Science for the People’s first Solidarity Brigade to Puerto Rico

After Hurricane Maria made shore on archipelago of Puerto Rico in the early hours of September 20, 2017, the island struggled to adapt to new realities. Maria’s Category 4 winds of over 150 mph shaped the landscape unlike any other natural phenomenon before. The storm shocked Puerto Rico. The Island was already weakened by divestment from public infrastructure and austerity programs far worse than those imposed on Greece and other European countries after debt crises caused by the US economic financial collapse in 2007. Similar to the Greek debt, the legality of some of the Puerto Rican debt is questionable.

Science for the People brigadiers join a rally in protest of the imposed debt and austerity measures and in demand of a citizen debt audit.

The people of Puerto Rico are US citizens residents of a US territory considered “foreign in a domestic sense”. This categorization amplifies inequalities on the Island and renders citizens practically helpless in the eyes of Congress. Nevertheless, this is not a story about helplessness but about resistance and organizing on the “island of enchantment”.

Many initiatives working under the flag of “recovery” for Puerto Rico follow a pattern of “disaster capitalism” well described by Naomi Klein in her book “The Battle for Paradise.” Much of the local government’s response to jump start the economy of the island was focused on attracting corporate magnates and crypto currency investors. A recovery plan that was very welcomed by the Trump administration which has repeatedly proven its disregard for the People of Puerto Rico and is well aligned with Puerto Rico’s colonial history of exploitation and subjugation of its citizens.

Amid this scenario, the Puerto Rico Working Group of Science for the People set out to support recovery efforts on Puerto Rico, organized by the people of Puerto Rico, whose aim is not only to oppose disaster capitalism but also create a different reality, a new social economy that is truly sustainable and beneficial to the people of Puerto Rico and the planet as a whole.

On July 19, 2018, our first Puerto Rico solidarity brigade traveled to the island with eight members of Science for the People from Ann Arbor, Atlanta, New York City, and the At-Large chapters, and were joined by a member of the Free Radicals. Our aim was not only to provide labor to tangibly contribute to building a resilient Puerto Rico for the people but also to deepen our understanding of the sociopolitical situation and further build the network of partners in the struggle for social justice and a decolonized Puerto Rico.

Collectivo Agroecologico Güakiá

The brigade’s efforts were focused primarily on supporting Güakiá, our host organization (watch a short documentary about Güakiá). On their eleven acre farm we camped near their recently built gazebo which became our base of operations for the following ten days, joining another solidarity brigade based out of New Orleans. We shared a week filled with rich conversations about agriculture, ecology, politics, and food justice as we got to know each other.

Campsite and gazebo where we convened to cook and brief about the daily work.

The Güakiá project is built on the principles of Agroecology, a new approach to agriculture that places the ecological sciences at its center and thus acknowledges the farm’s impact on its surroundings, and the deep interconnections of the farm and its environment. As such it promotes sustainable agricultural practices but also includes socio-political dimensions by considering food accessibility, farmer well-being, and the relationship between farmers and the community. The Güakiá collective takes this mission very seriously and is organizing with the neighboring community of San Carlos, one of many communities that struggled with food shortages after the hurricane, to pursue a self-sustainable future. Already before the farming they run a food composting project with the community. Watch a short news report featuring Güakiá members, a community member, and SftP brigadiers (el comunicado en español).

Science for the People activists David Hofmann (L), Chelsea Dunn (R), and Güakiá member Ricardo Diaz Soto (C) working on the setup of the composting lot at the farm.

