StudentNation | The Nation



Campus-oriented news, first-person reports from student activists and journalists about their campus.

November 28: A Tale of Two Universities

This post was originally published at the invaluable Studentactivism.net. Follow the blog on Twitter to keep up on the latest student protests.

Last week a massive General Assembly on the UC Davis campus called a student strike for November 28 on campuses across California. The strike was intended to call attention to police violence in UC, and to highlight student demonstrations against the meeting of the University of California Board of Regents.

The UC Regents were supposed to meet earlier this month at the system’s out-of-the-way Mission Bay campus, but that meeting was cancelled in the face of planned student demonstrations. Today’s rescheduled meeting will take place by teleconference, with regents scattered across the state. UC Davis is one of the meeting’s four physical locations, but as of the weekend only the board’s two student members (one of them non-voting) planned to be present at what has become the new center of resistance to the university’s capricious regulations and reprehensible institutional violence.

In explaining why more regents did not plan to be present at Davis today, university spokesman Pete King said that the regents did not want to “jeopardize” the Davis chancellor’s “pledge to students to keep police presence on campus minimal until the campus … begins to heal.”

This is what UC has come to. The university’s regents feel that a small police presence isn’t enough of a barrier to allow them to sit down in the presence of the system’s students. They have, they say, “no expectation of student violence.” The students of Davis have proven their commitment to nonviolence over and over in recent days, even in the face of egregious violence directed against them. But just a few cops aren’t enough cops to allow the regents to come to their campus and hear their voices without fear.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the country, the Board of Trustees of the City University of New York are shutting down an entire campus building — a huge building — so that they can meet inside. Classes are being cancelled, staff are being placed on leave, a street is being prepared for barricading, all so the CUNY trustees can hold a regularly scheduled meeting.

When the governing bodies of two of the country’s greatest institutions of higher education are literally, physically walling themselves off from the students of those universities, something has gone deeply deeply wrong.

Silent Majority: California's War on its Students

Depressingly, few of us working at the University of California were surprised by the fact that demonstrating students would be treated with violence. As Officer Pike calmly went about his task, a squad of his colleagues stood passive, affirming that it was business as usual. UC Davis's Chancellor and its Police Chief both reacted as if this were an unpleasant routine, until it became a news item.
The University of California's leaders have been a waging war on students for years. This scene is repeated with increasing force directed at protesters who have sought ever more dramatic ways of demonstrating that they are angry - but not violent. Shouting? Too violent. Standing? Violent. Sitting down and chanting? Still violent. Finally, our students are on the floor with their mouths shut.
We have also witnessed Orwellian twists in the system's efforts to quash dissent. When demonstrating students aren't bludgeoned and sprayed, they are marked with antiquated labels like "disrespectful," "intolerant" and "uncivil" in a prelude to "discipline" and disenfranchisement. In a February 2010 memo ominously titled "Intolerance on Campus," UC President Mark G. Yudof lumped organized student activists together with racists when he compared the Irvine 11 (and UCR 3) to the student who thought that hanging a noose in the UC San Diego library was funny. Both actions, he wrote, showed a lack of "tolerance."
The comparison (which Yudof has made more than once) is chilling. It draws a line of equivalence between a loud but non-violent protest against violence, and an action that is itself shorthand for a quite specific history of harrowing and racially-based violence. Students protesting systemic, state-sanctioned violence were equated with students casually citing lynching.  Meanwhile, those protesting tuition hikes are greeted with truncheons.
For crying out during a presentation by Israel's ambassador to the United States, the Irvine 11 wound up in the middle of a criminal prosecution. The Muslim Student Union was banned from Irvine's campus for six months - an extraordinary disciplinary measure I haven't seen duplicated except in cases of violence at frat parties. In fact, I've seen the latter treated more generously.
One administrative response to "the Irvine 11" has gone completely unnoticed in commentary about the case, perhaps because it is so utterly banal. The Office of Student Conduct forced the three UC Riverside students who participated in that protest to write essays about the First Amendment.
Let me repeat that: UC Riverside's Office of Student Conduct forced three students to write about their right to freedom of expression, as a form of punishment. (In his memo on "campus intolerance" Mark Yudof identifies himself as "a scholar of the First Amendment.")
No UCR faculty member was involved in creating, reading or evaluating that assignment. What self-respecting scholar could bear such a thing? I can think of no surer way of alienating a student from his or her authorial voice that to tell them what to say, and then force them to say it. (Incredibly, these punitive essays are routinely assigned across the UC system.)
There is a violence embedded in that kind of "discipline." It is not the kind that goes viral. It is the kind of thing that feeds on a system like a slow-growing cancer - empowering police officers to wield their weapons as educational tools.
In setting up camps, by so visibly occupying their schools, students acknowledge that they are at risk of being dispossessed of their education if they don't insist on the campus's responsibility to their presence. That University of California leadership has produced a situation in which the most effective protest has been silence should give us all pause.  Students should not have to sit down and shut up in order to avoid being labeled as a threat.
That is one reason why the UC Davis action was so shaming - such a demand is grotesquely at odds with our mission, but it is exactly what the system has been asking students to do. In literalizing that demand, however, UC Davis's students also powerfully asserted their connection with and allegiance to the ever-increasing numbers of people whose mere existence poses a problem to those who have taken so much from them.

