Harvard Students Rally Against Apartheid
by Pam Rotella
Invictus Volume 10, Number 13, April 28, 1986
The links below click through to JPG files of the original article:
"Harvard Students Rally Against Apartheid," 28 April 1986 page 1
Second page (actual page of newspaper was page 5)
Special note, 12 March 2012: While working on interviews and photos for my new article on the banned protest art show in Madison over the weekend, I remembered my first article on a big protest. It wasn't about a protest of tens of thousands against a corrupt governor, though -- it was a college protest of a few hundred people. I was a college student at the time, spending the weekend in the Boston, Massachusetts area, when I happened upon a shanty town in the Harvard Yard. Students there were having a rally against apartheid in South Africa, demanding that their university divest.
My own college, University of Wisconsin, had already divested, but the anti-apartheid movement was one of my college generation's main causes. In fact, I object to the label "Generation X" that some ill-informed people gave us, portraying us as self-centered kids who wouldn't stand up for issues like college kids of the 1960s had. The college students of my generation who didn't want anything but a degree to make money may have ignored the issues of the day, but the smart, concerned kids were very active in several issues, including apartheid. I was involved in the movement myself, in fact I'd done a research paper for one of my classes where I'd examined whether US sanctions against South Africa would help bring down the apartheid government. The scholarly sources I found said that they would, due to South Africa's vulnerability after an investment miscalculation related to US currency value -- my very intelligent professor from Ghana disagreed. Guess who was right?
Although ending apartheid was an issue adopted by the previous college generation, mine was the generation that finished it. Sanctions passed despite then-president Ronald Reagan's opposition to them -- the late Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts was instrumental in that -- and the rest is history.
The main newspaper of the UW-Milwaukee campus at the time, The UWM Post, wasn't interested in publishing this article. Divestment was old news at the university -- Wisconsin had divested during the previous decade. (The rally had taken place on the weekend of the Boston Marathon, and so one of the Post's editors wanted to know if I had pictures of that. Unfortunately, I hadn't brought my camera, and doubt that I would have gone to a sporting event just for the Post anyway.) But the newspaper of the Black Student Union, Invictus, was interested -- and they ran it on their front page. (Frankie Ransom was a great Editor.) They still have the copyright on this article, but when I tried to research what happened to the newspaper, it appeared to have gone out of print, and I doubt that any of the old editors would care if I posted this old article online. There were a few typos in the original -- not my own, and I'm sure not the editorial staff's. Typesetting of the 1980s wasn't what it is today. Errors at the printing houses for these small papers weren't uncommon. I've corrected a couple of them, noted with brackets, but have probably missed others.
And so here it is, my first protest article from over 25 years ago... Articulate kids from Harvard, trying to make a positive difference in the world. And they did.
To follow is a transcript of the original article:
Harvard Students Rally Against Apartheid
by Pam Rotella
Invictus Volume 10, Number 13, April 28, 1986
Over 300 people gathered in the Harvard Yard Saturday, April 19, to rally against Harvard University's investment in companies doing business in South Africa.
The rally was sponsored by the Southern African Solidarity Committee (SASC) of Harvard. SASC has built an "open university," consisting of a shanty-town and an "ivory tower" made of cardboard, scrapwood, and plastic in the middle of the yard.
One of the group's demands of the Harvard administration is rectification of damages from a letter sent to alumni, urging them to vote against candidates advocating divestment in Harvard's Board of Overseers election. The Board must approve or disapprove all actions taken by the Harvard Corporation. The letter was issued by Joan Bok, President of the Board of Overseers, and included in the packet of materials received by alumni when voting for members of the Board of Overseers. (A copy of the letter is on page 5)
According to Ljena Horwitz, a sophomore involved in the "Open University," the Harvard administration has stated that the Open University is a form of freedom of speech, and that they would not take it down. However, there is concern that this may change when commencement, traditionally held in the Harvard Yard, draws near.
The group received a bomb threat Friday, April 18, at 3:30 a.m., according to Horwitz; students slept outside their shanties while the Harvard Police force parked in the yard for the students' protection. Also, SASC has heard rumors that conservative groups are planning to tear the "Open University" down.
According to Brad Stam, a junior at Harvard, the administration has refused to talk about [divestiture] in an open forum, and its attitude toward SASC has been one of paternalism.
Robert Weissman, a sophomore involved with SASC, said in an interview that administrators do meet with the group often, but that all discussion of divesting is "off the record."
"We created this 'Open University' in response to this closed university in which we live," said Weissman.
Weissman claims that reasoned dialogue with the administration does not exist at Harvard and therefore direct confrontation is the only method of bringing pressure.
"There are no 'official' channels open to us that are of any meaning," he said.