At the farm, we helped to clear the land, learning how to use machetes to cut tall grass.  We built a perimeter fence with posts and barbed wire. We built community compost bins and cleaned out rubbish accumulated from fields lying fallow for years. In addition, we commenced the construction of a composting toilet, an essential part of Güakiá’s integral sustainability plan. All tasks were laced with conversations about agroecology, food sovereignty, and the US’s colonial occupation of Puerto Rico. Güakiá members put a lot of efforts in explaining these concepts and how their projects contribute to building food sovereignty on an island-nation that today imports more than 90% of its produce, while a large part of its agricultural economy is devoted to lucrative cash-crops benefiting the big agriculture rather than the island’s population. During the hurricanes in 2017 the port of San Juan, the island’s only entry port, was blocked resulting in food shortages which made it even more clear that the current agricultural system is not resilient, is not build to help the island’s residents and must urgently be changed

(L-R) Esther Aviles, Francisco Díaz Ramos, and Ricardo Diaz Soto working on setting up the barbed wire fence surrounding the farm.

Our efforts contributed to preparing  the land for its first seeding which took place in the winter of 2018. The Science for the People working group has regular calls with the collective to keep strengthening the project with the resources and knowledge we can offer from afar. In the meanwhile we ramp up organizing for sending our next brigade in late 2019/early 2020. If you want to know more about what we are up to reach out to Bolívar Aponte.

The work bears fruits: view on a small patch of the farmland including the gazebo and fields with the first growing crops! Photo from February 2019.

El Hormiguero

Day 1: Universidad Sin Fronteras and Cine Hormiga

On Monday, July 23, the brigade visited El Hormiguero, a community center in the heart of Santurce, a barrio of the capital San Juan, to attend the workshop on PROMESA, climate change, and community efforts. Members of the organization Universidad Sin Fronteras conducted this workshop that consisted of two informative speeches about the topic and a breakout group brainstorming session on steps and strategies to take for the community to build resiliency. It also featured a kids space where our youngest could play but also collect their thoughts on the future of Puerto Rico.

PROMESA is a tastelessly sarcastic acronym given to a U.S. federal law of 2016 that was put in place to deal with the debt crisis by – as is unsurprising for disaster capitalist agenda – imposing austerity programs like the closure of several hundreds of public schools, major university funding cuts of one third of the annual budget that threatens to result in closure of up to seven campuses and resulted in a hike of student fees among other detrimental consequences to Puerto Rico’s education system. PROMESA established a fiscal control board that assures US government’s domination of Puerto Rico’s economy. Puerto Rico’s citizen aptly call it “La Junta”. It empowers a board of seven members appointed by the US president to decide on and dictate changes to fiscal plans put forth by the Puerto Rican government and has since enforced widespread austerity measures heavily affecting the education system, labor, and the islands energy infrastructure. Hundreds of schools have been closed across the island, major cuts to universities have been imposed. The working class see slashing of sick leave and vacation pay, the Christmas bonus has been cut and the workforce finds themselves pushed into tourism industry. Moreover it supports the privatization of Prepa, the island’s publicly owned power company.

El Hormiguero is a self-organized community center in a previously abandoned building. Before the hurricane, a group of activists and community members occupied the building; building equipped it with a workshop, library, and small garden, and started using the space for community meetings and education. After hurricane Maria, El Hormiguero (“ant’s nest” in Spanish), has been an integral part  of grassroots recovery efforts. On our first visit to the community center, we met with members of Universidad Sin Fronteras, an organization dedicated to decolonizing education and developing critical consciousness through emancipatory pedagogy in Puerto Rico and the continental US. Universidad Sin Fronteras works with social movements, organizations, and individuals. We had a formal conversation as a group about the the political situation in Puerto Rico post-Hurricane Maria and how the natural hazard exacerbated the highlighted the political and economic disaster in Puerto Rico.

In the evening, member of El Hormiguero, community members and the SfTP brigade watched the documentary movie at their weekly movie forum Cine Hormiga.  The forum gave way to a  lively discussion on the failure of capitalism, the alternatives of anarchism and socialism, and the role of science in Puerto Rico. Participants discussed in English and Spanish, facilitated by translation by our members and participants.

Group photo with the local organizers from El Hormiguero and Universidad sin Fronteras after the political education workshop.