Chris Hedges to Occupy Harvard

Tonight, Monday, November 28, Pulitzer Prize winning war correspondent and Nation magazine writer Chris Hedges will embed with Occupy Harvard, spending the night in a tent in Harvard Yard. Hedges will address Occupy Harvard and its supporters at a 5:00 pm rally at Thayer Gate outside of Harvard Yard.

Also on Monday, Harvard students will undertake a day of action, centered on a 3:30pm rally, to express support for University of California students’ strike in response to police violence and to galvanize yet broader support for the Occupy movement on campus and nationwide.

As both the 5:00 pm address and the 3:30 pm rally take place outside the confines of Harvard Yard—which remains unnecessarily on lockdown—they are therefore open and accessible to the media.

Hedges, a vocal supporter of the Occupy movement, is a senior fellow for the Nation Institute and writes regular columns in The Nation and Truthdig. Originally invited by the University to give a talk as part of the Harvard University Humanities Center series, Hedges has chosen instead to use his presence on campus to express solidarity with and support for the Occupy Harvard movement. In so doing, he will leave unoccupied the room booked for him by the University at the Harvard Faculty Club.

An Open Letter and Pledge of Non-Violence to UC President Mark Yudof from the Founder of Occupy Colleges

An Open Letter and Pledge of Non-Violence to UC President Mark Yudof from the Founder of Occupy Colleges,

As a UCLA alumni, I am horrified by the actions taken by the UC police at UC Davis, UC Berkeley and UCLA. In addition, there are new reports from Baruch College and the New School in New York City, about more arrests and abuses against students. These actions must stop!

Isn't it bad enough that they keep raising our tuitions and lowering our quality of education? Now they want to beat us into submission. These tactics will not work.

As a committed member of Occupy Colleges I pledge to continue students actions until we see a true change in our educational system -lower tuition rates, student loan restructuring etc. We are committed as well to supporting the Occupy Wall Street movement because that is "Change we can believe in."

What is happening to students in terms of economic abuses (along with the physical abuse) is a microcosm of what is happening to our country at the national level. The whole nation is paying more for less quality.

That is why Occupy Colleges supports Occupy UC Davis' call for a general strike to bring attention to what is happening on our campuses and in the world.

We will strike on November 28th, the day we all get back from our Thanksgiving Holiday. Let us use this break to mobilize as many people as possible to protest against the economic injustices against students and citizens,  and the dismantling of free speech and the right to peacefully assemble.

If we don't stand up for our rights immediately  there may be none left to stand up for.

In Solidarity,

Natalia Abrams - Occupy Colleges

Nation Interns Choose the Week's Most Important Stories (11/25)

 Our media coverage is often dominated by one big story that crowds out most everything else. As an antidote, every week, Nation interns try to cut through the echo chamber and choose one good article in their area of interest that they feel should receive more attention. Please check out their favorite stories below, watch for this feature each week, and please use the comments section below to alert us to any important articles you feel warrant broader attention.

— Angela Aiuto:

Angela focuses on money in politics.

Inside the Corporate Plan to Occupy the Pentagon,” by Adam Weinstein. Mother Jones, Nov. 21, 2011.

