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Black History Month 2004 officially came to an end on Monday. What comes next? Over the past four weeks, Harvard’s campus has been inundated with events meant to increase awareness about the history of African-Americans. “Black facts” were successfully distributed across House e-mail lists, the Association of Black Harvard Women led a provocative discussion about the intersection of race, gender and sexuality, and the Black Arts Festival is set to return this weekend to present some of the finest historical and contemporary renderings of the black experience in music, cinema, theater, visual art and dance.
But the struggle for justice and freedom at Harvard and the world outside its gates did not end on March 1. Student organizers on campus continue to work tirelessly against inequality and injustice. Some work daily to address substandard labor conditions for Harvard employees, Harvard’s forceful expansion into the surrounding neighborhoods and the harmful practices of the Harvard Corporation. Others address disparities along lines of race, class and gender for Harvard faculty, and the various racist or sexist ideologies some professors’ words and behavior seem to reflect. Even more work to raise awareness about international conflicts and encourage students to stand against war. Student groups have worked to create safe spaces for underrepresented students at the College, while others tackle the issue of sexual assault and violence. And an increasing number of students are involved in advocacy for the rights of youth, incarcerated people and low-income residents of the Boston area.
As the political action chair of the Black Students Association (BSA), my work this year has involved bridging the gaps between many of the organizations on campus that work against one or more systems of oppression. This past semester the Political Action Committee has worked to understand the systems of white supremacy, capitalism, male supremacy, heterosexism and ableism. But despite the large number of students at Harvard who are involved in social justice work, the Political Action Committee observed that there is absolutely no infrastructure to unite these groups, share resources and better understand the connections between the systems we work to change. As a result, we decided to bring together concerned student organizers and activists to determine a way in which we could revitalize the world of social justice work on campus. We believe that if we can unite as activists for change we can create a coalition of organizations and resources for all the different campaigns we work on.
To this end, the BSA Political Action Committee and student organizers from more than 20 other organizations will convene next weekend for the first ever Harvard Social Forum, titled “A Campus Wide Gathering of the Forces of Change.” We have planned a two-day retreat on which we will educate ourselves about the broader systems we challenge and create a more in-depth understanding of our individual campaigns and how we can encourage collaboration between groups. We will learn about the history of activism at Harvard, evaluate strategies for campaign development and work toward the beginnings of a coalition of multi-issue organizers. All student participants will undergo in-depth anti-oppression training, attend workshops on issues presented by student organizations and take time to socialize and get to know each other during an open mic event and closing party.
Though our goals for the retreat and future efforts to build a coalition are primarily centered on making change at Harvard, our intentions stretch far beyond campus activism. It is quite often that our experience as students in one of the most privileged environments in the world threatens to suffocate our knowledge of the world around us. One need not look far to see the realities of a world that is colored by segregation, actively expanding the prison and military industries as freedom and justice become less and less of a concern. Repression and violence against poor people, women and people of color take place without serious repercussions. And we stand witness to post-9/11 policies that continue to threaten civil liberties. The overarching goal, therefore, of educating ourselves and uniting for political empowerment is to better prepare Harvard graduates to work for social change in a world of brutal injustices.
In February we celebrate the freedoms won by the civil rights movement and the history of black liberation movements worldwide. We take time to appreciate black artists, writers, filmmakers, educators and leaders. But we must not forget that the world is still in need of people who are willing to continue to fight for freedom and equality. There is no time to rest.
Rachel S. Bolden-Kramer ’06 is a social studies concentrator affiliated with Dudley House. She is political action chair of the Black Students Association and the director of performing arts for the Black Arts Festival 2004.
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