El Hormiguero

Day 2: Solar Brigade

On our second visit to El Hormiguero we participated in a solar brigade, where we learned about the technology of solar panels: from Ohm’s law to the wiring of the panels.

An activist with El Hormiguero and organizer of the solar brigade shares his self-taught expertise on solar cells with the brigadiers and community members.

Together with interested members of the surrounding San Juan community we assisted in installing and starting up solar panels on the El Hormiguero building. We were excited to witness the first time that the fans at El Hormiguero were powered by the sun! It is nothing short of astonishing that the organizers of El Hormiguero were able to arrange and install a rooftop solar system, powerful enough to run the appliances used in the building, with only roughly $1,500, the knowledge and know-how all self-taught: a prime example on how community can build resiliency by mutual support.

After the successful installation organizers, brigadiers, and community members joined for a reflective discussion on the situation of the energy infrastructure of the island. A community person pointed out how simple – and even cheap – it can be to install solar panels while thinking about the many deaths that could have been prevented if a resilient, decentralized solar infrastructure had been invested in by the authorities. Deaths that have been the consequence of the long lasting lack of electricity in many communities after the hurricane. Many had no current for months, some almost a year. The solar brigade was yet another great example of community self-organization and we are deeply grateful to have been given the opportunity to attend and share this learning experience.

The organizer of the solar brigade is about to connect the solar panels that the group just placed and oriented on the roof of El Hormiguero.

An excursion to the center of the island:

Casa Pueblo and Coffee Agroecology

Another opportunity to learn about sustainable energy and ways to build a resilient, autonomous Puerto Rico was our visit to Casa Pueblo, a long-standing community organization and center, which for a large number of residents became the only source of electrical energy after the hurricane destroyed the centralized energy grid on the entire island.

Casa Pueblo in Adjuntas, the mountainous center of the island.

A two-hour drive from our campsite, Casa Pueblo is located in the town of Adjuntas in the central mountainous region of Puerto Rico. We were given a tour that introduced us to the history of the community organization and its ongoing projects. We met with Arturo Massol Deyá, professor of Biology and Associate Director of Casa Pueblo, who informed us about Casa Pueblo’s long standing commitment to sustainable forestry, rooted in environmental struggles against a copper mining project in the 1970s. Today, with electricity supplied by solar panels, Casa  Pueblo is completely self-sustaining and has spearheaded a debate on energy democracy and sustainable energy in Puerto Rico. We were joined by Heidi Morales, a researcher at the University of Puerto Rico and organizer for the Puerto Rico March for Science. Our visit coincided with a visit from a delegation of the US Congress to Casa Pueblo led by Nancy Pelosi. The delegation’s objective was to learn about Casa Pueblo’s response after Hurricane Maria and recognize their contributions to the community. In addressing the delegation, Massol Deyá highlighted the hypocrisy and incongruities of the current political system in Puerto Rico that perpetuate a colonial relationship with the US and contributes to energy dependency of the island.

Arturo Massol Deyá informing our brigade about the history of Casa Pueblo.

We want to express our deepest gratitude and honor the effort of Arturo Massol Deyá to join us and answer all the questions we had just half an hour before the US delegation of 14 Congress people visited Casa Pueblo. This kind of leadership that would pay equal attention to a grassroots organization as it does to members of the US Congress is quite rare in our experience.

Leadership like the one of Casa Pueblo is needed and needs to find solidarity and support, but local authorities provide the opposite: the same night of our visit, Arturo Massol was arrested by the police for false allegations of drunk driving. This kind of harassment is common for environmental activists who have faced prosecution for the past decades as their work often challenges capitalist exploitation of the natural habitat and resources of Puerto Rico.