In 2001, then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld created the Pentagon’s Defense Business Board, a task force composed of corporate executives and charged with creating “a cost effective military.” Over the past decade, the board’s recommendations to that end have reflected its decidedly pro-business bias, boosting the salaries of “management talent” while putting military pensions and job security on the chopping block. With the Pentagon now facing a potential $1 trillion in cuts over the next ten years, will the board’s recommendations be considered in a new light?

—Cal Colgan:

Cal follows the drug war and human rights in Latin America.

A narco’s case against the U.S.,” by Michelle García. Salon, Nov. 14, 2011.

This piece from Salon provides an overview of the US government's alleged support of the Sinaloa cartel in Mexico. Michelle Garcia notes that various government agencies' use of the Sinaloa cartel for information on key players in the drug war extends farther back than the ATF's botched Fast & Furious campaign. Garcia writes that agencies like Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) have used informants in the cartel since at least 2003, when Sinaloa cartel smuggler Guillermo Ramirez Peyro was on ICE's payroll, even as he participated in the Juarez cartel's "House of Death." Such information may add credence to high-ranking Sinaloa cartel member Jesus Vicente Zambada Niebla's claims in court that U.S. agents often ignore the Sinaloa cartel's criminal activity to use them as an unlikely ally in the drug war.

— Teresa Cotsirilos:

Teresa focuses on "Global South" politics, or sociopolitical developments in areas of the developing world.

“Cheers to the Silicon Valley of [insert country name here],” by John Sutter. CNN, Nov. 17, 2011.

Gamers in Argentina. App developers in Kenya. This article provides a brief survey of some of the burgeoning hubs of technological innovation throughout the world—and show cases some pretty ingenious new programs that could go a long way to improving the quality of life in certain developing countries. My personal favorite: Ushahidi, a Kenyan open-source platform for mapping crises in real time. Rumor has it that it's already being used by activists in Egypt to protest more safely and effectively.

— Paolo Cravero:

Paolo follows war, peace, and security.

Revolution 2.0,” by Steven A. Cook. Foreign Policy, Nov. 22, 2011.

An interesting analysis of the role of the military junta in Egypt as Cairo is on the verge of another revolutionary wave. A clarifying moment in Egyptian political transition or the beginning of a descent into chaos?

— Erika Eichelberger:

Erika follows the environmental beat.

Energy Dept. offered to put private investors ahead of taxpayers if Solyndra went bankrupt,” by Ronnie Greene. The Center for Public Integrity, Nov. 16, 2011.

This week's article from the Center for Public Integrity details the way in which the DoE sold taxpayers short when it refinanced Solyndra's loan last year. As it became clear that the the floundering solar start-up faced possible bankruptcy, the DoE made an offer to Solyndra's investors: if they raised an additional $75 million to help keep the company afloat, investors--one of whom is an Obama bundler--would collect bankruptcy funds before taxpayers, meaning they now have the first chance to recover.

— Josh Eidelson:

Josh covers the labor beat.

Rank and File Slate Takes Over Giant California Campus Local,” by Marie Choi. Labor Notes, Nov. 21, 2011.

A challenger slate swept internal leadership elections last month in an AFSCME local covering 20,000 University of California employees.  The election may have turned on questions facing labor across the country: in an age of unnecessary austerity and existential threat, what (if any) concessions are acceptable?  How do unions build strong partnerships with students and social movements?  

— Eli Epstein-Deutsch:

Eli looks at the intersection of politics, ideas and economics from a macro perspective.

High executive pay 'corrosive' to the UK economy, report warns,” by Allegra Stratton. The Guardian, Nov. 21, 2011.

If austerity is what one seeks, a reminder that the boardroom is the ideal place to start. The Guardian has an excellent account of the broadly negative economic effects of outsize executive pay, which has major ramifications across the Anglophone world (where it is most pronounced.)

— Collier Meyerson:

Collier’s beat is discrimination.

Secrecy Surrounds Inmate Suicides in California State Prisons,” by Julianne Hing. Colorlines, Nov. 21, 2011.

