Chat with Larry Hotz

A few weeks ago, Sheila had the chance to sit down with DU alum Larry Hotz ‘70 over a plate of spinach dip to discuss his Woodstock West memories. As the president of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) in 1968-69, Hotz was invested in the activist community at DU, and was a visible presence on campus during the events of May, 1970. At the beginning of the meeting, Hotz explained that to fully understand Woodstock West, it is important to discuss the social context in which this event occurred.

Student activism in relation to the war in Vietnam did not simply start after Kent State. DU students, particularly the members of SDS were active in '68, and were already discussing the importance of peaceful protest. In April of ‘68, thirty-nine students staged a sit-in in the University registrar's office demanding representation for graduate students in campus government. Though all 39 were immediately expelled by newly minted Chancellor Maurice Mitchell, SDS quickly increased their number of students to 400 members.*A year later, a small Solidarity Committee group came together in an effort to plan a spring offensive in response to the notion that the Denver Research Institute (DRI) was conducting research in support of the military. Their "Off DRI" offensive did not end with any clear concessions from DRI to change their research focus.

As small as these events seemed in relation to the number of students and other activists present at Woodstock West, each of these events and groups were really the precursors to the large-scale peaceful-protest of May 1970.

In reminiscing about Woodstock West, Hotz mentioned many events and situations of which Sheila had photographic and cinematic evidence, however hearing about these happenings from someone who had actually been there really helped to illustrate the experience. We have seen many photographs of students sitting around Woodstock West deep in conversation and with smiles on their faces. Hotz backed up what appeared to be a positive environment by describing the encampment's atmosphere as both communal and friendly. He described a general sense of purpose between both the DU students on campus at the time, as well other individuals who traveled to the University to become a part of this protest. There were many discussions not only among students, but staff and faculty members joined the conversation as well-in fact, Hotz stated that he and other Strike Central members spoke with the faculty senate about joining in on the strike!

Hotz also mentioned the sense of fear on campus when the news hit that the National Guard had been called. With the events of Kent State fresh in everyone's mind, there was nervousness that something as violent could happen here in Denver. Many DU students, including Hotz' own roommate, were members of the National Guard. Despite possible repercussions, some guardsmen alerted their friends on campus that their units were called to DU to clear the encampment. Hotz and many other members of both SDS and Strike Central had already left two days earlier when Denver police were called to tear down Woodstock West. Hotz and other leaders felt particularly uneasy and left not only Denver, but the state in fear of repercussions.

Learning that Hotz left the state before the National Guard presented itself on campus is very interesting because it demonstrates how different each personal history is regarding the events of May 1970. To fill in the blanks and truly try to understand the thoughts, emotions, and simply the series of events on campus, it is important to speak with a variety of people, especially to be able to piece together a day-to-day framework.

Anther important key to decoding Woodstock West is the snowball effect that occurs with each new participant interviewed. For example, Hotz was able to remember different friends and acquaintances who held key roles in the different pieces that made Woodstock West come together and run as smoothly as it did-some of whom he still keeps in touch with today. It seems that each time a Woodstock West participant shares his or her experiences with Sheila, she is given more and more names of people who played major roles in the peaceful protest, and who are interested in sharing their own memories. This kind of collaboration is key and we want to thank everyone who has shared their story on our website, through e-mail and in person.

Many thanks to Larry Hotz for sharing his story of his experiences at Woodstock West, including many other fascinating accounts that we will save for the film.

For all the up to date information on the progress of Woodstock West: Build Not Burn, keep checking back at both the website, www.woodstockwestthemovie.com, and the Facebook site, www.facebook.com/woodstockwest.

*After Denver County Court proceedings, expulsions were later downgraded to suspensions and some students eventually returned to campus to finish their degrees. Others left campus altogether.