Occupy Harvard’s Rally to Defend Free Speech took place on Monday, November 28. The intent of the rally was to bring attention to the violent actions of police officers against UC Davis and UC Berkley students on November 18. The rally turned into a march through Harvard Square and ended in front of Harvard’s science center, with a Q&A hosted by journalist and Harvard alum Chris Hedges.
Students and protesters had a message larger than that of unjust treatment of Occupiers by police. As one student protester described it, “This movement is needed because there’s a trillion dollars of student debt in this country and our schools are pumping people into Wall Street; that’s fucked up and we don’t want that!”
The student’s anger extended to school administrations as well, particularly Harvard’s: “Our universities are frightened of this movement. They are frightened here, where they use gates and police to keep us segregated. But we say, ‘No!’ We are a united student movement across Boston, across America, and across the world fighting for change.”
Tensions were low as the roughly 30 students and protesters made their way along the outside perimeter of the black iron gates of Harvard University chanting, “Open up the gates now!” and “I don’t know what I’ve been told, Washington’s been bought and sold!”. In addition to chants, there were numerous signs reading: “We want a university for the 99%,”. The protesters and police officers stationed at the entrances to Harvard Yard had little to no conflict during this march.
Later, marchers reached 1033 Massachusetts Avenue, Harvard’s Office of Career Services (OCS) Interview Facility, where representatives from Goldman Sachs were presenting “Goldman Sachs Global Investment Research 101” and “Goldman Sachs Investment Banking 101” to Harvard underclassmen.
At around 4:40pm, Robin E. Mount, director of the OCS and one officer from the Harvard University Police Department (HUPD), stood in front of the entrance. By 4:55pm, at least seven officers stood between students and the Goldman Sachs information session.
Two Harvard underclassmen, upon showing their ID’s to be admitted into the building, were told by Mount that they were not permitted to enter because they were not dressed appropriately and they were not carrying resumes. One student protester removed his sweatshirt and tied his necktie carefully around his white collared shirt and requested admittance, but was denied. More than 15 Harvard students not participating in the movement – in suits and ties, not carrying resumes – briefly showed their ID’s and were permitted to enter by police officers.
In an open dialogue between Mount and a student protester studying at Harvard Medical, a protester asked, “Why can’t we go in and ask critical questions? This is a forum for the company to provide information to students. Is there a space for people to ask critical questions here?”
After a few moments of silence, Mount responded, “I think you have lots of forums where you can ask those critical questions. If you want to invite them to an event you are doing and have a discussion with them, that’s fine.” The protester replied, “Would you be willing to set up a forum to have a critical discussion [with Goldman Sachs]?” Mount replied, “I can’t guarantee that they would agree to participate, but I think we should reach out to Harvard alumni who work in these different firms and see if they would be willing to.”
Protesters made their way back to Harvard’s science center to participate in a discussion with Chris Hedges.
“There’s a huge difference in teaching people what to think and in teaching people how to think,” Hedges explained, referencing his book, Death of The Liberal Class. “The power of a liberal arts education is that it teaches you how to think….and there is a very subtle and pernicious assault against those departments and those disciplines that teach people how to think.”
When asked by a member of the crowd, “Where do you see the Occupy movement headed?” Hedges began to share his experiences covering movements and revolutions around the globe. “I can tell you that no one knows…it’s always when the foot soldiers of the elite won’t carry out the forms of draconian control, that these dead regimes crumble. And that’s why it is so important not to respond to police provocation and to respect the blue uniform police who are working class.”
Hedges briefly touched on an experience he had during the November 15 raid in Zuccotti Park, where he and a few friends chained themselves together around the kitchen. As the police struggled to remove the chains, one of Hedges’ linked friends would “look at officers’ badge names to try and address them by their names and say to them, ‘You know you have a choice. You have a choice in what you do.’”
“Now, maybe most of them didn’t hear him, but I can guarantee you some of them heard him. And that’s how movements like this imperceptibly chip away at the dead edifice because inside that edifice, they know how dead and hollow it is even more than we do and how corrupt it is. And that’s why they’re so frightened.”