Protestors in the Park Blocks on May 11, 1970. Courtesy of David Horowitz

Ceremony remembering PSU’s Vietnam war protests

Mark your calendars for 3 p.m. on May 11, Park Blocks

In May 1970, Portland State students led a strike through the Park Blocks to City Hall, following the death of four people at Kent State University during an anti-war protest challenging U.S. involvement in Vietnam. The PSU protest lasted several days. Despite non-violent and city-permitted means of protesting, Portland city officials, namely Mayor Terry Schrunk, dispatched the Tactical Operations Platoon (colloquially referred to as riot police) who injured over 30 people and destroyed the strikers’ hospital tent. This tragic escalation of events was on the sixth day of protests.


Ignited by a week of protests and the riot police activity, around 4,000 strikers showed their support on the seventh day of the strike—again demonstrating peaceful protest to advocate for the end of the war. This day marked one of the largest protests in PSU history, and the strike gained national media coverage, shifting the PSU narrative of a quiet commuter school to one of passionate social reform and academic opportunity. 


PSU student coverage of the event, such as the documentary The Seventh Day, shows the strike to city hall shot on 16mm black-and-white film. A booklet produced by the PSU strikers also holds valuable and deep insight into the Park Block protests. 


On May 11, 2022 PSU is honoring this historical event with a ceremony to dedicate a plaque to the Vietnam War protestors and and the Kent State victims. The aim is to commemorate the efforts of the legendary PSU protest, held in the Park Blocks where the plaque will reside. 


Participants and supporters will have the opportunity to reflect on the experience and the pursuit of democratic values. Popular music of the time period will play, and the community will join together to honor these commendable alumni. 


David Horowitz, the coordinator of this event who has taught with PSU since 1968, commented on the significance of this ceremony. 


“It was a moment in the history of this university in 1970,” Horowitz said. “This stuff happened; there was this police attack. It needs to be a part of Portland State and who it is. The leaders tried their best, and that’s important that people try their best and express moral outrage at something happening in the world that was conducted in their name.” 


The event will be held Wednesday, May 11 from 3–4 p.m. at the Benson House Green in the Park Blocks, SW Montgomery Street and Park Avenue.


“However effective [the students] were, it is important for a democracy to breathe even if it takes a long time—the dissent must be expressed [to serve] the greater community,” Horowitz said.