On Wednesday, November 9, a group of approximately one hundred Harvard students and supporters gathered in front of the statue of the University’s eponymous founder for our first Occupy Harvard General Assembly.
Unfortunately, administrators had decided to close Harvard Yard several hours earlier to all but those with Harvard ID cards, excluding members of the community, worker’s families, visitors and students at Harvard’s Extension School, who are not given official ID cards. In response, we marched around the Yard and then joined those who were waiting for us outside the Yard on a larger march to the un-gated main quad of the Harvard Law School to finally begin our GA, attended by roughly 800 supporters.
Within an hour we’d come to a consensus that those who could access the grounds would Occupy Harvard Yard and we made our way back to campus. As our first line was halfway into the gates, it became obvious that the university police and security guards were outnumbered, when one of them yelled to the others to “Shut it down!” The gates began to close, but the crowd pushed forward, shoving those of us in front literally into and through the gates. While some around me managed to get into the Yard, I was pinned directly in front of a gate while two officers shoved it towards me. At one point, my boot slipped under the gate and all of a sudden my ankle was trapped between the moving gate and the ground. I screamed at one of the guards that I was stuck but he just stared at me while continuing to push the gate towards me. Luckily, someone helped me unwedge my foot and I slipped free. About an hour later, we were able to erect twenty tents, all of which still stand a week later.
Unfortunately, though, Harvard Yard remains a gated community, only a few of its gates open, and all manned by uniformed security guards and police. As part of a deliberate campaign of misinformation, many guards have passed around rumors that Occupiers are violent and unpredictable, that we either need to be protected or contained. Aiding this effort are reactionary members of the Harvard Crimson’s editorial board, who regularly publish screeds explaining the need to protect Harvard students from the “anarchists.”
Nonetheless, Occupy Harvard has not responded in kind with blanket condemnations of the university or its security forces. In fact, many of the current Occupiers (including myself) have participated in a solidarity campaign this fall with security guards subcontracted by Harvard through the international firm Securitas. Further, our attempts to contact the administration have so far been rebuffed, although at our first Yard GA, one of the Deans of Harvard College made a commitment to return to a future GA. We’ve been waiting a week for her to come back.
In the meantime, Occupiers have acted in conscious imitation of those in other cities around the world. We have an info-desk on Harvard Yard, staffed daily by a voluntary group, all of whom strive to engage with passerby, whether they be critical or inquisitive. We have received good wishes and donations of coffee and food from alumni, union supporters, and a group of Protest Chaplains from the Harvard Divinity School, and we have been called cowards by a self-identified professor at the Harvard Business School who promptly turned his back on us and stormed away when we politely asked him to participate in more civil discourse.
Our General Assemblies have attracted growing numbers of undergraduates, graduate students and members of our community, but unfortunately not all of those who would like to be included, since our campus is still in virtual lockdown. Finally, a group of us, including several undergraduates who have braved their peers' taunts and the administration’s condescension, will take steps in the next few days to create our own source of information and discourse, The Occupy Harvard Crimson.
When faced with animosity, lies and the physical metaphor of a campus divided from its outside community, Occupiers at Harvard on the whole have responded with grace, positivity and creativity, and from that we can be sure that regardless of how long this lasts in its current form, we have jointly created and participated in a kind of democratic discourse that is not particularly new, but in its presence in Harvard Yard certainly represents significant change.