Political Vomit

Yesterday was the first time that I was both embarrassed and ashamed to be associated with my fellow Harvard students.

At 3 p.m. yesterday, the Harvard Office of Career Services hosted a counterterrorism career panel that included representatives from the Central Intelligence Agency, the Department of Homeland Security, and two non-partisan security think tanks. Joining the panelists were two distinct groups of Harvard students: one genuinely interested in potential careers in counter-terrorism, and another group consisting of rude, self-proclaimed morally superior, intellectually indoctrinated protestors. Let me be perfectly clear, while a tasteful protest marched on outside the Science Center, I am referring to the disruptive protestors sitting at the event. The propagandists’ techniques of disruption varied: their base tactics ranged from coughing incessantly to the point where none of the panelists could be heard, interrupting presentations to ask ludicrous questions such as “Isn’t it true you train your employees to torture,” staging a mock deportation of an ethnic minority protestor midway through the discussion, clapping obnoxiously to halt the dialogue, and ridiculing students who posed legitimate questions to the panelists. A protestor sitting three rows behind me physically made himself vomit.

The chatter after the event, among the legitimate audience, consisted of a single strain: sheer disgust. Liberal and conservative students alike were mortified and disgusted by the behavior of the protestors who were not only disruptive to the panelists but were disrespectful to their fellow Harvard students. Less than an hour after the panel, Russell P. Leino ’05, posted an e-mail to the Cabot House open-list stating that “I always thought the point of a protest was to offer an alternative idea to the one being presented, not drown out ideas one disagrees with in a sea of noise.” Vomiting and wearing black shrouds referencing Abu Ghraib are not effective means of encouraging positive social change and awareness. Rather than seek mutually beneficial dialogue or intellectually rigorous discourse that would result in an increased, more holistic, awareness, radical students, who I am ashamed to call my peers, engaged in counterproductive debauchery. The protestors’ actions demonstrated a disdain for diversity of opinion, and as a result, the incredibly disruptive protest was a step backward for progressive politics at Harvard. Unfortunately, the previous leniency of the administration with regard to more tasteful student protests will surely regress.

That this protest follows the incredibly effective and appropriate social movement to divest from PetroChina is ironic. The grass-roots organization and dedication of the Darfur Action Group, and the Senior Gift Plus group shows that there is, indeed, great potential for peaceful student movements and protests in progressive politics. Both the Darfur Action Group and Senior Gift Plus focused upon researching and further educating the Harvard student population on an issue. Neither group sought to silence political discourse. The difference between these student movements and the protest staged before the counterterrorism panel is that the former is made up of social progressives seeking to increase political dialogue, while the latter is made up of blindly fanatical ideologues seeking to silence differing opinions.

As the political Left often points fingers at Republicans for becoming indoctrinated by the conservative movement, it is imperative to understand that this indoctrination occurs on all sides of the political spectrum as evidenced by yesterday’s disrupters. It is this indoctrination and disrespect for diversity of beliefs that breeds bigotry, a concept that yesterday’s protestors claim to be against, but paradoxically act to perpetuate.

Although the media has revealed questionable practices of intelligence services over the past few months, there are more effective methods of raising awareness than those employed by students at the panel. The disdain for intellectual and political freedom being exhibited before the panel stood in stark contrast to the protest be carried out in good taste right outside the Science Center doors. The so-called progressive student disrupters should attempt to engage in a more intellectually rigorous manner instead of staging farcical skits and rude cell-phone ringing orchestration. That students chose to rudely belittle the guest panelists was an embarrassment to intellectual freedom and political movements at Harvard. Because of the naïve actions of a group of individuals, political protests will now become further regulated by the administration.

In the end, for a group of students that claims to be advocating among many other causes, for workers’ rights, who do you think will clean up the remnants of your protest? That’s right, the Harvard worker, who you loftily claim to be advocating for, is cleaning up your disgusting vomit.

Elise M. Stefanik ’06, a Crimson editorial editor, is a government concentrator in Winthrop House. She is vice-president of the Institute of Politics.