The View From my Window, or So Begins Occupy Harvard
9:25am: I just arrived at work, so I'm still trying to figure out the details. I'll update with more pictures and information as the day goes on.
10:13am: The word “occupy” has a special connotation for deans and administrators at Harvard. On April 9, 1969, more than 200 students protesting the Vietnam War and the ROTC descended upon and occupied University Hall, the administrative nerve center of the College. Deans and other administration officials were forcibly removed from the building, slogans were spray-painted on the walls, and, in an unprecedented and controversial move by the administration, 400 state police officers were eventually called in to remove the demonstrators. Large groups of students gathered in Harvard Yard to either show their support of or opposition to the occupation, and several minor scuffles ensued. An effigy of an SDS member was burned. When the dust cleared, the ROTC had been kicked off campus and 23 students had been expelled.
The situation today is quite different than the situation fifty years ago—the occupation of University Hall was one action in a chain of escalating student activism—but there's a lingering wariness of Occupy Harvard all the same. The Yard has not been sealed, per say, but the flow of people coming in has been reduced to a trickle, thanks to the police officers stationed at each gate, checking IDs. The student occupation may be peaceful, but the institutional memory of Harvard administration is long, and they’re preparing for the worst.
11:33pm: It just started raining.
1:20pm: Back from lunch, and back from a closer look at things.
While I was out one Harvard administrator who forgot his Harvard ID had to call a colleague to go out to the gates and escort him in. It's easy to enter the Yard if you have an ID, but apparently very hard if you don't--even if you're wearing tweeds and a bow tie.
Since no one is allowed in, the media have been setting up outside the Yard and talking to the students through the gates.
It's hard to ignore the fact that Harvard students may not make the best spokespeople for this movement. Unlike the student radicals of the 1960s, who could arguably serve as credible resistors to the war in Vietnam, I don't think most people are going to take a "Harvard students are the 99%" chant seriously. For most, Harvard is synonymous with the elite: it's where the elite go to learn how to be elite. An academy for the 1%. Despite the fact that Harvard's admissions policies have been changing radically the last couple of decades (as evidenced in small part by the dramatic increase in financial aid availability), the prevailing image of Harvard students is of the lounging Kennedy-esque preppie in blazers and loafers (see, for example, a recent Oscar-bait Hollywood production in which the exclusive Harvard clubs start their parties by reminding everyone in attendance just how exclusive they are--thanks, Aaron Sorkin!). And I don't think any of Harvard's efforts to create a more racially, culturally, and economically diverse campus with do much to dispel that pervasive stereotype. All that is to say that these Harvard student activists, in all likelihood, are going to be subject to ridicule and scorn. That may be brave, but are they helping the movement? Will they be taken seriously?
As one participant of the 1969 University Hall occupation said, "Like it or not, whatever goes on at Harvard gets a lot of attention."