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Ain't They Got No Shame?

By Tony Hill


By virtue of the authority granted to me by the Corporation and the Board of Overseers, in their name, and in accordance with ancient custom, I declare that you, Derek Curtis Bok, having been duly chosen to be the twenty-fifth President of Harvard College, are vested with all of the powers and privileges appertaining to that office, and are empowered to exercise the same during the pleasure of the Governing Boards. And I herewith deliver to you the insignia of your authority.

AIN'T they got no shame?" reads a sign on the blackboard in the second floor room in Mass Hall. The sign is red chalk, and against the slate smooth surface of the blackboard resembles a question written in dried blood, a dead man's last words.

"Ain't they got no shame?" that is the basic question here. April rain falls in the windless chill of the night outside. A picket line, chanting, marches to the song on the loud speaker. "For God's sakes, you gotta give more power to the people," the song goes, and the pickets, no longer a mere line of defense against the potential bust of Mass Hall, chant on rhythm: "Soul Power! Give More Power to the People," Clenched fists, black and white, thrust up into the rain. "Ain't they got no shame?"

Inside, the blanketed black bodies lie strewn about the carpet and couches of Derek Bok's office. It is 2:30 in the morning on Monday. The occupation is 93 hours old. The bodies sleep without sound. The fear that their sleep might be interrupted by a club in the head or a police boot in the groin has long since died within them. In the hallway outside, a girl in a pink blanket informs the few still awake downstairs that it's after curfew and everyone but the Night Crew should be sleeping. In the timelessness inside this occupied building, her directive has a physical authority, and the last bodies find their ways to the floor. Everyone inside is aware that the game is now a test of stamina. There has been a little less laughter today, a few more headaches, and faces showing the tension of engaging in the long pull. People's concerns have expanded to include questions like health, as the occupier's translate yesterday's catch-phrase. "We'll be here when they come," into the physical language of practical and tactical adjustments.

THE ONE thing that's clear now is that we'll be here when they come," Randall Robinson of PALC said when I asked him Saturday what would happen if the police come. "We'll have to see when the police come," Jim Winston also PALC added. "It's up to them in some respects."

The burden of response is now clearly again on Bok and the University. Their decision to retain possession of the Gulf stock in the face of the opposition of what Robinson terms "the overwhelming African voice" was retorted 14 hours later by the seizure. The Administration's efforts to bluff by injunction were similarly answered and the seizure became an occupation, outside the law, and for the moment at least, no longer in the focus of national attention.

However, the current condition is a hollow truce and not a resolution. As it is on the blackboard of the second floor storeroom, the fundamental question here, "Ain't they got no shame?" is still unanswered.

One can expect this occupation to last until that question is resolved. As one sophomore in the occupation put it, "We'll be here when they come, unless they sell the Gulf stock."

THE voice on the radio was slow and heavy. "Had they not agreed," Derek Bok explained. "we would have voted against the company and made that very clear to them." The University had received an "expressed commitment" from Gulf management that they would disclose the particulars of their operations in Angola. In effect, Harvard had successfully elicited from Gulf in private negotiations the proxy objective that Harvard's three-tenths of one per cent of the company's shares could not have secured at the stockholders' meeting.

Mathematically, it was an impressive finesse. Equivalent perhaps in the game of corporate diplomacy to the Ali Shuffle. Relaxed and confident during the press conference in which the decision was first announced. Bok enumerated the constructive trade-offs implemented by the Corporation's decision with all of the rational enthusiasm of a Plimptonesque first-timer. Confronted with a sticky wicket, he had nonetheless prevailed. But as Bok discovered when the call came at dawn Thursday morning, there were people who were not impressed by Harvard's corporate shuffle. Throughout that day and into the next, a steady stream of people both inside and outside the University informed Bok of how unimpressed they were.

Congressman Charles Diggs, Chairman of the House Sub-Committee on Africa and the first chairman of the Black Caucus, told Bok in a telegram that:

"I wish to associate myself with the position taken recently by black students at Harvard on the issue of the University's shameful involvement with Gulf Oil. Those actions taken by the students do not surprise me. These are necessary actions to demonstrate their deeply felt opposition to your Corporation's stated position. It is a position that is morally bankrupt and unworthy of an institution with such a reputation."

The Harvard Association of Black Faculty blasted the Corporation's position statement as "Harvard's flat refusal to admit its duplicity and accept its responsibility for its immoral actions;" while over two dozen white faculty signed a statement calling the Gulf investment "morally indefensible."

