ON WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 9, Occupy Harvard began. The university is frequently accused of being an "academic gatekeeper," but the administration and police response to the nascent protest movement has made this gatekeeping uncomfortably literal: Harvard Yard has been placed on indefinite "lockdown," meaning two-level ID-checks at every entrance. Further, unlike its sister-movement Occupy Boston, the less-than-week-old encampment has been the object of flak from other Harvard students, who complain about the inconvenience.
The occupation had been publicly announced a few days prior, prompting the guarding of the gates as early as 6:15 p.m. on the 9th (the rally had been called for at 7 p.m.). Harvard Law School students took part as National Lawyers Guild "greenhat" legal observers. Participants — numbering around 500 — marched around the Yard and rejoined at a general assembly at Harvard Law School, which is not gated or walled. The general assembly (made up largely but not exclusively of Harvard students, as two separate shows of hands revealed) passed a consensus-based resolution for a Harvard Yard encampment. In the hours that followed, the Yard went into full police lockdown mode, with many students, staff, Cambridge/Boston community members, and passersby finding themselves locked out (or, sometimes, in). A regrouping of the general assembly followed in front of Boylston Gate, with an agreement that Harvard ID-holders wishing to pitch tents would enter Harvard Yard and do so. While Harvard students built the encampment inside, with a human shield created by Harvard Divinity School students, scores of community members marched in solidarity with them outside the gates.
The night air was frigid. Some people were new to the consensus-based process favored by the Occupy movement; others were veterans. Consensus can be messy and vertiginous, but the general assembly was wildly spirited. I heard a student exclaim, "This isn't a protest or demonstration — it's a process," a sentiment that has run through Occupy mobilizations all over. In the span of five hours, an Occupation was established at the heart of one of the most visible institutions in the world. At least 20 tents still stand.
The next morning, Harvard's administration issued a statement enacting "heightened security measures" (most tangibly ID-checks by private security firm Securitas and the Harvard University Police Department) until the occupation ends, a move that some have criticized as "untenable" considering the volume of tourists and ID-less Extension school students that typically roam the Yard. Harvard's gates are usually guarded during private concerts or graduation ceremonies, but the Yard has never been on full lockdown, as noted on Occupy Harvard's Frequently Asked Questions page, not even during the 1969 Vietnam war protests or the 2001 Living Wage Campaign. In an even-handed letter to President Drew Faust, Harvard Law School professor Duncan Kennedy criticized the lockdown's "massive security presence" and "Homeland Security feel." The administration's own public relations statement relied heavily on the discourse of "safety" and "secur...