Coffee Agroecology and the politics “el campo”

After Casa Pueblo we set out to explore some more of the island’s highlands and met with Science for the People members Ivette Perfecto and John Vandermeer of the Ann Arbor Chapter and their students at an experimental coffee farm where they are doing agroecological research on methods of pest control. Besides learning about the natural challenges coffee farmers face we also heard about the increased interest of multinational corporations – among them Coca Cola – in coffee farms and production on the island ruining the market for traditional farmers. Here you can read an analysis of the coffee farming situation in Puerto Rico.

At the coffee farm in the fields we learn from Ivette Perfecto (L) about the challenges faced by coffee farmers by an invasive ant species and what an agroecological treatment of the issue can look like.

Interviews

Throughout the course of our stay, members of the brigade arranged interviews with a dozen union and social movement leaders from diverse sectors, including education, health, the environment, energy, academia, and agriculture. Interviews focused on the history of anti-colonial resistance and the efforts within each sector to confront the challenges posed by austerity and disaster capitalism, namely the ongoing privatization offensive and its union-busting, dissent criminalizing tactics. The interviews allowed us  coalition-building process of identifying common adversaries, establishing collective demands and developing joint visions and alternatives between and across sectors of Puerto Rican society. Among the common themes was the tendency to draw inspiration from other anti-colonial struggles and climate justice movements in Latin America and beyond, emphasizing that, while the Puerto Rican example has geographic and historical specificities, there is nothing exceptional about the confrontation of repression and resistance on the Island. This tendency to look internationally for common histories was paired with the understanding that climate justice movements around the world are looking to Puerto Rico for lessons, warnings and inspiration. We hope to soon transcribe and publish the content of these interviews for our further political education and analysis. For this, we need your help! If you can help transcribe, edit, and/or translate interviews, please contact our point person Bolívar Aponte.

Left photo: (L-R) Ruth Arroyo Muñoz, feminist lawyer, labor union consultant, member of Partido del Pueblo Trabajador (PPT); Laura Peñaranda, SftP member who organized and conducted several interviews.
Right photo: (L-R) Laura Peñaranda, Angel Figueroa Jaramillo, president of the labor union UTIER, one of the main unions representing workers of the national power company Prepa that currently faces privatization.

Conclusion

We thank our friends at Güakià for their hospitality and dedication and for being an inspiration as they face and overcome monumental challenges establishing their agroecological farm besides working in full-time jobs. Thanks also to our friends at Universidad Sin Fronteras for sharing with us their knowledge and analysis regarding PROMESA and the political situation in Puerto Rico. We also thank El Hormiguero for opening their doors to us and providing educational workshops.

Gracias a las y los compañeros de Güakià por su hospitalidad, dedicación y por ser una inspiración frente a los retos monumentales que implica fundar una finca agroecológica además de mantener trabajos de tiempo completo. Gracias también a nuestros compañeros y compañeras de la Universidad Sin Fronteras por compartir con nosotros su conocimiento y análisis sobre la ley PROMESA y la situación política en Puerto Rico. Agradecemos además a El Hormiguero por abrirnos sus puertas y auspiciar los talleres de educación política y de instalación de paneles solares.

Members of the SftP solidarity brigade to Puerto Rico, summer 2018:

Bolívar A. Aponte Rolón (co-coordinator – Ann Arbor, MI), David Hofmann (co-coordinator – Atlanta, GA), Sheila & Frank Rosenthal (West Lafayette, IN), Bethany Sumner (Atlanta, GA), Chelsea Dunn (Atlanta, GA), Amber Keller y niño Kumani (Atlanta, GA), Laura Peñaranda (NYC), and Esther Aviles (member of Free Radicals – NY).

Special thanks to Kathleen Baker for her financial support that allowed one member, Laura Peñaranda, to join the brigade, as well as cover expenses for a first aid kid and other needed tools.

