On Joining the Demo ...
I protested against Harvard's share in apartheid last month, and yet I really don't like to protest. I am looking forward to the day when we will not have to worry about protest again; a little less excitement and a little more peace would suit me fine.
But I am also waiting for the day when all people are morally conscientious about their actions--when people care enough about others to be willing to make some sacrifices. I don't think that either of those days is here, though, and I don't think one can ever arrive without the other. So I guess I'll have to protest, although I feel uncomfortable doing so. And while I'm at it, I might as well explain why.
As a child, I was too young to fully understand all the marches and protests of the derstand all the marches and protests of the turbulent '60s. But I remember watching the protests on television--when violence often took over where reason had begun.
I remember seeing cars being turned over in Washington; I remember hearing of the activities and bombings of the Weathermen and Black Panthers; I remember hearing talk of revolution and slogans like "Burn, Baby, Burn!" I also remember seeing my parents' reaction to it all.
I don't think it has to be further explained why I have these awkward feelings about protest--it is simply something I was neither born nor raised to do. But concerning Harvard's complicity in apartheid, I did protest, nonetheless. The reason was, I believe that I represent the majority.
When I began last month's march from the Quad, it took me quite a while to get used to the sound of my own voice, and at first the words stuck in my throat. Our slogans were embarrassingly simple, and yet, throwing inhibitions to the wind, I shouted them until I grew hoarse. All the while I kept looking at those around me, and scrutinizing those who were by my side. Here were people I knew, friends and schoolmates, people just like me, who had also struggled to throw off their inhibitions.
I had once thought that most protests, though perhaps organized by informed individuals, were for the most part carried out by mindless turkeys who just got their kicks by parading around with a sign in their hand. But I could tell that even the people who watched from a distance supported what we tried to express: they just could not yet bring themselves to demonstrate.
After the march I spoke to many friends and faculty members, and asked them how they had felt about it--and the vast majority of them were in total support. Surely, there can be no more question now as to student sentiment after that torchlight paraqe. It should be obvious that we are united behind the demands of the Southern African Solidarity Committee (SASC).
I will not argue that all of those who marched on Thursday really knew all about the issue, not that they had all read the Corporation's report--but having spoken to many, I know that the majority were indeed well informed, and that we were indeed protesting out of personal conviction. And again, for each one of us out there, I am sure there were a number of others who were with us in spirit.
Such a sentiment, so pervasive among a body as diverse as the Harvard community, forms a consensus that cannot responsibly be ignored. And yet, it seems that we have been ignored--and that saddens me greatly.
I believe that Harvard is acting without conscience, for without even asking the faculty or alumni, it tells us that we, the students, form too small a "constituency" for our opinion to be respected. And worse yet, it attempts to excuse itself on the grounds that what it does, it does out of the moral conviction that by being mute it is really helping the South African people.
We might accept that, if it could even reasonably be shown to be true; but the arguments to the contrary are just too immense. When the black leaders of South Africa themselves call for corporate withdrawal, I think it is fair to say that we should respect their perceptions. When the United Nations General Assembly, the World Council of Churches, the NAACP, the Pan-Africanist Congress, the National Congress of South Africa, the Black Consciousness movement, the Congressional Black Caucus, the AFL-CIO and so many, many others say "withdraw," then I wonder: upon what do we base our supposedly "moral" decision to stay in?
It seems that Harvard is acting somewhat like one of the many New York City vandals, who when arrested after last summer's blackout said, "I didn't really steal that much, so why are you bothering me?! Besides, if I hadn't taken it, the next person would have. And it isn't as though I broke windows or doors myself, I just picked up the stuff that was lying on the ground already."
I will continued to protest. It does not please me to see sit-ins; it does not please me that Derek Bok suffers all the grief for a decision that is not his alone; it especially does not please me to think that violence, in any shape or form, sometimes accompanies protest. And when President Bok could not enter Massachusetts Hall on April 24, when he was chased into the Square by shouting students, and when students attempted to block his car as he tried to flee from the scene...then I am very much distressed.
What is more, I am totally disheartened by the irresponsible speech and profantiy of many of those students who spoke at last week's rallies. But still, in order to combat the greater evil, I will march, and chant, and protest until Harvard finally takes a stand, and acts as a leader in the effort against apartheid. Harvard has a name, and Harvard can lead the way. Until it does, that "Veritas" of ours really doesn't mean much.
"Harvard out now!"
Bret Schundler '81 is an executive of the Harvard Christian Fellowship.