Tuesday, May 4, 2010

1970 at University of New Hampshire

Edit: I ordered a digital copy of the DVD online and revised this post with better information and quotes.

I just got back from the "Mayflowers" screening at the 40th anniversary of the UNH strike event and it was hands down the best event I have attended during my time at UNH. Great job by everyone at the Peace & Justice League for organizing and putting on this event. I took some notes during the film and event and here is a summary of what happened:

In the spring of 1970 Student body President, Mark Wefers,  requested that three members of the Chicago 8 come to campus to speak on the Vietnam War. The three men were Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin and David Dellinger. At the time UNH was not an active campus at all, but increased troops in Vietnam, the invasion of Cambodia and eventually the shootings at Kent State caused the UNH student body and faculty to grow together. 

Despite mass protests about these "criminal racialists" coming to speak at UNH, Wefers and his peers, including then TNH Editor Peter Riviere, continue to push for this event. Then Wefers and Riviere, tip off the ultra conservative Manchester Union Leader because they knew the UL would play it up.

Quick side note on the Union Leader in 1970- Out of every town in New Hampshire, Durham sold the least copies of the Union Leader. For the April Fools issue of TNH, they made their cover to look like the Union Leader and barely any students even picked one up because they didn't realize it was a joke.

The Union Leader begins daily cover stories about how these American-hating-hippies are going to cause riots and take over the UNH campus. Needless to say the three members of the Chicago 8 (later the Chicago 7) agree to come. The UNH board of trustees unsuccessfully tries to cancel the event. In front of a judge they are able to force the event to be moved up to 3:30 instead of 7:30 p.m. because they feared if it was held at night riots would ensue.

May 4th, 1970- The first rally is held on UNH President McConnell's lawn. About 200 students attended as Wefers, Riviere and others speak about the unjust ruling and their freedom of speech was being impeded by moving the event up to 3:30. Later that day the shootings at Kent State took place and that night UNH students crowded downtown for a candle light vigil. Downtown was so packed that in front of Camp Co the street was blocked.

May 5th, 1970- That morning several hundred students pack T-Hall lawn for another rally. Students and faculty members, including one Philosophy professor Paul Brockelman gave speeches. Brockelman supported the movement, but warned students not to take it too far. Wefers announces that the event will be held at 3:30. The campus is packed by state and local police officers and the New Hampshire National Guard.

3:30 p.m. Around 4,000 students pack the Field House, expecting to hear Hoffman, Rubin and Dellinger. Instead Wefers takes the stage and reads a note from the three. It tells everyone to come back at 7:30. The audience leaves.

7:30p.m. This time around 4,500 students pack the Field House... and another 3,000 are outside trying to get in. A little while later the three men take the stage.

Dellinger opens apologizing for being late, not about 3:30, but that they were pulled over by a state police officer right as the entered campus due to a "random safety stop." He also talks about the freedom of speech.

 Rubin continues about freedom of speech and who has the power. He says how students have the power and the trustees didn't shut down the rally because they are afraid of the students. He shouts "school is just an advanced form of toilet training! That's what school is! And taking an examination is just like taking a shit! That's what it's like! You know you gather it all in and gather it all in and you wait for the right moment when your fucking professor tells ya 'this is the moment' and then the moment comes along, you been conditioned and then you let it pour out, you just flush the toilet. All the shit comes out and boom it's over and you feel so good afterwards! It's got nothing to do with education. You haven't learned a thing when it's all over. We ain't gonna take another examination. We ain't gonna go to another class... (continues about professors, administrators and the judge who tried shut the rally down)... when you have tyranny, revolution is the only order!"Then he lights up a fat joint on stage in front of everyone, including the police. He lets a few audience members take a hit (one of whom was at the event tonight.)

Hoffman came on last, informing the audience of 4,500 that there are an additional 3,000 outside. He shouts "New Hampshire, tonight the granite is gonna crack! Tonight the Old Man of the Mountain is going to blow his motherfucking brains out!" He tells a story when he was seven about a family trip to Lake Winnipesaukee when he read a pamphlet about a rental that said "Christian cliental only." He continues, telling students that the dinosaurs who run New Hampshire need to be kicked out of office. The event ends, and although some students want to riot, they decide not to. T-Hall is not burned to the ground like some feared.

However, SBP Mark Wefers is held in contempt of court for allowing the event to be moved. He is put on trial (United States vs Mark Wefers) and 2,000 people sign on as codefendants, but they are not allowed into the courtroom. Wefers is given either a $500 fine or 20 days in jail, but he repeals and wins. Classes on campus never resumed and finals were never taken, despite the university never admitting that. If it wasn't for summer break the strike may have lasted even longer and had a bigger impact around the country. The documentary, which was made by a student at the time and just recently redone with new special features ends with the maker in 2010 walking in front of Thompson Hall saying it was unbelievable "how much ordinary people in an ordinary place can do."

TNH (caption says T-Hall not burned)

TNH, showing support for Wefers.

TNH article announcing original outcome of Wefers initial trial.

Fosters article on UNH President McConnell Denying the strike.

After the film Wefers and Riviere spoke, as well as many audience members. Recalling old stories and other things that were happening on campus around that time. They gave advice to current students, such as to realize that you are only here for four years, so don't limit your actions to the campus. It really was a great event and I learned a lot about our university that I never knew.

Stay classy, not UMassy.


  1. This is a piece by Dennis Robinson from 2005 about that day...very interesting stuff, especially the idea of being "too close to the history bomb"...I think so much truth re: the college experience is in that line...


  2. Entertaining AND informative....nice :)