Harvard protest an ineffective sham

Today at a little after 4:00 p.m., the longest sit-in in Harvard’s 365 year history drew to a close. After 21 days, 20-odd mangy, unshaven, unbathed protesters emerged from Massachusetts Hall, the oldest building on campus and home to the office of the president and a few dozen unlucky freshmen. Greeting them with explosive cheering and red roses were several hundred supporters—a motley assortment of members of the Progressive Students Labor Movement (PSLM), workers, students from other area universities, tourists, reporters, and random old hippies looking to relive their heyday. Their demand: a “living wage” of $10.25 per hour plus benefits for all employees of Harvard.
Although $10.25 seems absurd from a Midwestern perspective, you can’t argue that Boston and its environs boast some of the highest costs of living of anywhere in the nation. The city of Cambridge itself has adopted a similar “living wage” ordinance, so it seems fair that Harvard should follow suit. Rallies at noon and 8 p.m. daily featured fiery speakers who let us know that Harvard is grievously disobeying the tenets of “social justice” in implicitly supporting poverty amongst its employees. Many made sure to point out the similarities between this protest and the occupation of University Hall during a 1969 anti-Vietnam protest that resulted in the violent evacuation and expulsion of 200 students by Cambridge police. What a fitting testament to such a grand tradition.
I have nothing against non-violent resistance, aside from the occasional midnight snooze interrupted by jeering protesters. In fact, it was nice to step out for a breath of fresh air while working on a computer science problem set and watch the sun rise over the dozens of protester tents basking in their self-reverential glow. But let’s face it—the 60s are over.
For one, “social justice” doesn’t play a role in this issue. No one is being discriminated against based on race, the university isn’t engaging in any illegal action against it’s employees, and no one is being sent off to die in the jungle. I think an especially belligerent union representative said it best: “We just want MONEY.” I can’t think of a more noble cause.
Furthermore, non-violent protest implies resistance. Other than the angry cries of a few angry first-years living within a stone’s throw of the protest, the Harvard community took every measure to ensure the comfort of those sitting-in. Outsiders smuggled in food, hygienic supplies, and schoolwork to the protesters, and the normally stringent Harvard police bent regulations to allow excessive postering and use of amplification. The protesters went so far as to demand academic immunity from missed classes and exams—after all, it wouldn’t be just for them to sacrifice their academic well being due to their actions. The PSLM vowed not to leave until the university implemented the living wage, but left today on the promise of a new committee to discuss possible alternatives. Perhaps impending finals had more to do with the protest’s end than an actual change.
So, congratulations PSLM. You achieved everything you wanted: to relive the revolutionary fervor of your parents’ era with the whole world (or the Harvard community at least) watching, and with no battle scars to show but a robust beard. Many times I thought about joining in the action, tapping my heart and bleeding the ground red with my own self-aggrandizement. But as long as nonviolent protests are instigated by Gandhi’s without a cause, count me out.
—Jack Miller
The writer is a student at Harvard University. -Ed.