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Portland State University commemorates 52-year anniversary of May 11 strike

Alumni and faculty unveiled a plaque on campus, where peaceful protesters clashed with riot police on May 11, 1970.

PORTLAND, Ore. — 52 years ago, hundreds of Portland State University (PSU) students — alongside faculty — became part of a national movement. They were protesting the Vietnam War, along with the killing of four Kent State University students by the Ohio National Guard.

Students occupied the Park Blocks around the PSU campus, joining a nationwide student strike.

On May 11, 1970, the Portland Tactical Police squad violently clashed with peaceful PSU protesters. Officers were dispatched by city leaders to the South Park Blocks to take down the strikers' hospital tent.

Wednesday afternoon, dozens who took part in the protests gathered once again on the campus, to commemorate that day — and those demonstrations — with a plaque outside of PSU's Simon Benson House. The plaque reads:

“Students and faculty at Portland State joined the strike, and school officials closed the campus on May 6. Five days later, 150 police, including a tactical squad wielding four-foot-long riot batons, ignored pleas from the university administration and forcibly dispersed a hundred protesters who had linked arms in front of the first-aid tent. Thirty injured demonstrators required treatment at local hospitals. 

"The following day, outraged by the violence, more than three thousand students, faculty, and staff—among them many who had not been supportive of the strike—marched in protest to City Hall.”  

Doug Weiskopf and Kathy Wood Wyrick were both members of the PSU strike committee, and spoke at Wednesday's dedication. 

"We feared for our lives but we peacefully stood our ground," Weiskopf remembered. "We wanted to set the record straight so that going forward, people would know what really happened." 

"Portland State was interesting compared to other places," Wyrick said, "[There were] a lot of returning veterans. A lot of people involved in the PSU strike were veterans of Vietnam.

"I like to think that it’s not just something for people who were there. But people who were there at the time, it was a turning point. It was something brave to do."

During the student strike, PSU students shot and edited a 16mm black and white documentary film — covering the occupation of the Park Blocks, the police crackdown and the popular downtown rally that followed. "The Seventh Day" was selected by the National Film Preservation Foundation for grant funding in 2009 to support its full preservation, according to the university.