A small group of students calling themselves the “Students at Harvard Undermining Terrorism-United Patriots” (SHUT-UP) enacted a farcical pro-war demonstration in front of the John Harvard Statue at noon yesterday.
Members of the Harvard Anti-War Coalition (HAWC) marched through Harvard Yard and the surrounding area with signs reading “Five more years (or however long it takes...)!” and chanted “1, 2, 3, 4, we support preemptive war!”
The march was one of several events the group has organized as the fifth anniversary of the Iraq War approaches. HAWC also plans to distribute black armbands around campus, coordinate a “die-in” at noon this Friday, and co-sponsor an anti-war rally with the Harvard Democrats, the Harvard Libertarians, and other campus groups on March 19.
When the event began, Associate Dean of the College Judith H. Kidd walked by and reprimanded the demonstrators for protesting without a permit.
“She came up to me and said, ‘You guys can’t do this, you guys have to get out of here,’” said Kyle A. Krahel ’08, a founding member of HAWC. “She seemed very flustered.”
Kidd did not return a request for comment yesterday evening.
Several minutes later, as HAWC members marched out of the Yard, two police cruisers parked by the Science Center. After the demonstration, the students walked in the Yard, and a HUPD officer approached them, telling them not to do it again, according to Krahel.
Though the group did not have a permit for the protest, Krahel added that HAWC has never applied for or received permits for their weekly peace walks in the Yard, and administration members have never taken issue with them.
“Because it was jarring in a certain way and unconventional, it struck a cord with her because it would actually draw attention,” he said.
According to Krahel, the protest was inspired by Billionaires for Bush—a national grassroots campaign that satirically supports President Bush in order to express its view of corporate interests—and derived from a similar tactic used by protesters last May in support of raising wages for security guards.
Word of the protest was spread through campus e-mail lists, with a farcical flyer that asserted, “This war is needed to stimulate our economy and protect our homeland!”
“This is about supporting good patriotic values and our God-given right to protect the land where our oil is residing,” said protester and HAWC member Matthew A. Opitz ’10. “I think it’s about time to stand up to liberal agitators.” Out of character, he added that the goal of the protest was “to, obviously, oppose the war and bring attention to the absurdity of the situation.”
The march down Quincy St. and Mass. Ave. drew bemused glances from tourists and prospective students and silent confusion from local pedestrians.
But other reactions were less favorable. “I would think Harvard students have better things to do with their time than institute fake protests,” said Harvard Republican Club President Caleb L. Weatherl ’10. “It’s mindless stuff like this that gives people the impression that Harvard is full of crazy, fringe left-wingers.”
Weatherl was particularly critical of the group’s satire of supporting the troops. “I understand that many students here are opposed to the war, but the majority express their views in a respectful manner,” he added, “It only disrespects those who do support the honorable men and women in combat by trying to portray them as idiots.”
But Krahel said this was not the group’s intention.
“We were definitely not demonstrating against the troops,” he said. “It was against the emptiness of the rhetoric on the pro-war and conservative side.”