Press Release 4/24

For immediate release April 24, 2001


As a peaceful sit-in at Harvard University entered its sixth day, local politicians and academics not only endorsed the protestors' goal, a living wage for all Harvard workers, but also praised their tactics as reminiscent of the civil rights movement. Nearly forty students and community supporters are conducting a peaceful sit-in inside Massachusetts Hall, which houses the offices of Harvard's president and provost, since Wednesday. They are supporting a living wage for all workers at Harvard, whether directly employed or subcontracted.

At a noon rally, Howard Zinn, Professor of History at Boston University and a noted author, praised the sit-in. He called the protestors' strategy "exactly what happened in the civil rights movement. Harvard University should be proud of you," he told protestors, "and it should be ashamed of itself."

Brett Flehinger, a lecturer in Harvard's History Department stressed the historic use of civil disobedience as a catalyst for social change when he spoke outside Massachusetts Hall. Dr. Flehinger led a group of over one hundred students to the very front of the building, but the Harvard University Police would not let him enter. He then read, in call and response fashion, an excerpt from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "Letter from Birmingham Jail." Harvard's Black Students Association also endorsed the sit-in, recalling the history of civil disobedience as a means to win equality.

"As mayor of the city, I'm very proud of you," Cambridge Mayor Anthony Gallucio told the protestors. "I know that you've handled yourselves with real civility." Mayor Gallucio stressed that the city guarantees a wage of $10.25 an hour to its employees and to people working on its major subcontracts. He said that he and his fellow City Councillors "expect the university to follow that example." City Councillors Marjorie Decker and Ken Reeves joined the mayor in visiting Massachusetts Hall, where they shook hands with demonstrators. The full City Council had just passed its third resolution urging Harvard to pay a living wage.

Mayor Gallucio attempted to enter the building to speak with the protestors, but Harvard University Police denied him entrance. Harvard had similarly refused to let Senator Teddy Kennedy and State Representative Jarrett Barrios, whose district includes Harvard Yard, visit the sit-in. Each then spoke with protestors through the windows of Massachusetts Hall.

The City of Cambridge passed its Living Wage ordinance unanimously in 1999, but the University has not followed suit. Over 1000 workers at Harvard make less than the Cambridge living wage, some receiving as little as $6.50 an hour without benefits. Harvard's endowment exceeds $19 billion.

Students and community members continued to urge Harvard to negotiate with the Living Wage Campaign, which organized the sit-in. "This could be a real opportunity for Harvard to come forth and make a good name for itself within the community," said Alex Halpern, a junior at Harvard College and one of the students currently occupying the building.

Where: Massachusetts Hall, Harvard Yard (Mass. Ave. at Church), Cambridge, MA
Contacts: Paul Lekas 617-256-5779, Emilou Maclean 617-596-8146