Colorlines reports that in the last month, 3 male prisoners of the California state penitentiary system have committed suicide. Ironically, all of the men had been taking part in a hunger strike aimed at reversing dire prison conditions in their state.  Their deaths would have gone unnoticed had it not been for The Prison Solidarity Hunger Strike Coalition, a Bay Area group that had been working with the men during their fast. A spokesperson for The California Department of Corrections denied the mens involvement in the hunger strike and - as they are notorious for doing - withheld any information on their suicides. The dubious deaths are a grave accent to the tireless work being done by advocacy groups to penetrate our justice system's opacity.

— Allie Tempus:

Allie follows human rights.

Interview with a pepper-sprayed UC Davis student,” by Xeni Jardin. Boing Boing, Nov. 20, 2011.

This is interview is great because it is candid and from the heart of an anonymous student who told Chancellor Katehi at University of California Davis "I hold you personally responsible for inflicting pain on me." Important on-the-ground context at UC Davis is provided, as are graphic descriptions of the harmful effects of police-grade pepper spray: "I got up crawling. I crawled away and vomited on a tree. I was yelling. It burned. Within a few minutes I was dry heaving, I couldn't breathe." The engaging immediacy of accounts like these is what continues to fuel the fire of the Occupy movement. This interview helpfully captures last weekend's dark moment with more than a snippet or sound-byte or fleeting conversation.

— Jin Zhao:

Jin follows the US’s image in international media.

China: United States Begins 'Pacific Century,' Online Nationalism Follow,” by John Kennedy. Global Voices, Nov. 20, 2011.

The Obama administration's "Pacific swing" that will increase the US's presence in the Pacific Ocean through, among other diplomatic efforts, a trade deal that excludes China and a new permanent US military presence in Australia, has triggered a surge of nationalist expressions online from Chinese public. Many Chinese are unhappy about Chinese leaders' "soft" response to the US's perceived threat, and believe that China should strengthen its military and take a hardline position when dealing with the US, a position nevertheless very unlikely to materialize in China's foreign policy, contrary to the author John Kennedy suggests.   

President Obama: Protect Students

Dear President Obama,

This letter is an act of desperation on behalf of my entire generation. It is with a heavy heart that I ask you to condemn the use of excessive police force in the form of pepper spray, baton violence, and physically threatening techniques within the peaceful protests involving UC Berkeley and UC Davis student and faculty members.

I watched a series of Youtube videos late Sunday night that accurately display raw footage of the UC Davis protest scene when a police officer uses pepper spray in response to a handful of students sitting peacefully on their quad. One particular video struck me because of the student behind the video recorder--while she documented images of her classmates being assaulted, the student eventually breaks down in tears and reaches her hand out in front of her to lean on a fellow protestor. This also caused me to cry because of the symbolic nature of this videographer: she was a student subjected to unnecessary police violence and reached out for support after letting her emotions get the best of her.

I can't help but feel devastated at the fact that my peers on college campuses across the country are experiencing this kind of violence when engaging in non-violent protests. It's happening here, on our soil and in our own home states--not in some far away place, thousands of miles away from our personal realities.

National, mainstream news outlets like The New York Times, CBS News, and The Washington Post have covered the police brutality used against peaceful student protestors. Moreover, students and professors at UC Berkeley have filed a civil suit against the university,  setting a legal precedent for students and protestors nationwide.

Clearly this has gone far beyond a few viral videos and sporadic claims of abuses of the First Amendment. In response to the police's outrageous acts, individuals are taking legal action, the media has spread these stories far and wide, and students are organizing candlelight vigils in honor and solidarity with UC Davis, The moment has not passed, however, for you to break your own silence and officially comment about police assaults on college campuses.

I have been a longtime fan of you and your politics—I voted for you in November 2008, my very first election at the ripe age of 18, and never felt more invigorated and passionate about my country's future. I was easily convinced and intrigued by your campaign messages of "hope" and "change," so please use this as your opportunity to prove my instincts right and justify my decision.

As the father of future college students, a former college student yourself, and leader of "the free world," I request that you speak out about the issue of unnecessary police violence and make clear the demands of living in a democratic nation. Your active support of the Arab Spring is also reason to embrace students' rights to free speech and protection of physical safety when expressing the first amendment. It was as recently as September 21 that you declared this support in a speech at the U.N.

"The United States will continue to support those nations that transition to democracy with greater trade and investment, so that freedom is followed by opportunity...We will pursue a deeper engagement with governments, but also with civil society—students and entrepreneurs, political parties and the press."