Read more about Puerto Rico’s struggle and its socio-political situation in the 70’ies in the Science for the People magazine archives:

Atlanta Chapter Report

If it hasn’t been clear before, the latest IPCC report has put the crisis in plain view: life on Earth as we know is threatened, and the window of opportunity to avoid the worst is closing quickly. We have a seemingly vanishing timeframe of only twelve years to halve our carbon emissions compared to the year 2010.

Is all lost? No, not yet! While leaders continue to promote extraction of fossil fuels, or are, at best, reluctant in their actions, the citizens of the world, the people, rise up, demand change, and create change (e.g., Europe, Puerto Rico, and California). It is the people who have the vision and create movements and alliances that ultimately will break up the cultural hegemony, advocated by the current elites, which continues to fuel climate change. Science for the People has drawn attention to how corporations successfully lobby politicians into policies that just serve their profit. Frank Bove, an activist and organizer with SftP in its early days and now a member of the Atlanta chapter, published an article in the Science for the People Magazine in 1979 that exposed how the young technology of solar cells was already under attack by oil lobbies. Decisions around climate change are beholden to corporate profits and a perpetual growth-driven economy, in other words: capitalism.

Science for the People rises with the people, in the streets and at our writing desks, at the front lines to build a better tomorrow–together!

On September 8th 2018 we rose for Climate, Jobs, and Justice. The Science for the People Atlanta chapter co-organized a rally with 350.org Atlanta, Sierra Club Georgia, and 1.5 Degree Patrol, featuring a panel made of several local social justice organizations: Atlanta Jobs with Justice, Georgia Women’s Action for New Directions (W.A.N.D.), Los Vecinos de Buford Highway, The New Georgia Project, and WRFG Labor Forum. We were joined by about 100 people at the Flipper Temple American Methodist Episcopal Church in Southwest Atlanta to talk about capitalism, social justice, and climate change (event in the news).

This event was part of an international climate action arranged by the large coalition People’s Climate Movement. It was organized in response to California Governor Jerry Brown’s Climate Summit and drew attention to the fact that our leaders are not moving fast and bold enough to push back fossil fuel industry and avoid the worst climate scenarios.

(L-R) DeAnna (Dia) Parker (Los Vecinos de Buford Highway), Neil Sardana (Atlanta Jobs with Justice), Lindsay Harper (Georgia W.A.N.D.), Dianne Mathiowetz (WRFG Labor Forum), Billy Michael Honor (The New Georgia Project)

Tom Thrasher from 350.org Atlanta, main event organizer, at the opening of the panel discussion at the Flipper Temple with filled about 100 people.

Dr. Jasmine Clark, scientist, former March for Science Atlanta director, and Representative-Elect from Georgia’s House District 108, speaking to the rally participants.

(L-R) Jordan French, David Hofmann, and Chris Smoot at the Science for the People info table.

On September 22nd, the Atlanta chapter, together with our partner organization, EcoAction, tabled at the Just Energy Summit at Morehouse College. This event featured scholars, social and environmental justice activists, and policy makers discussing strategies to achieve energy justice in the metro Atlanta area. Energy democracy was at the center of the discussion as was the city council’s resolution to transition to 100% clean energy by 2050. Some of our members, including Jordan French, Chris Smoot, Amber Keller, and Frank Bove engaged with the participants and joined the event’s working groups. Our tabling at the Just Energy Summit set in motion steps for SftP Atlanta to become part of Atlanta’s “Just Energy Circle”, a coalition of community and grassroots organizations addressing social and environmental justice issues.

These are examples of our continuous effort to build bridges and establish collaboration with marginalized communities, where we seek to support by providing access to resources through intentional community-based organizing initiatives for a better and more just Atlanta. Both events occurred in Southwest Atlanta’s historically Black district where environmental injustice specifically has been an issue for generations.

