Occupy Harvard, which set up a few dozen matching tents in Harvard Yard almost three weeks ago, has been greeted by many with a healthy dose of skepticism. After all, what do these few privileged students have to complain about? Lynn O’Shaughnessy of CBS’s MoneyWatch remarked that: “It certainly is ironic that the Occupy movement has reached Harvard, considering that this is the school that produces many of the nation’s one percenters. And that’s never going to change.” In his November 20 column for The Daily Beast, Lee Siegel describes the encampment thusly: “No telling what these bold protests will lead to. More electives in post-feminist, pre-capitalist, hegemonic, Third World revolution. Longer master’s teas. More squash courts at the Harvard Club.”
It’s accurate that many of the more pointed demands made by the camp—increased custodial salaries, opening the currently locked Harvard Yard encampment to the public—pale in comparison to the deeply troubling issues facing civic occupations and the occupations of public universities like UC Davis. Harvard students are well taken care of by a $32 billion endowment fund—crippling student debt is not a major issue here, and it’s safe to say that few of these students will ever be among the 46 million Americans currently living below the poverty line.
So is Occupy Harvard relevant? Chris Hedges certainly thinks so. The Pulitzer Prize-winning author of American Fascists and Death of the Liberal Class has been a leading intellectual voice of support for Occupy Wall Street, and is so convinced of Occupy Harvard’s vital importance to the movement that he first spoke to the camp last night, and then embedded with them in Harvard Yard, which has been locked to non-Harvard cardholders since November 10.
In this video and the two that follow, Hedges carefully outlines the special role Harvard has the opportunity to play in this movement.
A 2007 survey in Harvard’s campus newspaper found that 47 percent of Harvard seniors planned to go into financial consulting. By fostering an academic culture that produces many of the very Wall Street executives responsible for the policies that precipitated the economic meltdown, Hedges argues Harvard is itself implicit in the vast economic inequalities that currently plague America. He laments what he describes as the hollowing out of an institution that once celebrate a liberal arts education, but now teaches students how to earn, rather than how to think.
Hedges supports this occupation because unlike others, Occupy Harvard participants have access to the very individuals often named as directly responsible for the economic inequalities the occupy movement addresses. Notable names on that list include former director of the National Economic Council Larry Summers, former United States Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, and George W. Bush’s chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors N. Gregory Mankiw (On November 2, 70 members of Occupy Harvard staged a much-publicized walk-out of his Economics 10 class). Summers and Mankiw teach at Harvard today; Rubin sits on its executive board.
Says Hedges: “This movement is important not because of its size, but because it is run by people within the institution who have access to these figures, and [can] begin to call them to account, and that’s extremely important for those of us who don’t carry Harvard ID cards.”
Below are part 2 and 3 of Hedges’ speech, in which he takes questions from students.