Reflections from LOing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

The relationship between MIT Scientists Against Genocide (SAGE) and the NLG started with care and trust.

The MIT populace, compared to its neighbors with law schools, did not have much experience with the National Lawyers Guild, let alone any familiarity with what Legal Observers do. However, after witnessing the raids at Emerson and Northeastern, students from the SAGE encampment started asking about the people in green caps taking frantic notes and looking at their watches every 2 minutes. 

The organizers were highly invested in keeping each other safe and, since many students had not organized with the NLG before, they were justifiably wary of an unfamiliar external body knowing more than they had to about the workings of the encampment. To obtain the organizers’ trust, our LO coordinator, who is also enrolled at MIT, spent a few days from the 29th of April building relationships with the jail support and steering committees in the encampment. They taught the students about NLG’s historical and institutional expertise in protecting protesters at MIT for the past more than 50 years, as well as how working with legal observers could help them. Just as the organizers were invested in the safety and security of the students, so was the NLG. And when they started trusting that we were reaching out because we cared, just like them, the relationship blossomed.

We had more than 20 LOs rotating on-site and on-call, with many of us commuting across Massachusetts in the wee hours of the morning or after a long day of work in order to keep eyes on the various actions at the encampment. We observed the encampment for a full fortnight, from the 29th of April until the final police raid on the 10th of May. 

Most of our time in the encampment was a delight to witness. Students socialized with each other, supportive faculty, and community members, made art, prayed and danced together. There was a community garden, a library, and fresh food. At those times, the encampment was a vision of a world to come, where people prioritize community and liberation for all, not profit. 

At other times, the reality of pro-Palestine speech repression made itself known, and LOs threw themselves into their work. When counter-protesters incited threats of arrest from MIT PD, 8 LOs were there, even as we were confronted by various police. When more than 200 students tore down the fence MIT built to hide the encampment from view and linked arms to protect it, 8 LOs were there, even when state police hassled us about our credentials. When Cambridge police violently arrested and wounded students in front of the Stata Center Garage, 4 LOs were there, even as we were pushed away and aggressively photographed. 

As legal observers, we always hope that our presence will deter police abuse and misconduct. Unfortunately, the repression that college encampments all over the country have been facing seems insurmountable — which means we have to come up with other ways to keep students safe. We collected names of arrested students and coordinated with jail support to ensure that the Mass Defense Committee was available to represent them. We also put suspended students in touch with housing lawyers from the MDC when they were given eviction notices effective immediately.

At 4:30 AM on May 10, over 150 riot cops, three different police agencies, and ten Department of Corrections High-Risk Transport Unit officers driving three converted school buses mobilized towards the encampment. 4 LOs rushed to MIT in time to watch the police stage and descend on the fenced-in encampment. Police found the encampment mostly emptied out. Despite the state’s disproportionate preparation for violence, they only arrested ten students on trespass charges. 

As the sun rose over the dismantled encampment, the remaining student organizers gave a brief speech before walking off peacefully. They reminded us all to center the ongoing genocide of Palestinians, not the encampment at MIT, and promised would be back until their demands are met. That is the most inspiring thing about the MIT students at SAGE: more than their joy in community, more than their bravery in the face of repression, their commitment to their mission is what keeps the student movement for a free Palestine alive.

Our work will continue as long as the students’ work continues. The MIT administration continues to stonewall, suspend, and evict their students instead of acknowledging and rectifying its role in developing weapons of genocide. And so the students will continue to fight, to organize, and to act until their demands are met. 

The MIT encampment LOs