Rachel writes: Really Grass Roots — Occupy Harvard Yard

Undergraduate Michael and Extension School student Lee Ann greet the curious at the Occupy Harvard info table, Nov 12 2011.

One of the advantages of waiting a month for feedback after submission of my revised thesis proposal was that it coincided with the forming of the Occupy Boston encampment in Dewey Square. I was thrilled to be able to participate in one of the initial Occupy Boston marches, from Dewey Square to the Charlestown Bridge. Accompanying me was my daughter, a 2011 graduate of Brandeis University.

The assembled crowd was amazingly diverse: a large contingent from Boston’s Chinatown, representatives from a variety of unions, suburban and urban contingencies, young, old, middle-aged, all ethnicities.

When we reached the bridge, Boston police formed a barrier and prevented us from crossing. What happened next was a stunningly powerful and impromptu display of pure democracy in action—the crowd, using the “human mic” technique, discussed a range of positions, tactics, and opinions: Should we stay and attempt to force our way across the bridge, risking arrest and injury? Should we return to Dewey Square? Apparently an arrest had already taken place; should we stay and demand release? Rather than shout assent or disagreement at each speaker, assenting fingers were waved in the air; disagreement was expressed by lowered waving fingers. Everyone who had something to say was duly heard, and all opinions were carefully mulled before a consensus was finally reached. The moment was one of urgency and intensity, yet of thoughtfulness and caution, and I took a second to observe the reaction of the police officers, trying to sense what they must be thinking of this crowd with its leaderless, megaphone-less, finger-waving approach to intransigent police authority.

We marched back to Dewey Square to find hundreds of people linking arms around the perimeters of both Dewey Square and the square next to it, where a second, overflow encampment had been set up, to which the city of Boston objected. Hence the protective encircling of both camps, in the light of rumors of eviction and arrests to happen later in the evening. Indeed, 129 people were arrested around 2:00AM that night.

In my work as a photo editor for a college-textbook publisher, I acquire photographs for several economics titles. The other day I read a manuscript for one such tome, which purported to explain the current economic crisis by blaming regular folks for creating a demand for the sort of mortgages which turned out to be toxic. While I don’t know what textbook was used in the Econ course at Harvard from which scores of students walked out the other day in protest, I was struck by the bias in the text I read.

That walkout has led to an Occupy encampment in Harvard Yard, where there are now I’d say between 30 and 50 tents pitched. The university administration has decided that, for the safety of all, including students who live in buildings in the Yard, that access to the Yard will be limited to those who can present a Harvard ID at the one gate open for entrance and exit. Email notices regarding the restricted access to the yard have been sent to the Harvard community.

Yesterday when I arrived at that gate, I was met by a bouncer-like security official, to whom I showed my ID. I was able to breeze in, but there was a large crowd of onlookers milling about, including a Japanese TV crew. On my way to Widener Library, I stopped at the table set up near the tents, and spoke to the folks you see in the photo at the top of this post: Michael, an undergraduate in Harvard College, and Lee Ann, an Extension School student, who were welcoming the curious and answering questions.

Two students (I didn't catch their names) answer questions about Occupy Harvard.

My feeling is that those initial 70 or so students who drew focus upon the treatment of economic ideology within the academy are very brave to have done so, as are those who dare to camp in Harvard Yard for the duration. The inconvenience of being locked out of the Yard is outweighed by a sense of gratitude and a reassurance that our democratic spirit is alive at the grass roots (literally) and that we are witnessing that collective power in action in its purest, most elemental form.

A view of the Occupy Harvard encampment: Massachusetts Hall on the left; Harvard Hall on the right.

Now that I have passed the hurdle of thesis-proposal approval, and have been lucky enough to have a marvelously original professor sign on as my thesis director, I will hope to find a way to meaningfully integrate the writing and completion of my thesis with the exciting and compelling events happening right in our own back-Yard.

One Comment

  1. Rachel Y., ALM candidate/visual arts
    Posted November 17, 2011 at 11:02 am | Permalink

    Thanks for submitting your link.

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  1. […] cities now house Occupy tenements. Harvard even joined the movement and there is now a group of protestors camping out in Harvard Yard. These little tent cities have been popping up all over the country, and the tenants have been […]

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