Tent Talk: My Night With Occupy Harvard

Natalie M Frieder

Occupy Harvard protests outside of Mass Hall, where students in 2001 launched a Living Wage campaign.

It was 10:00 p.m. on a Thursday night and the Occupy Harvard encampment was deserted.

Ten minutes passed and still no one was there. I peeked into a few tents. Nothing.It seemed that the question being tossed around by my peers—“Do they actually sleep in the Yard or do they just have tents?”—had been answered. Still, it would have been hard to blame them for not wanting to sleep outside in a tent. The night was cold and rumors of the season’s second snowfall had circulated.

Perhaps there would be no occupation.

Just as the scene could not have appeared any more devoid of activity, the occupiers began to arrive as if by clockwork. The movement’s leaders were absent, but the protestors knew the drill—with a glance at the centrally located white board they learned their tent assignments. Backpacks and sleeping bags in hand, they headed to their shelter for the night.

By 10:30 p.m., 10 to 20 protestors had arrived, including the movement’s leaders. Gabriel H. Bayard '15 would handle logistics for that night and Sandra Y.L. Korn '14 was in charge of the group’s media outreach. She had slept in the tents every night since the occupation began. That had been nine days before. I decided to spend a night with Korn and her compatriots, in the center of Harvard Yard, under the shadow of the John Harvard statue.

* * *

I hadn’t yet been assigned a tent when the Harvard University Police arrived. The HUPD car had been idle on the opposite end of the Yard, but quickly sped from its perch to the periphery of the campsite.

The moment of the raid had come, I thought. Oddly, no one seemed alarmed at the fast approaching authority figure.

“Where’s the boss lady?” the officer asked in a light-hearted tone without getting out of the car. He wanted to speak to Korn, who was perhaps the most familiar face for HUPD.

“She’s not here, but I can help,” Bayard told the officer.

“Alright. You guys doin’ alright tonight? Anything you need?”

“No, we’re all good. Thanks.”

“How many you got sleeping out tonight?”

“It’s tough to say, I think we’re at maybe 70 percent to 90 percent.”

While a considerable number of people were sleeping out, the figure seemed exaggerated, from a quick glance around the tents. The officer appeared skeptical, but not particularly concerned with the figures.