By Bill McKibben, The Boston Globe
26 March 21
The 2020 elections, at Harvard and in the US, have shown what a majority of voters want: climate action and inclusive governance.
Voter suppression is truly ugly business. From Georgia to Arizona, Republican lawmakers are introducing legislation to ban mail-in voting, restrict ballot dropboxes, even eliminate Sunday voting to make sure that members of Black churches don’t continue the practice of walking to the polls after services. The Democratic answer to this — HR1, the For the People Act, an effort to protect access to the polls — may turn out to be the test on which the Senate filibuster stands or falls. It’s all the stuff of great and ominous drama.
A lower-key version of this tragedy is playing out in Cambridge — less a threat to democracy, but just as ugly in its demonstration that people in power don’t yield it easily. Harvard, of all places, is trying to break the power of voters too.
The nation’s oldest college has a unique system of governance among universities in that one of its two governing bodies, the Board of Overseers, is democratically elected by the 300,000 living alumni of the university. Last year, a group of alumni decided to challenge the officially recruited university candidates, running an insurgent campaign on a bold platform of climate action and inclusive governance that called for divesting the institution’s $41 billion endowment from fossil fuels and welcoming younger voices to the Board so that the university is better prepared to face the 21st century. The group, called Harvard Forward, put forth five recent alumni in an outsider bid for the board.
To even qualify for the ballot, these candidates had to overcome obstacles seemingly designed to make them fail — the system for allowing alumni to endorse the nominations took more than hour to navigate on my laptop. But with strong grass-roots support from the alumni community, the Harvard Forward Five managed to collect nearly 5,000 alumni signatures to qualify for the election. In contrast, Harvard’s official candidates did not have to do much of anything to get on the ballot.