First #OccupyHarvard General Assembly Draws 500+; Harvard Yard Locked Down to Public Press and Some Students
Cambridge, Mass. - Harvard University's main quad - the famed Harvard Yard, bounded by Mass Ave., Peabody St., Cambridge St., Broadway and Quincy St. - was locked down in response to Harvard students, staff and faculty calling the first general assembly of Occupy Harvard this evening. All visitors without a Harvard affiliation - including members of the press - are being stopped at the five open gates of the walled complex by a combination of private security guards, Harvard University Police and Cambridge Police. Some Harvard students, including residents of dorms on the yard, have also been prevented from entering the yard seemingly at random throughout the evening.
When it became evident that outside supporters would not be allowed to enter the Yard shortly after the scheduled 7 p.m. start time of the general assembly, the initial Occupy Harvard participants exited Johnston Gate and blocked Mass. Ave. briefly before being joined by some of the over 100 Harvard union employees from SEIU Local 615 and UNITEHERE Local 26, and proceeding on an unscripted march up Mass. Ave. to the nearby Harvard University Law School quad - where there was no significant police presence.
The over 500 people in attendance at that point then called the first Occupy Harvard general assembly to order. Occupy Boston spokespeople joined Occupy Harvard spokespeople in convening the meeting and ran the crowd through the basics of the Occupy movement's "modified consensus" decision making process. Discussion then began, led off by unionized Harvard workers in English and Spanish.
The general assembly decided to attempt to gain entry to Harvard Yard after the first hour of deliberation, and were denied entry at the Science Center Gate, Johnston Gate and Boylston Gate.
The general assembly then reconvened at Boylston Gate, and is still meeting as of this writing. Some Occupy Harvard students inside Harvard Yard are expected to attempt to set up an encampment at some point tonight.
When asked why Harvard University has taken the highly unusual step of locking down Harvard Yard in response to the first Occupy Harvard general assembly, Tania deLuzuriaga, associate communications officer for Harvard University, forwarded Open Media Boston the following statement from the university administration, "Free speech and the free exchange of ideas are hallmarks of the Harvard experience, and important values for the university community to uphold. At the same time, it is important that we assure the safety and security of our students, particularly those who live in the Yard."
Harvard University did not respond to a question from Open Media Boston asking when it would be ending the lockdown of Harvard Yard.
Update 11:37: #OccupyHarvard reporting nearly 20 tents have now been erected on Harvard Yard.
Update 11/10/11, 1:15 a.m.: PHOTO #OccupyHarvard encampment shortly after its foundation.
Update 11/10/11 2:13 a.m.: VIDEO of Harvard Professor Timothy P. McCarthy at the first General Assembly of #OccupyHarvard Nov 9 2011 8.04pm - courtesy of pezseescribeconp via @numeroteca on Twitter - Creative Commons BY 2011 pezseescribeconp.
Update 11/10/11, 4:45 p.m.: Harvard Yard is still definitely locked down.
Update 11/10/11, 8:56 p.m.: The following statement from Harvard University administrators was sent out to the entire Harvard community today. Reprinted here from the Socialism Art Nature Tumblr blog
Dear Members of the Harvard Community:
Last night, several hundred demonstrators converged on the Harvard campus to express their support for the Occupy movement. The demonstrators consisted of people from within and outside the Harvard community. At the conclusion of the evening, Harvard students erected tents in the Yard, which remained through the night. We are writing now to explain the principles that have informed, and will continue to inform, our response to these activities.
First, we respect and protect the rights of members of the Harvard community to express their views on matters of public debate. These rights, of course, are tempered by the rights of other members of our community to express their views, and for all of us to live, study, and work in an educationally appropriate environment. Last night, people with Harvard identification were permitted access to the Yard and, consistent with our values as an educational institution, had the ability to demonstrate, to speak, and to engage in other expressive conduct.
Second, the University has a fundamental obligation to be attentive to the safety, security, and well-being of its students, faculty, and staff on campus. The events of last night raised safety concerns: the number of demonstrators was large, many of the demonstrators were not from Harvard, and specific behaviors were troubling. For this reason, the University took what we consider to be appropriate security precautions as the situation evolved during the evening.
The decision by students and other members of the Harvard community to erect tents in the Yard will require that the University continue with heightened security measures for the time being. Most important, no one without Harvard identification will be permitted into the Yard. We recognize and apologize for the inconvenience this will cause to students, faculty, staff, and neighbors. Securing access to the Yard is necessary for the safety of the freshmen and others who live and work in the Yard, for the students who will be sleeping outdoors as part of the protest, and for the overall campus.
Executive Vice President
This article will be updated as events unfold.
Photos to be posted shortly.