This is a slightly modified response (originally posted as a comment) to Marlen Thaten’s recent piece “Reclaim Harvard Law, please stop destroying yourself,” but is equally a response to others who profess to agree with Reclaim’s goals but not their methods.
I am glad you have been a supporter of Reclaim since the beginning. For over a month now we have been in occupation of the Belinda Hall. The point is to create a sanctuary for marginalized groups on campus, to engage in critical discussion about the system propping up the status quo, and to disrupt the complacency with which the institution has dealt with racial injustice — overt and systemic. Belinda Hall is designed to disrupt the white-washed wall of elitism that otherwise pervades the campus. And make no mistake — it is an occupation.
Bill Barlow has baited Reclaim, sure. We have engaged him for months. People have sat down with him for hours discussing critical race theory and our demands to him in greater detail. He has written many posts in the Record. He has written many letters and spoken at public meetings. Despite all of this, at which point did you conclude that he was silenced? At the point where he deliberately and provocatively put posters up and demanded to have his posters put up on the walls of an occupied space named Belinda Hall in honor of a former slave of Isaac Royall? At the point where he walked past black men in the space but when only black women were around threatened them and filmed them without consent and put those films on the internet to publicly persecute them? You concluded he was silenced when people, who you claim to support, were degraded and had the only sanctuary they have on campus defiled, despite him having a plethora of avenues to access and ventilate his speech. Yes, we vote about what gets put up. It is an occupation and yes, this vibrant, dynamic and brave occupation has rules. This is how our occupation works. You make this a free speech issue, a holy cow of democracy and all that but this is really a power play about a bully who wants to destroy everything you said you admired about Reclaim in the first place. You have been baited too.
Are you going to write a follow-up piece now that many posters in Belinda Hall were vandalized this morning? Or now that all the posters Reclaim put up around the WCC have been taken down? Were you ever going to write a piece supporting Reclaim, or condemning the black tape incident on campus?
Instead you chose to write a piece defending the already powerful.
Reclaim is disrupting the status quo and beginning to tear at the silences revealing the fist of the powerful who refuse to understand. We are told how to protest, how to speak, how to plan, how to negotiate and, I fear, becoming re-moulded and re-silenced again. People say do not use words that white people grow weary of. Many others say “if only they did it this way, then that would be better.” And the powerful say to the oppressed “you are silencing me.”
Let’s not make claim to “free speech” without listening more than we are speaking. Let’s be curious, kind and vulnerable and emerge from those secure arm chairs, writing vague critiques which conceal a desire to pacify, whether you are aware of it or not.
*I am writing in my personal capacity, these views are my own and not on behalf of Reclaim Harvard Law.
Tess Nolizwe Peacock is an LLM of the Class of 2016.