With tears streaming down my face and a sinking feeling in my stomach, I ask you this simple task: please make an official statement about both incidents at UC Berkeley and UC Davis. In responding to these students' rights to peacefully protest without risking physical attacks and abuse, you will open an important dialogue amongst the general public about freedom of speech and how campuses can become safer places for students to express their opinions.

Krystie Lee Yandoli

Sign this petition asking the Obama Administration to "condemn the use of tear gas and pepper spray (and other chemical weapons) on peaceful protesters in the United States."

Police Attack Protesters at UC, Davis

This account was originally published by the invaluable blog Studentactivism.net, and is reprinted here with permission. The post is being continually updated so check back regularly for more info. Follow @studentactivism on Twitter to keep up with the blog’s Occupy Wall Street coverage and check back.

Yesterday afternoon, after UC Davis police dismantled an Occupy encampment on their campus, making several arrests, a group of students sat down.

That’s it. They sat down. They sat down in a wide ring around the officers, backs to the group, and bowed their heads. Some linked arms. Many did not. Officers were positioned behind the students and in front of them, and—as multiple videos show—were able to move past them easily in both directions.

To clear the demonstrators from the sidewalk and the lawn the police pepper-sprayed the line. Just sprayed the entire line of students with a casual sweeping motion. Video shows that within eight seconds of the first use of spray, the line was broken up and no longer even minimally restricted police action, but the spraying continued.

One student witness says that police sprayed the thickest section of the line and that there were gaps in it at other points—that it was always, in other words, a symbolic rather than an actual barrier. This video shows that two officers initially moved in to remove students from the line without violence, but were waved back by a superior so that he could spray them instead.

Students. Sitting down. With bowed heads. On university property. Police freely moving around them, pepper spraying them, facing no resistance whatsoever. Just students. Sitting on the ground.

Here’s how Nathan Brown, a Davis faculty member who was on the scene, describes what happened next:

Police used batons to try to push the students apart. Those they could separate, they arrested, kneeling on their bodies and pushing their heads into the ground. Those they could not separate, they pepper-sprayed directly in the face, holding these students as they did so. When students covered their eyes with their clothing, police forced open their mouths and pepper-sprayed down their throats. Several of these students were hospitalized. Others are seriously injured. One of them, forty-five minutes after being pepper-sprayed down his throat, was still coughing up blood.

Not all of this account is corroborated by video, but much of it is. Cameras caught police kneeling on students’ backs and spraying them directly in the face. This video shows police roughing up a student who was laying face down on the ground as his friends shout “he’s not resisting!” One journalist reported that a female student was taken from the scene in an ambulance “for treatment of chemical burns,” while another said that eleven students were treated by paramedics at the scene and that two were transported to a local hospital. (That second report also notes that university staff and administrators watching the protest “did not seek medical assistance for those hurt until asked.”)

Annette Spicuzza, the chief of the UC Davis police department, told the local CBS news that officers began spraying, in the station’s paraphrase, “out of concern for their own safety,” a claim that video and photos of the incident demonstrate to be entirely false. She told the Sacramento Bee that officers “officers were forced to use pepper spray when students surrounded them,” that—and this is a direct quote—“there was no way out of that circle.” But video shows this to be a lie as well. Officers were moving freely throughout the incident, and the officer who sprayed first, Lt. John Pike, was standing inside the circle immediately before he began spraying. He stepped over the students, out of the circle, in order to spray them.

UC Davis chancellor Linda Katehi released a statement last night in which she said she “deeply regretted” students’ actions yesterday, actions that “offer[ed] us no option but to ask the police to assist in their removal.” But of course you can’t regret something that someone else did, something you had no control over.

For the actions she did have control over, and will have control over in the future—the violence of her police —Katehi expressed no regret. She was, she said, “saddened.” She was “saddened to report that during this activity, ten protesters were arrested and pepper spray was used,” and “saddened by the events that subsequently transpired to facilitate their removal.” No regret. Not even an active voice.

Just sadness at what those awful students made her do.

Students from Across NYC Rally At Union Square

This report was originally published by the NYU Local in longer form. Follow the paper on Twitter at @NYULocal to keep up with its outstanding coverage of the Occupy Wall Street movement.

