Essays Examining Xenophobia


"Am I a Slave?" from Vol. 1, No. 4, Nov. 5, 1968 (Cambridge, Mass.) "Old Mole"

by Bill Berry

MIT students by the hundreds pour into their student center--not to the fifth floor library, but to the second floor sanctuary.  Instead of checking meter readings with their lab partners, they speak of how their work is being used, how they are being used.  In recognition of their manipulation by a society which forces them to produce weapons of oppression, in sympathy now with soldiers like Mike O'Conner, for the first time feeling themselves oppressed, they begin to organize.  And with the prod of Sanctuary, the force of respect for another human being who has given a year of his life to bring them together, they organize strongly because they organize themselves.

Now, without hecklers at the laboratory door shouting "Murderer! Slave!" there is the man inside the laboratory wondering "Am I a slave?  And a murderer?", answering that he is and no longer wants to be.  There, right there, is a graduate of MIT refusing a job offer from General Dynamics.  Everyone hears the conversations in the laboratories.  They feel the energy of indignation in the halls that were not long ago so very stale.  Everyone is affected by Sanctuary.

A technician at the Instrumentation Laboratory walks into Sanctuary after lunch:  "Just wanted to see what was going on."  Mike says he would like to see technicians working on developing air pollution control and high speed ground transportation rather than improving Polaris missiles; that is one reason why he is here.  The technician:  "Yeah. He's right.  But what am I going to do about it?"  Mike:  "Look at me."  The technician is not really committed to radical change or anything even approaching that.  But still, even if just in the back of his mind, he's aware that someone thinks that what he is doing is wrong, maybe even evil.  He knows that kid up there on the platform is going to spend a year longer behind bars because he thinks something is wrong and wants to change it.  Perhaps he's a bit pissed that he, a good technician, can't work on the projects he knows to be better for everyone.  Maybe he's saying something to his buddies back at the lab, to his wife and kids.

An MIT second year graduate student in Electrical Engineering, a research assistant, comes to Sanctuary.  Not once during his four undergraduate years at MIT did anyone see him leave his dorm room except for classes and meals.  There are very few people who have ever heard him say a word.  Nervously, he edges up to a discussion group and sits down.  The discussion is among students who have decided to find out just what MIT's defense contracts are; the people in the group are actually working on these projects.  This has never happened before.  Our loner speaks:  "I'm a little worried about the work I've been doing."  He describes it; someone says it's probably a guidance system for satellite-launched missiles.  An hour later--it's 12 midnight--he walks out the door, still alone, but obviously committed to do something other than what he's been doing. Someone notices and remarks, "It's too bad he isn't spending the night."  At 12:30, though, he is seen back at Sanctuary--this time with a pillow and blanket under his arm.

An MIT senior in Electrical Engineering, from Southeast Asia, has just returned from talking with a group trying to build a liasion with other campuses to communicate the MIT experience. He is running wildly, ecstatically, around the crowded second floor, snapping pictures of everyone and everything.  He stops to chat with another senior who lived in the same dorm with him freshman year, to whom he has never said more than hello.

"Isn't this amazing?  So many good shots.  Going to put them in a book about Sanctuary.  Unbelievable!"

"Yeah.  It's good.  Everyone's sleeping on the floor together.  Never thought I'd see that here.  Actually worrying about what they're doing and how they're doing it, not just doing."

"Remember freshman year?  I tried to tell everybody that that war's no good.  Nobody'd listen to me.  Now look at this.  It's unbelievable.  Makes me very happy."

"Me too."

Security lookouts patrol MIT's environs with walkie-talkies, and a boat with ham radio cruises the Charles on the lookout for Feds.  It's 6 a.m. on the security balcony, and three electronics hacks are doing incredibly strange and complex things to the wiring system of the Sala de Puerto Rico.  They have been working through the night, and have set up seven or eight separate telephone and walkie-talkie systems to insure that Mike and everyone else will have some kind of warning if the police come.  They are a bit flaky from little sleep and much work, and mutter about electrical ways of keeping "them" out; yet from them comes an air of seriousness, recognition of Mike's courageous stand, willingness to do what they know best to make it more of a success.  The hippies are impressed, though bewildered.  They pat them on their backs and get to know them.

On the front steps, a few hours after midnight, a very strange-talking, stranger-looking member of the Living Theatre tells a crew-cut ROTC cadet why  we're in Viet Nam.  They actually talk with each other.

Another electrical engineering student, a Goldwaterman, finds out what the Old Right and New Left have in common, is impressed, and falls asleep on the marble floor under the steps to the third floor.  The next day, after listening to the Maryknoll priest, and finding out why the United Fruit Company, the U.S. Marines, Allen Dulles and the CIA insist that we call Guatemala a "banana republic," he applauds the Guatemalan peasants' efforts to claim the land and standard of living which they have a right to, sees that the only way they can do this is through united action and common ownership.

It's bust-scare time, and the Sala is packed with people sitting close together.  An MIT professor, whose wife and children are home asleep because it's 4:30 a.m., intentionally sits in the line that the Feds would take in getting to Mike. Most of his students don't know that he was arrested in Alabama for civil rights work in the early 1960's; since then he has been telling them not to let political activity interfere with their reading of the text.  But apparently he has found some new cause for hope because he has been at the Sanctuary since it started.  Hit in the face with Mike's irrevocable and very dangerous commitment, he has made one of his own.

The bikers are at the security desk, saying that they are there so Mike can say what he has to say.  One of them writes a moving speech telling how he knows things have to be changed.  Students and hippies, puzzled, immediately label them "friendly."  After the rivet-embroidered denims have been around for four or five days, have become a part of the community, people find out that they are, indeed, friendly.

Finally, again and again, there is Mike.  He sees what is going on and is glad he has come.  He continually states that the people of MIT and Boston are doing him a favor; those around him see what he has done for them.  Mike looks and sees that his act of defiance has been validated; those around him see that act as a lesson in action.  The tension between these views is called rapport; its result is a mutual respect and an inspired organization.

Copyright (c)2009 williamwberry.com & JustHost.com