Weissman said that 60 students have been extremely active in SASC, but that 200 had helped to build the shantytown. The organization is ten years old, although the divestiture movement at Harvard began fifteen years ago. The group relies upon contributions from its own members, fellow students, and faculty members to function.
At the Saturday rally, Jamie Raskin, a member of SASC, sharply criticized the resistance of Harvard's administration to divestment.
"President Bok says that 'the corporations in South Africa are trying to reform apartheid from within.' You can't reform a prison, you can't reform a concentration camp -- you have to take it down" he said.
Tom Gallagher, a candidate for the Eighth Congressional District of Massachusetts, recalled his activities in the anti-Vietnam movement of the 1960's. Gallagher said that it took constant effort to believe such activities were having any effect, and offered encouragement.
"When the day comes that you shame this university to living up to its commitments, you will have won a great victory" he said. "Shantytowns like this will come and they will go; but the struggle must go on... As long as students at Harvard and across the nation continue to speak out against apartheid, the day will come when apartheid will end. Don't give up the struggle."
Tom Fox, a first-year student at Harvard Law School, noted that such local activities were needed because the U.S. government has not acted. "We can't look to our government -- it's obvious that Ronald Reagan is on another G.I. Joe mission... This country's foreign policy sucks."
"We pay enormous tuition every year, and I don't want my money to go toward oppressing a people. That's one of the reasons this shantytown is here. If Harvard is going to act dirty, it has to look dirty."
"We cannot distinguish ourselves from the beast; we are a part of the beast" Fox continued.
"I challenge you to look at apartheid at Harvard. To look at the treatment of minority students at Harvard. To look at the employment of minority faculty at Harvard."
Speaking at the rally, Boston City Councilman Yancey, asked people to look at Harvard's policies through slavery, segregation, various wars, and the like.
"They have always supported the powers that be, because they are the powers that be" he said. "They are benefiting from the investments that support the oppressive government."
John Shulman, of Undergraduate Students Against Racism at Harvard, said "Racism is used to subjugate people by stripping them of their humanity," and urged the mostly white audience to divest themselves of racism.
He warned, "Your critics want desperately to call you hypocrites."
"As a white man, simply from living in America, I reap the benefits of discrimination," he continued.
"The connection between racism in South Africa, its more polished form in the United States, and its corruptive influence in our hearts and minds must be made," said Shulman.
Mark Dion, an alumnus of Harvard, began his speech by recalling the beatings and arrests in the Harvard Yard when he was active in 1969. "Welcome. You're in the twentieth year of trying to educate the Harvard Corporation."
Dion spoke of Harvard's involvement in things such as counterinsurgency research today, and of Harvard's same role during the Vietnam War. He used the example of Henry Kissinger taking a leave of absence to plan the war.
The final SASC member speaking at the rally, Phyllida Burlingame, listed five demands that SASC has made of the Harvard administration. The demands called for divestment, an alteration of the decision making process of the university, as well as other concerns.
"So far, the university has not responded to our demands," she said, and asked the audience to respond by civil disobedience if the demands were not met by noon on the Tuesday following the rally.
Ending the rally was the erection of a "lecture hall" as an addition to the "Open University." All students attending the rally were asked to help build the lecture hall.
"Letter to Harvard Alumni"
I am writing to you to request your participation in the annual election of new members for the Board of Overseers. Indeed, I particularly urge your participation this year, for this is not an ordinary Overseers' election. In 1986, for the first time in my recollection, three alumni are actively campaigning as petition candidates in order to press a specific issue, the total divestment by Harvard University of the stock that it owns in American firms that carry on any business in South Africa.
I hope that you will read the enclosed booklet and study the background information and statements of each of the candidates. As you do this, you may wish to consider a question raised by this election: what is the role of the Board of Overseers in the governance of Harvard University and how can that role be best carried out? By the terms of the University's Charter, the Board does not have the powers to set policies for the investment of Harvard's endowment. This is a function of the Harvard Corporation. The Central role of the Overseers has been to encourage the University to maintain the highest attainable standards as a place of learning. Overseers carry out this mission by visiting faculties, departments, and important programs throughout the University so that they can inform themselves about the quality of teaching, research, and administration and the identify problems and offer advice to [faculties] and University officials. My experience suggests that the Board of Overseers functions best when the members bring a breadth of experience, interest, and open-mindedness to their consideration of Harvard's programs and performance.
If the Board of Overseers were to become a body made up of members elected primarily to press a particular policy, it would be a very different board than it has been heretofore. The issue at stake is not one that should be resolved casually or decided by a small minority of Harvard graduates. As a result, I hope you will think about this question carefully and cast your vote accordingly.
Whatever your opinion may be on this subject, I urge you to consider the candidates with care. Through your informed participation we have the greatest chance of electing candidates that will serve the interests of Harvard.
Joan T. Bok
President of the Board of Overseers
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© 2012, 1986 by Pam Rotella and Invictus.
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