The Free Speech Movement was born on a college campus. In 1964 Mario Savio, then an undergraduate at the University of California, Berkeley, proclaimed,
“There is a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can’t take part; you can’t even passively take part, and you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop. And you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you’re free, the machine will be prevented from working at all…”
On November 9th members of the Harvard and UC Berkeley communities gathered on their respective campuses to set up physical encampments in the spirit of the ongoing Occupy movement. In Berkeley, riot police brutally beat and hospitalized students and faculty. Afterwards thousands of people flooded Sproul Plaza and maintained a vigil, day and night, in defense of the freedom to create a space for free speech. Video released yesterday shows campus police pepper-spraying students at UC Davis with incredible, chilling indifference to the fact that they were committing acts of violence against the students they were hired to protect.
Here at Harvard, HUPD were told to close the gates to the Yard, instigating a lock-down of our campus and a standoff the administration and the protestors who want the basic freedom to have an open conversation on an open campus. The police presence, both on and off campuses across America, puts the focus squarely on structures of power. We see this clearly today, 11 days into the encampment in Harvard Yard, where Securitas maintains checkpoints at the gates of our campus. Why does the presence of 30 tents pitched in peaceful protest of economic inequality, unjust labor practices, and democratic reform provoke the shuttering of Harvard University? The Harvard administration’s statement in response to our encampment said, “Free speech and the free exchange of ideas are hallmarks of the Harvard experience, and important values for the university community to uphold. At the same time, it is important that we assure the safety and security of our students, particularly those who live in the Yard.”
Today, as we pledge solidarity to our brothers and sisters at the University of California and condemn the violence against them, we are confused by Harvard’s statement. We are confused because we do live in the Yard; we lived here on November 8th and we live here today. We are confused that in speaking freely of injustice, we would somehow constitute a danger to ourselves. And we are confused, most of all, by the behavior of a University that admitted us because of our commitment to the democratic values of an open and just society. We will continue to take these commitments – to freedom, to equality, and to justice – seriously, and would ask that Harvard do the same.
End the ID checks at the gates to Harvard Yard.
[photo credit: Shari Bence]