Occupy Harvard left up to students
Taras Dreszer was standing in a steady rain yesterday next to the Occupy Harvard site when a man walked up and asked if he was with the tents. He was.
“Do you think it’s a little ironic,’’ the man, a Harvard postdoctoral fellow, asked, “that the university that makes the 1 percent is protesting the 1 percent?’’
“A lot of people see irony,’’ Dreszer replied, “but that comes from misconstruing the movement.’’
These are not exactly the snappy three-word chants of a typical protest. But the arrival of the Occupy movement at the most ivy of the Ivies does make for such conversation starters, albeit ones the university has made Harvard-only, at least at the tent site.
On Wednesday night, the university shut down access to Harvard Yard to head off several hundred demonstrators, including many students, who had gathered at the law school and planned to march into the historic quad. The gates were opened around 10:30 p.m. to students with Harvard identification cards. Some promptly split into two groups and hunkered in campus basements, hatching a plot together via cellphones and text messages.
The students then converged on the John Harvard statue, where they set up 23 tents and refused to move despite pleas from a dean.
By yesterday evening, the tents were still raised, and so was security. Access to Harvard Yard remained limited to ID holders, and the school said it would remain that way “for the time being.’’
Harvard released a statement yesterday explaining its decision to close the Yard, with officials citing a rush on a university gate Wednesday night as a major factor.
“The university has a fundamental obligation to be attentive to the safety, security, and well-being of its students, faculty, and staff on campus,’’ the statement said. “The events of [Wednesday] night raised safety concerns: The number of demonstrators was large, many of the demonstrators were not from Harvard, and specific behaviors were troubling.’’
A Harvard official, who asked not to be named, said a university police officer was “roughed up’’ at the protest - elbowed and pushed - as protesters pulled at his gun belt and stole his radio.
The identity of the offenders was unknown, but the official said the incident happened around 10 p.m. as a mass of students and protesters pressed against a locked iron gate between Harvard Yard and a university science building, trying to enter the quad.
Tension ran high as crowds chanted; mariachi music blared from a nearby diversity festival, but no one at the gate was dancing. Though many in the crowd were Harvard students or staff, others were not affiliated with the university. Several protesters wore black scarves over their faces.
Dreszer, a sophomore, said that he, too, was roughed up. He has filed a complaint against a university police officer who, he said, grabbed him by the collar and threatened to punch him in the face.
“The thing I’m most surprised about is the fear from the security guards and the police,’’ he said of the occupation.
But some police and students did manage to get along. As students settled into their tents last night, one tossed a basketball back and forth with an officer.
As rain turned the campground to mud yesterday afternoon, all the tents were empty except for two that housed students on laptops.
The plan was never to stop going to class, organizers said, but to occupy the site in shifts, using it as a gathering point and visual statement.
“Symbolic value is important; it’s always been important,’’ said Joshua Eaton, an alumnus who works as a temporary worker at the university and has been volunteering with Occupy Boston.
To assume that a school like Harvard cannot be part of the 99 percent, he added, seems ridiculous.
“Look, I graduated in 2010 and haven’t been able to find a full-time job since then,’’ he said. “I’m the first person in my family to go to college, and I worked hard to go to Harvard, but I feel that the way the country is now, the American dream isn’t possible.’’