More than a thousand students from universities across the city mobilized mid-afternoon Thursday at the north end of Union Square. This was part of a national day of ‘solidarity’ and action in support of the Occupy Wall Street movement that saw its symbolic residence at Zuccotti Park removed by a surprise NYPD raid on Tuesday.

Earlier Thursday at NYU, an assembly of students drawn together by NYU4OWS occupied the Gould Plaza in front of Stern in preparation for the subsequent convergence on Union Square. Behind a 15-feet banner that read “NYU CUT THE BULL: STUDENTS AND WORKERS UNITED,” NYU4OWS held a briefing they called “The 99% Reclaim the University: Student and Worker Speak-out.” Afterwards, two of the organizers brought forward a purple paper-mache bull hanging off from wooden bars, called “Wally,” which a speaker announced represented “the spirit of Wall Street here at NYU.” They then pulled off Wally’s golden testicles in a highly symbolic gesture before shattering the animal into smithereens with a staff wrapped in union leaflets amid a chorus of an impromptu marching band.

By 3:00PM, armies of students equipped with banners and placards from universities across New York (including the New School, CUNY, Hunter College, Pace, Fordham, Pratt Institute, Cooper Union, The Graduate Center, Brooklyn College, and NYU) swarmed into Union Square—a historic ground for political demonstrations. There was much anticipation and excitement at the rare sight of such a diverse congregation. Every march chanted the name of their own school amongst other slogans like “We need jobs & education, not schools run by corporations,” “We got sold out, banks got bailed out,” and “This is what democracy looks like,” reflecting not only their ire at the current state of higher education in the U.S. but also their unanimous embrace of the OWS movement. What was initially a gathering of about 600 gradually swelled to over a thousand as the rally wore on, and eventually around 3,000 protestors joined in from their initial gathering at Washington Square Park, covered by WSN.

Against a backdrop of an assembly covering the entire expanse of the northern end, representatives from various universities came forward by the footsteps of the Union Square pavilion to each give speeches in relay accentuating the laundry list of problems our generation is up against.

All speeches used school-specific issues as a platform to point out the wider issue at hand. Christina from Cooper Union spoke about the forthcoming termination of Cooper’s policy of awarding full tuition scholarships to every single one of its students due to a financial predicament that could otherwise compel closure. Last names seemed to be deliberately unmentioned, taking away formality to create a more personal and amicable discourse.

Regina from Hunter College also raised the tuition alarm, “CUNY is my opportunity, coming from the projects, it was my only opportunity. Because of CUNY I have a better chance. CUNY used to be free. And it should be again. In 1969, students of colour fought for open admission. They occupied for this right, and they won…Tuition has increased during every fiscal crisis. It is not fair that students have to pay for a mess they didn’t make.” Emma from Brooklyn College also criticised tuition fees, denouncing privatization of higher education as “a war against education.”

Dasha Mitchell, a doctoral student and adjunct instructor at NYU, came to the fore with her child in arms to speak out about NYU’s lack of child care support, “I have worked without a contract since I got here in 2005. New York University is union busting… As a graduate student, I now work full-time while taking care of my two year daughter. I cannot say that I haven’t received any support. They give me a day care stipend of two hundred dollars per semester,” she said.

Bobby from the New School delivered a speech that fumed out his frustration at what he saw as an unreasonably competitive environment, “Fuck internships. Fuck kissing ass. Fuck office hours. If we want something we have to get it ourselves. It’s as simple as speaking the fuck up.” Strong language in this instance sat well with a crowd that was predominantly comprised of students. Speeches of course were delivered with the archetypal OWS system of human-mic, with every sentence or phrase emphatically reverberating in domino throughout the crowd.

One of the highlights of the rally was when two Egyptian students who were part of the April 6th Youth Movement—a Facebook group that emerged back in 2008 and ever since has been a driving force in political activism in Egypt—came on stage to show their support and encouragement.

Video: What Is Occupy Duke Doing?

In this video commentary, Jacob Tobia, a Duke sophomore and participant in the Hart Leadership Program, talks about some of the issues Occupy Duke protesters are working on since they began their encampment four weeks ago.

Dispatch from Occupy Harvard

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.

Syndicate content