Why Not Me?

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As I read in the CrimsonDivest Harvard Plans Weeklong Blockade of Massachusetts Hall,” I had to ask myself: why I am not participating? Why not me?

So my wife and I drove down to Cambridge (Massachusetts) from Maine to – well, to see what would happen and to see if we could provide support.

I am a Harvard graduate (twice, B.S. 1954 and LLB 1958) and I love and feel irrevocably connected to the institution. But I’ve never hesitated to criticize Harvard administration when I felt they were making mistakes or avoiding issues they should address. It hasn’t gotten me anywhere but it’s a love affair, and I could never sit back and watch something I love go astray. (See “To Harvard with Love” and “Trusting Harvard”)

The initiative of Harvard students is to be applauded. Students today risk so much more when they protest. The label of trouble-maker could follow them into an already compressed marketplace and any scrap with the law could affect access to further education, student loans and more. If they were willing to risk so much to bring this issue to the fore then I — who, at 83, has so much less to lose – knew I needed to trek to campus to let them know they aren’t alone.

President Faust has not credibly responded to this challenge despite repeated provocation from students, from me and from others. Harvard’s response to divestment, responsible investment and the issues around fossil fuels is to stay silent. They know that if they don’t engage then it won’t be much of a story and media outlets will soon find something else to cover. And they also know, that students will go on summer break or graduate and that it is much more difficult to garner large, sustained support for protest in world that moves so fast that yesterday’s issue is relegated to the back pages. In sum: they wait it out. This, too, shall pass. And in the case of this protest, they simply instructed staff to pick up their portable work stations and go work elsewhere. Problem solved.

How do you stage protest when you’re ignored? If a tree falls in the forest…

So there I was, a six foot six inches tall octogenarian, politely circling Massachusetts Hall with a group of dedicated youngsters in their teens and twenties. Their intelligence, dedication, energy and enthusiasm reminds me of what I love about Harvard. They’re fighting an uphill battle but if anyone can figure out how to make this protest matter, they will.

To them, the students, I say: Thank you for taking on the always challenging and sometimes tiresome job of being responsible for Harvard. We need you and we’re depending on you to save the world.