Yet perhaps the most significant statements came from a man with no other credentials than his personal experience in Angola. Robert Van Lierop, who had co-conducted the Gulf teach-in here in March, spoke again on Friday in front of Mass Hall. Van Lierop, a film maker and journalist who moonlights as a restaurant worker, is recognized by Africanists as the most perceptive observer of the situation in Angola and Mozambique and is currently finishing a film he shot in Portuguese Africa. He said, "Harvard's explanation for owning Gulf stock is like when you see a woman being raped by ten men you jump on and become the eleventh because she's already getting fucked."

Ain't they got no shame?

RANDALL Robinson sat in a chair against the wall of one of the secretaries' offices on the second floor. "The point is that before you get to the question of all that more jobs bullshit," he said of the Corporation's stated intention of urging Gulf to hire more Angolans and upgrade the jobs of the 33 blacks the company currently employs. "You're talking about colonialism here, and any investment, whether you can affect it by withdrawal or not, buttresses the damn thing. The Corporation never deferred to the African voice. The OAU (Organization of African Unity) has said they want Gulf out. Frelemo, PAIGC, MPLA have said they want Gulf out. The Black Congressional Caucus has said they want Gulf out. Rutabanzibwa, the Tanzanian Ambassador, said so. The Vice President of Zambia said so. The overwhelming African voice has said to Bok that it is in our interest to have Gulf out. To have you out of Gulf and to have Gulf out of Angola. In this statement Bok not only says that it's not useful for Harvard to get out of Gulf," Robinson said, his face registering disbelief, "he goes even further and says it ain't even useful for Gulf to get out of Angola-which is just the height of arrogance."

Robinson's face clouded with unfamiliar harshness. "It's bad for people to keep identifying Bennett as the only bastard on that Corporation," he said. "Bennett is not the only bastard. They're all just shades of the same horse and there's not much difference between the front and the back. The only difference between Bok and Bennett is that Bennett is more honest." Robinson, who had attended the Law School while Bok was there, added. "It said in this morning's Crimson that I was a good friend of his. I go on record as correcting that, I think there's some sense of mutuality about friendship."

THE BOK style inspires such remarks. The handling of the whole Angola issue has been marked by an arrogant and spineless paternalism that is reckless in its desire to smooth, please and control all concerned.

At the first meeting between the Administration and the PALC on February 24, the Administration was informed of the statements that black organizations and individuals had made condemning Gulf's Angolan operation, the University's nexus to the injustice and suffering in Portuguese Africa, and the demand for a graphic demonstration of moral revulsion on the part of the University by a well publicized severance of the Gulf connection.

Steve Farber, who later authored the Gulf Angola memo the Corporation used as the basis for its decision, sat through the whole presentation, and then telescoped the key point of what may prove to be the costly arrogant attitude of the Administration with his response. Farber said, "Well, black people don't have a monopoly on wisdom."

To which a black South African retorted. "No, Mr. Farber, black people don't have a monoploy on wisdom, but they goddamn sure have a monopoly on suffering."

"And that's what we're talking about," Jim Winston said Saturday. "That's really what the whole thing boils down to and they refuse to recognize that fact. And everything else that they say to disguise it can't hide that fact. There's nothing rational in the response that they gave. There's no rational basis on which to say that sending Steve Farber to Angola is going to change anything for anybody at any particular time."

THE VOICE on the radio was slow and heavy, stumbling like an expiring runner stumbling through a jungle of ill-logic and abandoned good intentions. The echo of congas drumming and a strong electric guitar nearly drowned out the radio's reproduction of Derek Bok's voice. The President of Harvard College was voicing his desire to see the occupation ended without injury. "They're our students and we care about them and their welfare."

However, the most immediate threat to the welfare of the occupiers of Mass Hall is the restraining order obtained at Bok's direction, for as he himself admitted. "The courts may take the enforcement of the injunction into their own hands." If the court so decides, the welfare of the occupiers is in jeopardy, to say the least.

The most honorable and reliable way for the University to avoid the bad exposure of a blood bath at Mass Hall is to negotiate a settlement. However, Bok has absolutely nothing with which to negotiate. As the University's chief administrative officer, he is vested with all the powers and privileges appertaining to that office," but is not empowered to countermand the directives of the Governing Boards at whose pleasure he serves.

If Bok is truly sincere in his desire to have the occupation ended peacefully, he must induce the Corporation to alter its decision-even if that requires his resignation. The Daly Delay stalling strategy was effective in ending the occupation of a building at the University of Chicago, but there is little indication that it can be applied successfully here. The occupiers will probably be eligible to file for homestead before they would leave Mass Hall to Bok and Angola to Gulf. As Randall Robinson puts it. "This our turf now. The University is in exile. Now we are prepared to confer a degree on you in here. Yeah, we've taken our shoes off and set up. Yeah, this Birth of a Nation."

Ain't you got no shame D. W. Griffith

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