On Wednesday night, hundreds of demonstrators rallied in front of the Harvard Kennedy School to protest the school’s decision to invite President-elect Donald Trump’s advisors to a local conference. A day before the rally, Stephen Bannon, Trump’s chief White House strategist and former chief executive of Breitbart News, canceled his appearance, which was scheduled for the second night of the conference.
Protesters noted that false news and racist, xenophobic, and misogynistic opinion pieces flourished on Breitbart under Bannon. Bannon has also bragged about making the website a home for the “alt-right”—a white nationalist movement. Protesters argued that inviting Bannon to campus was normalizing and legitimizing a man who gave a platform to white supremacy, xenophobia, racism, Islamophobia, and transphobia.
The crowd even heard from the subject of one such Islamophobic article on Breitbart: Nadeem Mazen, a Cambridge City Councilor whom the website accused of extremist sympathies.
A Kennedy School spokesperson confirmed Bannon wouldn’t attend, though did not prove a reason, reports “The Boston Globe.” Ralliers, however, were confident their quick organization and public outcry played a role.
The Dean of the Harvard Kennedy School defended the decision to invite Bannon, saying that guests are welcome to speak even if their views “are abhorrent to some members of our community or are in conflict with the values of the Kennedy School itself.”
The school invited Bannon to participate in the final panel of their two day “Campaign for President” conference, in which gathers together campaign managers and aides from both the Republican and Democrat parties and national journalists to discuss the election. The conference has been held every four years since 1972. Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s former campaign manager, is slated to attend the panel Thursday night.
Speakers at the rally voiced concerns that many Americans—particularly people of color, immigrants, women, and the LGBTQ community—have voiced during Trump’s campaign.
“I teach fourth graders, and a lot of them are afraid that their [family members] will be deported,” said Nino Brown, who co-organized the event. He wants to tell his students there’s nothing to worry about, but Brown remembers that President Obama deported 2 million immigrants in his first term.
Other speakers emphasized the threat that the President-elect could pose to Muslims, African-Americans, undocumented immigrants, and women. LGBTQ rights were also a major concern. Trump’s vice president, Mike Pence, has a record of opposing gay rights and some critics accuse him of supporting conversion therapy.
November 30 also marked a Jewish Day of Resistance in 30 cities, and several speakers reflected on anti-Semitism in the U.S. and in 1930s Germany. Trump received support from neo-Nazis and hate groups, though he has publicly denounced them.
Roni Simcha Miller highlighted their experience as a Jewish trans person. They emphasized the need to protect LGBTQ rights, and the rights for trans people to choose their identities. “There’s this ongoing cycle of oppression that, as a Jew, I just can’t stand by,” they told “Spare Change News.”
The rally ended with a march through Harvard Square and around Cambridge, with protesters taking up a lane of Memorial Drive.
Protesters also demanded that Harvard declare itself a “sanctuary campus,” which means the university would, among other things, refuse to provide the status of undocumented students to federal immigration authorities.
Over two dozen organizations co-sponsored the protest, including the Boston branches of the NAACP and the National Organization for Women, Student Immigrant Movement, Jewish Voice for Peace, local unions, peace activists, and socialist organizations.