The Occupy Harvard protest appears to be entering its second, more serious stage having amassed the support of over 100 faculty members and successfully derailing a Newt Gingrich visit to campus. Gingrich has been catching a lot of flak lately for his ties to corporate America — even super lobbyist and felon Jack Abramoff is speaking out against Gingrich's "consulting" fees — and being called out on the issue during yet another Gingrich-plugging-Gingrich event won't help him change the dialogue. "Derailing" might be a too strong a word, though, given Gingrich's graceful recovery to the disruptive protest on Friday, but given the fact that Gingrich cancelled his planned book-signing event at the Harvard campus bookstore, the Coop, the Occupiers appear to have made their point. And they plan on making it a lot more often as A-listers visit the campus in the near future.
After we reported last week that the protesters suffered from a big solidarity problem, Occupy Harvard seems to have taken a turn towards the mainstream in Cambridge. On Monday, the protesters announced the success of a petition signed by 110 Harvard professors, some more prominent and more outspoken than others, that condemns the administration locking down Harvard Yard in response to the students' decision to set up camp in front of the John Harvard statue nearly two weeks ago. The measure led to some ridicule in the press for Harvard keeping even their version of a purportedly all-inclusive protest movement as exclusive as the university itself, but coupled with plans to target celebrities and politicians visiting campus along with the recent flood of support suggest that the protest hopes to take advantage of Harvard's high profile.
"It is something we'll continue to do," Occupy Harvard spokesperson Fenna Krienen told The Atlantic Wire when asked about future plans to go after famous campus visitors. "We have a lot of creative ideas." And the administration so far seems to be increasingly responsive to the threat of further disruption. At the Gingrich event, Krienen tells us, "The police presence was enormous outside the venue … they were checking IDs, keeping Occupy Boston members and kids from other schools from attend attending. They were certainly anticipating us and responded with a large police presence."
The disruption itself didn't prevent Gingrich from screening his film, but it did force him to offer a response to the Occupy movement. The Harvard Crimson reports:
Shortly after Gingrich arrived, Occupy protesters began chanting, “Mic check. Mic check! We love you Newt. We love you Newt! Thank you for standing up for corporations. They have rights too.”
Gingrich started to respond to the protesters, but they interrupted him mid-sentence to continue their chant.
“Thank you for understanding that simple point. We are the 99 percent!” the group yelled. Many audience members were frustrated by the protesters. “Go back to your tents!” shouted an audience member, prompting laughter and applause from many spectators. But Gingrich was unfazed by the interruption.
“I think we are 100 percent. We are all Americans,” responded Gingrich to further applause.
Gingrich skipped the planned book signing at the Coop after the event at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, giving the Occupy Harvard protesters a little victory. A much bigger victory, however, came last week when the administration agreed to the contract demands of the custodians on campus following a number of Occupy Harvard events in solidarity with the workers.
The administration is also responding to the faculty dissent over the locking the public out of Harvard Yard. On Tuesday, the faculty will host a forum
with Evelynn M. Hammond, the Dean of Harvard College, to discuss the occupation. (Update: The Occupy Harvard panelists were notified on Monday afternoon that Dean Hammonds had cancelled her appearance and declined to take part in the discussion.) "[The faculty] organized that without us," Krienan said. "We've invited a number of people to come to our general assembly but this will be the first time [the administration is] sitting down to talk about Occupy Harvard in an open setting." In the official announcement sent over to the Harvard University Graduate School of Arts & Sciences email list, the administration wrote, "Please remember to carry your Harvard ID for gate access."