Shut It Down: The 1970 Student Strike at Syracuse University

Strike Infrastructure

The work of the various groups that made up the Strike Committee of the May 4 Coalition was coordinated by a network of “action groups” supported by both formal and ad hoc publications. As with the tone and initiatives of the Strike in general, some of these groups and publications were more transient than others. While attempts to coordinate all Strike efforts succeeded to some degree, certain campus constituencies were more interested in the activities of their home schools and colleges or in searching for a specific role to play within the Strike that aligned with their personal priorities.

Student Leadership

The May 4 Coalition comprised several subcommittees and groups responsible for coordinating Strike actions throughout the final days of the spring 1970 semester. The Strike Committee was composed of representatives from various “action groups” elected during meetings on the evening of May 4. These action groups were tasked with specific efforts and included the Non-Violent Studies Committee, Peace Marshals, the Community Action Committee, the Panther Defense Fund Committee, and the Academics Committee, to name only a few. Each of these groups reported regularly on their activities and provided updates about educational and direct-action opportunities through publications such as the Daily Orange and Shut-Down. “The action groups must be the basis of the Strike,” one press release from the Strike Committee of the May 4 Coalition read. “If we are to have more than a boycott, it means people who are striking must get together around common actions and plan them for themselves.”

Photograph of Nottingham Co-Op during the Student Strike, May 1970. Margaret R. Johnston Papers, University Archives.

The Nottingham Co-Op located at 905 University Avenue, also known as Nottingham Cottage and Nottingham Nation, served as the first Strike headquarters. Other Strike offices were temporarily located in the Jabberwocky, a campus night club.

Flyer announcing relocation of Strike headquarters, May 1970. Syracuse University Student Activities Reference Collection, University Archives.

Due to a shortage of phones and space, the Strike Committee of the May 4 Coalition relocated their headquarters to the Noble Room of Hendricks Chapel on Wednesday, May 6, 1970. The Chapel’s dean, John McCombe, authorized 24-hour use of the space for the duration of the Strike.

Photograph of the side entrance of Hendricks Chapel noting the location of Strike Headquarters, May 1970. Syracuse University Photograph Collection, University Archives.

Photograph of interior of Strike headquarters in Hendricks Chapel’s Noble Room, The Orange Pennysaver, 14 May 1970. Syracuse University Student Publications Collection, University Archives.

“Information for all Marshals” memorandum, May 1970. Larry Elin Collection on the 1970 Student Strike at Syracuse University, University Archives.

Among the Strike Committee action groups were students who served as Peace Marshals. The primary function of the Marshals was to serve as a neutral force in situations that could pose a safety risk – such as fires, or bomb threats – and to engage in non-violent intervention to de-escalate dangerous situations.

Getting the Word Out

Several publications were created to provide students and the campus and local communities with up-to-date and accurate information about Strike activities, to share educational content on current social and political issues and Strike demands, and to inform readers about ongoing National Student Strike activities beyond the Syracuse University campus. In addition to publications, flyers, and other printings primarily focused on providing students with information, there were also several short-lived newsletters and open forums specifically for faculty and staff. These publications took the form of both polished newspapers and guerilla-style newsletters. The University’s official student newspaper, the Daily Orange, even changed its masthead to a raised fist on a background of the repeated word STRIKE beginning May 7, 1970.

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Front page of the first issue of Strike Press, 5 May 1970. Syracuse University News and Public Affairs Records, University Archives.

Strike Press was published from the original Strike Committee headquarters at Nottingham Cottage.

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Ninth dawn issue of Shut-Down, 8 May 1970. Syracuse University Student Activities Reference Collection, University Archives.

Shut-Down was the official publication of Strike Committee headquarters in Hendricks Chapel. This publication was put out twice daily, at dawn and dusk, and was overseen by members of Strike Committee leadership tasked with coordinating communications for the May 4 Coalition.

Front page of the first issue of Dialog, 9 May 1970. Newhouse School Records, University Archives.

Published by journalism students of the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, Dialog was not an official publication of the Strike Committee. The stated purpose of the publication was to report news of the Strike in an objective fashion.

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Second issue of Speech Strike News, May 1970. Larry Elin Collection on the 1970 Student Strike at Syracuse University, University Archives.

Published by students from the School of Speech and Dramatic Arts, Speech Strike News provided information relevant to the Strike at Syracuse University in general as well as the specific Strike activities of the School.