Tent City Remembered a Year Later

Ceremony Recalls November 1987 Eviction From Central Square Lot

A year ago Sunday at 7 a.m., MIT police evicted about 25 homeless squatters and activists from tents on a vacant lot near Central Square.

Though police arrested 10 of the protesters and slightly injured two others in the action against what had become known as "Tent City," about 20 protest veterans returned this weekend to the plot of land where the enclave stood. From the site, it is easy to see the skeleton of MIT's 27-acre University Park development which the campers gathered to protest last year.

Participants held a 20-minute ceremony in heavy rain, they said afterwards. A nearby resident read a poem. Tent City's unofficial mayor, Evelyn Parks, told the group she was still homeless.

Several local activists gave speeches and religious readings. One of them, Divinity School graduate James Stewart, said, "I was feeling in kind of a Marxist mood, so I didn't say anything too Biblical."

The group erected a model of an octopus that it uses to symbolize MIT, but did not try to build anything more permanent on the land this time, Stewart said. He said MIT did not try to stop the protest.


"The ceremony was kind of mushy," said Bill Cavellini, head of the Simplex Steering committee. The committee has fought MIT's development plans for 15 years.

"We were all deeply involved and very moved by the experience," Cavellini said. "We should've celebrated the beginning of Tent City rather than the end of it, but we didn't get it together in time," he added.

Keeping in Touch

Cavellini has kept in touch with other Tent City squatters, he said. One of them is Kim Fitzgerald, who won a bout with alcoholism after Tent City's demise and found an apartment in which to live. But Cavellini said now she is homeless again, this time less hopeful about her future.

Other squatters have disappeared, said Cavellini, while others promised to return for the ceremony and did not, possibly because of poor weather.

In legal developments since November 20, 1987, the City Council approved a zoning package which allows MIT to proceed with the development. But court battles over three rent-controlled houses across the street from the Tent City site are still stalling progress.

MIT proposed to replace the houses with a hotel, and the Rent Control Board originally approved the plan. But tenant activists appealed the board's decision and a superior court judge recently sent the proposal back to the city board to hear more evidence.

In the meantime, Tent City activists are keeping busy. Stewart last night led a meeting of activists to plan ways over the next year to keep other institutions--meaning Harvard, MIT, Tufts University and Lesley College--"on their toes." He said possible tactics include disrupting classes which teach defense industry-related topics, but he did not elaborate.

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