Pitching Tents, Pitching In

It’s a quiet night in “tent city.”

Shortly after one o’clock in the morning, few people are stirring in the shelters that have turned the Yard into a camping ground. The doctor has retired for the night, although the mayor is still holding court. Most of the night’s campers either have gone to sleep or will not be coming until later in the night, after they’ve finished studying.

Pitched under signs reading “Welcome to Hypocrisy University” and “God Supports a Living Wage,” there are around 80 tents now, from simple ones-tarps draped over clothesline hung between trees-to large, fancy pavilions with awnings. Most of the tents were put up over a week ago in support of the Progressive Students Labor Movement (PSLM) sit-in for a “living wage.”

At its peak two weekends ago, the tent city housed 110 people, according to its organizers. But now, they say, only about 60 people come each night, so many of the tents stand empty night after night.

Some are just for show, symbolic gestures of support for the protesters who have been sitting in Massachusetts Hall demanding a wage of $10.25 an hour for Harvard workers. One woman rounded up six tents and pitched them all in the Yard, though she only sleeps in one. Another man rented tents from a local outdoors outfitter and dropped them off for other protesters to use.

A few of the protesters have brought spouses and families and the atmosphere in the Yard has been not unlike a family picnic, complete with food brought by sympathetic restaurant workers from the area.

To most of its residents, the camp-out in the Yard has become a city under cover.

The tents are numbered and assigned plots around the area in front of Massachusetts Hall, which has become known by the protesters as “Justice Avenue,” “Unity Boulevard” and “1025 Mass. Ave.” It has town meetings and its own self-styled mayor, Rhys Burmann.