Occupy Harvard's Big Solidarity Problem
It's been nearly a week since Harvard guards closed and locked the gates of Harvard Yard to keep the Occupy Harvard encampment for Harvard students only, and now the inconvenience to the entire campus could serve as lesson in solidarity for the national movement.
It's been nearly a week since Harvard guards closed and locked the gates of Harvard Yard to keep the Occupy Harvard encampment for Harvard students only, and now the inconvenience to the entire campus could serve as lesson in solidarity for the national movement. Citing safety concerns, anyone who enters the Yard must now show their IDs, which is a pain, as an editorial in the Harvard Crimson scolding the protesters camped out in front of the John Harvard statue made clear. Sure, the premise of Occupy Harvard is a little bit ironic: a group of the world's most privileged college students are protesting privilege. And even then, only the privileged few can attend the protest! It's an easy jab. But The Crimson throws an uppercut at the movement:
The Yard's closing underlines this situation's reality; in practice, Occupy Harvard has so far hurt everyone and done much to turn potential supporters away from the movement and its stated goals. It has isolated the community of Cambridge and its flood of daily tourists from Harvard's campus and thus produced exactly the division between town and gown that it purports to want to fight.
Ouch. The reaction falls in line with broader trepidations about the movement's potential for success. Last month, we reported on the Occupy movement's nationwide branding problem, and the negative connotations of the word "Occupy." Eleanora Pasotti, author of Political Branding in Cities and an expert in effective activism, told The Atlantic Wire then that the positive impact of the Occupy movement would depend on the extent to which it could gain support from its respective community. "The movement will only be successful in persuading and mobilizing as long as viewers and participants see it as a space for 'common folk,'" she said. "They need to maintain distance from extremism especially in our political environment. You want outsiders to empathize with participants. That's the main mechanism of solidarity."
By its very elitist nature, Harvard is not a place we think of "as a space for 'common folk,'" but growing tensions between Occupy protesters and their communities is a nationwide issue. This week alone, we've seen the camps of both Occupy Oakland and Occupy Wall Street be destroyed by city officials, citing public safety concerns related to violence and drug use in the camps not to mention the on-going sanitation troubles. However, as popular support for the movement continues to soar — the latest figures showed 35 percent of Americans had a favorable opinion of Occupy — the recent raids weren't exactly democratic affairs. City mayors and police departments are even showing signs of colluding on coordinated crackdowns, and without pushback from the public, the trend could spread and start affecting everyday life in other cities as it has done in Harvard Yard. (So far, other Occupy camps around the country say the raids will have little effect on their protests.)
Does this all mean that Occupy Harvard is ruining everything? Absolutely not, in fact, the Crimson's Monday report on the growing tension caused by the Occupy Harvard movement presents a much more complicated picture of the Harvard community's reaction. Sure, some students complain about having to flash ID cards on the way to class, but most of those quoted seem to take issue with the administration, rather than the protesters. "Last year there was an armed robbery in front of Thayer and the Yard wasn't shut down then," protester Taras B. Dreszer told the paper. "In my opinion they're doing it out of fear that their image will be compromised. And they're doing it to turn student opinion against us, which has had a certain degree of success."