celebrate movement in the Bobby Seale trial. That evening, people partied and set off firecrackers, eventually throwing objects at police and inciting an incident involving some 200 officers and 500 civilians.
To some degree, the rallies, riots, and sit-ins that characterized the spring of 1971 echoed those of 1970, but Northeastern students appeared to be less involved. Media outlets noted that the 1970 offensive lacked the same activist fervor spurred by the invasion of Cambodia and the killings at Kent State and Jackson State University the previous spring.