POLITICAL RALLIES AT HARVARD have run the gamut from the sublime to the ridiculous. Three winters ago, for example, a crowd 1000-strong braved the bitter cold to protest President Carter's reinstatement of draft registration. But, in the midst of a freak snow storm last spring, only about 100 people decried the Reagan Administration's cuts in financial aid to students.
Monday's demonstration in support of Benjamin H. Sasway, the Humboldt State College student sentenced to a prison term because he refused to register for the draft, falls somewhere in between. Despite a last minute relocation to a sight between the Science Center and Mem Hall, the rally still managed to draw about 300 people. But the event was marred by communication difficulties with the University and organizational problems that left people thinking about what could have been.
Originally, the Radcliffe-Harvard Peace Alliance got permission from Archie C. Epps III, dean of students, to gather on the steps of Memorial Church for a little speechmaking and slogan-chanting. As Epps explained. "I thought it would be the typical Harvard rally with a small number of students and a few speakers."
But subsequent to the meeting with Epps. Alliance members began to see the event on a grander scale. Michael T. Anderson '83, who almost single handedly organized the rally, managed to induce several local bands to appear. It was not until the weekend prior to the demonstration that University officials--thanks to a public service announcement on a Boston radio station--found our there would music. Moreover, there was concern that one of the bands. Session of Barms, would attract a significant non-Harvard following.
"The problem," said Assistant Dean of the College Marlyn Lewis, "was one of communication. No one told us the event was changing scope so dramatically. When we heard, we did everything we could to arrange a valid compromise. But we couldn't allow music in the Yard and insure the tranquility of the libraries and dorms."
Anderson said he tried to tell Epps of the change in plans but could not reach him. Instead, the Alliance apparently got the go-ahead from Peter J. Gomes, minister at Mem Church. But that information never reached Epps or his associates.
The College, according to Lewis, is not in the least adverse to campus protests. "We are here to help provide a forum so that students can voice their legitimate concerns," she said. That may be true. But if students and University officials cannot adequately communicate, it hardly seems likely they will be able to cooperate.
The rally itself suffered from too many speakers pontificating on too wide a variety of problems. The issue at hand was draft registration. Yet people managed to address--albeit eloquently--problems like. South Africa, Central America, and Lebanon. In trying to strengthen the argument against draft registration by evoking tenuous links to other dilemmas, speakers diluted the main gist of the protest.
Perhaps it is unfair to try to tell someone how to run his own show. Certainly we shouldn't underestimate the time and effort organizers put into Monday's protest. But in light of the turmoil surrounding the rally, it seems clear the Peace Alliance didn't do justice to a worthy and timely cause.