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Ohio Secretary of State urges Kent State University to cancel Jane Fonda event

Fonda is set to speak at the university in May at an event to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the shooting that killed four students.

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose has taken to social media to urge Kent State University to rescind its invitation to actress Jane Fonda to speak at the upcoming 50th Commemoration of the May 4, 1970 shooting. 

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In a Facebook post written on Sunday, LaRose wrote: "The 50th anniversary of one of Ohio’s darkest days has the potential to serve as a moment of unity, understanding & healing in a nation that is deeply divided. However, Kent State’s decision to pay Jane Fonda $83,000 to speak at their commemoration event does the very opposite."

Fonda, a two-time Academy Award winner, will speak about her life in social activism and reflect on the history and legacy of the events of May 4, 1970, when members of the Ohio national guard opened fire on students protesting the Vietnam War. Four students were killed and nine others were wounded. 

"I served 10 years in the US Army, and eight years in the Ohio Senate before becoming Secretary of State. I certainly understand that people disagree on policy issues, especially matters of war -- and that’s ok. What’s not ok is providing aid and comfort to the enemy and willfully serving as a propaganda tool for those engaged in hostilities against the United States. And Ms. Fonda did that – the very definition of treason," LaRose wrote.

LaRose is referencing Fonda's controversial trip to North Vietnam in 1972 when she was photographed on top of an anti-aircraft gun. More recently, Fonda expressed regret over the photo during a news conference to discuss her HBO documentary in 2018, The Associated Press reported.

“If you watch the HBO documentary on Jane Fonda that came out last year, one of the things she said very powerfully is that she does not regret having opposed the war in Vietnam, that it was absolutely the right thing to do, but she has regrets about the way she did it,” Kent State University President Todd Diacon said last week in a quote cited by the Kent Record-Courier and Cincinnati.com. “It was a very meaningful moment that spoke to this goal we have of reconciliation.”

Fonda continues to be a polarizing social activist. Last fall, she was arrested four times while protesting for climate change on the steps of Capitol Hill in Washington D.C. 

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LaRose says the 50th anniversary of the tragedy at Kent State is "not the time to pay a speaker who betrayed our service members."

"American service members coming home from Vietnam deserved a much better reception than the one they received. They weren’t the politicians who chose which battle to fight -- they were the soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines sent into the battle. And we should say one thing to them: Welcome Home," LaRose added in his post. 

On the Kent State campus, you'd be hard-pressed to find students who even know who Jane Fonda is. 

"No, not really. Who is she?" asked DeShone Valley, a sophomore studying computer science. "It must be kind of a generational thing."

Other students said it didn't matter what political stance a featured speaker might hold, in fact, some said they would welcome viewpoints that challenge their own. "I think we can learn from different values and different beliefs," said another student, who did not want to give her name.

Kent State says the weekend of special events for the 50th Commemoration will take place over four days from Friday, May 1, through Monday, May 4, with each day emphasizing a different focus of the May 4 story. Check the May 4 50th Commemoration website for updates and additional information.

Some of the other notable events during Commemoration weekend will include a candelight march and silent vigil. The march starts at 11 p.m. on Sunday, May 3 and the silent vigil is held from midnight until the noon May 4 Commemoration ceremony. The keynote speaker of the Commemoration ceremony will be Harvard University constitutional law professor Laurence Tribe. 

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