Polities Free University
FREE UNIVERSITY began almost two weeks ago with the liberation (read seizure if you wish) of Lawrence Hall. an abandoned Law School building that was waiting to be torn down. No one on the Administration seemed to give a shit when it was taken. The big problem has been that so far very few students have given a shit either.
Free University sought to concern itself with socialism in its most practical and inclusive sense. It hoped in fact to build an organic community within the University functioning along socialist lines. Thus the liberation of Lawrence Hall was far different from the liberation of University Hall in that it was an ongoing project. People wanted space in which to talk, teach, learn, and share. Morcover, since it was clear from the outset that there would not be a police bust (Dean Watson even sent B and G men over to help clean up the building) the Free University would not be able to build student support around negative reactions to Harvard's unmasked malevolence. Nor would the Free University convoke itself on the basis of specific demands. The hope was that people who had demands would make them as affinity groups within the overall structure.
Perhaps all this involved too optimistic a reading of Harvard's capacity for creativity and spontaneity. Perhaps it also involved too pessimistic a reading of the degree of our alienation from existing structures. Perhaps the problem lies with the Free University itself, which was not at the outset the best vehicle for alienated creativity. My own feeling is that apathy at Harvard is far greater than anyone could have anticipated, and that those who set up Free U. suffer from it as much as those they hoped would use it. More important, I think we have become so cut off from non-abstracted reality that the idea of making something live by our own excitement and satisfaction seems remote beyond imagining. University Hall could rally people last year because it was cast as a symbolic action (for we never conceived of not giving it back to Harvard). It did not help to stop the war or end Harvard's oppression of the working people of this area, but in retrospect, we seem beyond really expecting that sort of causal link in our actions.
In the same sense, last Wednesday night's riot is a source of mixed feelings, because many people are not sure "what it symbolized." Again the idea that we could do something concrete to make people's lives better-see direct beneficial results of our actions-sounds almost silly. One of the saddest realizations I have had recently is that since I have been at Harvard, I have not helped one human being in the world, least of all myself. I can remember that it was not always so. In high school I used to spend many weekends and all of each summer working in the Washington ghetto playing with children. I can remember at least making them laugh sometimes. I guess most of our generation has a similar history of ebbing satisfactions.
SO WHAT happened at Free University? There were groups meeting all through last week. Some were well attended. Most were not. A day-carecenter was started, and it is continuing and doing well. But students on the whole have not felt the Free University important to their lives, and it has been neither a terribly warm nor exciting place.
In the last several days, the relative vacuum in Lawrence Hall has begun to be filled. It is interesting to note the groups involved. First, street people, with no where else to go, have begun to form a functioning community. There is music and food and a lot of fucking around. Second, women have come together to set up a Women's Center in the basement of the building. Third, Gay Liberation has been holding meetings which have been attended by up to thirty people. This Sunday night, they are sponsoring a dance at Lawrence Hall for gays and straight, the first such dance held in the Boston area.
If a Free University can exist at Harvard, it should. It would involve communality, decentralization, and a commitment to work hard at creative and sensible ways of living. The structure of a Free University should ideally be just that; a building and little more, People who care about it have to fill it up with what they want. A Free University cannot really start with leaders and programs. Forms must evolve out of the way people come together.