The danger of historical reduction

This letter is in response to the article, “Harvard protest an ineffective sham,” which appeared in the May 11 Lawrentian, and was written by Harvard student Jack Miller. I am writing to challenge the dangerous attitude which this editorial perpetuates and the conservative interpretations it maintains.The recent protest to which Miller referred was Harvard’s longest sit-in, lasting 21 days. The Harvard students were demanding a living wage for all of its employees, which would match a Cambridge city ordinance.

Miller begins by stating that “‘social justice’ doesn’t play a role in this issue.” But it is unacceptable for an institution as affluent as Harvard to deny its staff a living wage. Given the correlation between racial minority status and employment in the lowest paid sectors of our society, not to mention that women are consistently paid less than their male co-workers, the living wage is certainly related to social justice.

I agree with Miller’s criticism of the students, comparing the 2001 and 1969 protests, but for different reasons. Miller suggests that the protesters were not hardcore enough to be worthy of comparison. He states that they had “no battle scars to show but a robust beard.” He also belittles the students’ efforts partly based on the fact that “outsiders smuggled food, hygienic supplies, and schoolwork to the protesters…” and protesters “went so far as to demand academic immunity from missed classes and exams.” It is true that these facts undermine the integrity and reduce the drama of the students’ actions.

The connection drawn by the students between the recent and historical protests is harmful because it suggests that social justice is not an on-going issue, but an event which appears in our history.

Miller makes the same mistake as the protesters that he criticizes. He writes: “let’s face it—the 60s are over.” Miller implies that crimes of social injustice are historical events, and the need for social resistance is past.

This way of thinking harvests an attitude of complacency. Miller would rather have us believe that institutionalized racism, sexism, and classicism are resolved phenomena.

The need for organization in the name of social justice is not an historical event. The historical reduction of social justice or its resistance denies the existence of crucial problems in American society.

I hope that Miller experiences a rude awakening more jarring than “the occasional midnight snooze interrupted by jeering protesters.”

—Adam Kader,

Secretary, Students for Leftist Action