Protesters Should Let the Idiots Speak for ThemselvesBy Bill Jackson
I'm often asked how I find the time to write columns for The Tech. The answer, aside from my utter lack of a social life, is that often the columns write themselves.
A case in point: last Friday's rally on the Student Center steps. I went to the rally not expecting much, but for my trouble I got a solid sampling of campus idiots and reactionary flamers.
The Cliff's Notes version of the anti-harassment rally, for those of you who wisely skip the news pages of The Tech and head straight for this drivel: The rally was held last Friday on the steps of 77 Mass Ave. as a response to the recent sexual harassment case between Professor Gabriel Bitran and Marina Erulkar.
In some ways, it was a typical MIT protest.There were some speakers, including Erulkar, and then the procession moved down the Infinite Corridor and upstairs to present a petition to President Vest. As the procession started, one of the lead protesters whispered to another, "You've got to start the chant." They obediently began to chant, "Stop harassment, end it now."
In some ways, however, it was not a typical MIT protest.
About eight gentlemen showed up to proudly hold signs such as "Quit Your Bitching," "Stop Harassment of Bitran," "Ambulance Chaser", "Happy Birthday," referring to Bitran's testimony that one of the kissing incidents took place on Erulkar's birthday, "Sore Loser," and "Bitran is a stud."
Making these guys look stupid is about as difficult as getting a cold french fry at Lobdell. Take Eric E. Fitch '95, who held up a sign saying "She wanted it." Why did you choose to hold that particular sign, Eric? "It was the one I picked up."
Good choice, Eric. Brilliant sentiment, too. I'll bet Ms. Erulkar saw that sign and slapped her forehead like an old V-8 commercial, suddenly realizing that her entire complaint was irrelevant because she "wanted it" in the first place. Hypothetical news headline: "Erulkar Drops Suit; Says Sign Helped Her See The Light."
What're you smoking?
But I'm a fair guy. I'll give all of you a chance to redeem yourselves. Tell me, what's the real purpose of your protest, Eric? "The whole thing is more or less a protest of everything that's going on, not a reflection of that sign." Oh. "We feel that Bitran was found innocent through the American judicial system. He's the one that's being harassed." Well, that's a plausible point of view.
So -- pardon me for asking, but I'm a little slow -- how exactly does holding up signs such as "Don't Flatter Yourself" demonstrate these sentiments? According to David M. Sukoff '95, "That's irrelevant." During the rally, David held up a sign saying "Liar."
I think it's important to know if your sign really expresses how you feel, David. Does it? "As much as the signs in Bitran's class expressed what they were protesting."
So you can see that these guys were just a bunch of... well, I can't print what I think they are, but I'll give you a hint; it rhymes with "crass holes."
And as you can also see, it doesn't take a lot of effort to show that they were idiots. Unfortunately, those in the crowd who were in support of the rally didn't realize how easy it is. Emily Winston, a member of the Women's Action Corps (a local women's rights group), insisted on holding a "No More Harassment" sign in front of the faces of the eight men as they were interviewed by newspaper and television reporters. She said that if they were going to get any publicity, she wanted her sign to be in the shot as well.
Good in principle, but misguided. The best thing that could come from the rally is that people see these idiots plainly and clearly. Winston had more success in showing them up when she asked one "Do you go around kissing your professors?" "If I have that type of relationship with them, maybe," he quickly responded. Well, when your professors find out what sensitive guys you are, I'm sure they'll be falling all over themselves to have "that type of relationship" with you. Really.
Another man in a black trenchcoat tore the "She wanted it" sign out of Eric Fitch's hands. A heated exchange ensued, but Dean Art Smith, doing his best Henry Kissinger impersonation, stepped between them and calmed things down. The man in the trenchcoat, who first gave me his name but then declined to let me print it, had been a classmate of Erulkar at Sloan and called the sign "distasteful and vulgar."
But don't you understand? Besides the free-speech arguments, the best advertising the anti-harassment people can have is to allow publicity of signs like Fitch's.
When I went to this rally, I knew that sexual harassment was a problem, but I now readily admit I had no concept of the magnitude of the problem. What made me understand was not some speech or flier but the mere presence of those men and their signs.
Don't hide them or their sentiments; as Professor David Halperin told me, they simply "dramatize the need for a clear, equitable harassment policy at MIT."
Tech Opinion Editor Bill Jackson '93 wants to be the guy who starts the chant next time.