On May 8, 1970, 1,500 students gathered on the University of Denver campus to publicly mourn their fallen comrades at Kent State and attempt to make sense of president Nixon’s invasion of Cambodia, a clear sign of extending rather than ending the contentious Vietnam War. Shouts of “Burn! Burn! Burn!” tumbled through the student body like a Rocky Mountain spring avalanche. According to archival documents, a lone voice broke through. “Let’s build, not burn,” countered the student. Thus was born the idea for Woodstock West, an intentionally peaceful response to the violence engulfing campuses from New York to Seattle.
Students pitched tents and built makeshift shelters on a grassy area known as the Carnegie Green. There they debated, performed, sang, talked and tried to make sense of their sorrow and anger. While the spirit of those first few days replicated the peace and freedom of its namesake, the 1969 music extravaganza Woodstock, confrontations with police, bulldozers and eventually the Colorado National Guard all play key roles in this story.
Woodstock West serves as the catalyst and backdrop for a documentary that asks two key questions. First, what was Woodstock West and how was it similar to and different from the 800+ protests on college campuses during May 1970? And second, how does an event like Woodstock West impact the lives of those who lived through it, whether pro-war Hawks or anti-war Doves?
Through the stories of several Woodstock West participants, the film complicates the idea of “activism,” recognizing that taking an active role to make the world a better place is not just liberal or conservative territory, or a red or blue proposition. We’ll see the work done by activists touched by Woodstock West spans the spectrum of political, religious, social and cultural ideologies.