To help achieve our goal of collaboration with local groups in Atlanta, our SftP chapter focused its work on the intersection of climate change and social justice beginning in early 2018. As Atlanta’s city council came forth with a resolution in late 2017 to transition to 100% clean energy, our chapter decided to devote our monthly reading and discussion group to this topic to educate ourselves and our community on how to transition in an equitable way. In these reading group sessions we covered theoretical concepts such as Marx and Engels’ concept of the metabolic rift, the cause and impact of climate change on a global scale, and local solutions like energy democracy as a means to achieve an equitable clean energy transition. Energy democracy is a crucial concept to highlight since it prescribes the dissemination of decentralized renewable infrastructure, which will put energy production, and thus power, into the hands of the people, and creates the potential for thousands of well-paid jobs. Energy democracy is a key vehicle for the city of Atlanta’s equitable clean energy transition, as well as, on a federal scale, the “Green New Deal” that was put forward recently by congresswoman-elect Ocasio-Cortez. Finally, we learned technical and political aspects of how to integrate renewables into the existing energy grid which concluded this year’s reading group.

Besides these actions in 2018 we successfully organized and supported several other events: together with Metro Atlanta DSA we picketed a Microsoft store in solidarity with Microsoft’s workforce that joined the #NoTechForICE movement (more here), four of our members joined the Science for the People Puerto Rico solidarity brigade (more here), and finally we supported the organizing of the local March for Science (more here).

These activities have provided a solid foundation for our chapter to grow into the next year, continue developing partnerships and forming alliances with other grassroots organizations. Our goal is to extend the discussion about climate change and advocate for a just transition to renewable energy in Atlanta. Our chapter, currently, has about 10 active members and over 100 subscribers to our listserv.

Science for the People in support of Microsoft workers’ demand to end contract with ICE

In June, 2018, a wave of tech worker activism grew around the call for several companies, prominently Microsoft, Salesforce, and Amazon, to cancel their contracts with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Their struggle is linked with our mission as Science for the People to fight for equity and justice in our application of science and technology, and as such, several of our chapters organized local actions to offer external support to the tech workers’ efforts. This article offers a brief summary of what happened and informs our next steps in pushing these companies to discontinue support with ICE and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) as one step in a broader movement for worker control over the direction of scientific research, innovation, and application.

New York City

Two events were held in New York City: the first was an after-work picket outside Microsoft’s flagship store on June 30, and the second was part of Movimiento Cosecha’s Day of Action against businesses complicit with ICE on July 31. Around 25 people joined at the former event to leaflet, chant and picket to call attention to Microsoft’s support for agencies that were separating families at the border. By July 31, the family separation component of the ‘zero tolerance’ policy was significantly scaled down, but still many children were and continue to be detained away from their families in private prisons that subject them to forced psychotropic drug consumption and sexual abuse–some never to be reunited.
Meanwhile, worker campaigns continued to grow in momentum, leading the immigrant rights’ group Movimiento Cosecha to put out a call for a day of action making clear that #WeWontBeComplicit with companies that support ICE in order to enhance external pressure in tandem with workers’ campaigns. We built off our initial picket by growing a coalition alongside Movimiento Cosecha, the International Socialist Organization, Rise and Resist and Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM) to organize a march between Microsoft, Salesforce and Amazon downtown with pickets at each location. Outside of Microsoft, tech workers offered their support for our action while finishing their workday.

Outside of the 41 Street Microsoft office as part of the Movimiento Cosecha Day of Action on July 31, 2018

Outside the Bryant Park Salesforce office for the Movimiento Cosecha Day of Action on July 31, 2018

Our movement grew as we marched first to Salesforce, where the Rude Mechanical Orchestra joined to support our chants. On the way to Amazon, we disrupted rush hour foot traffic as by then we were hundreds in size. In the end, six people were arrested outside of Amazon for refusing to allow business as usual while children are imprisoned and tortured in the name of racist immigration policies. Through this action we extended our coalition to include not only scientific workers but also social justice and immigrants rights groups. With continued pressure from both inside and out, we can and will force these companies to #CancelTheContract. And ultimately, we will #AbolishICE.

March to End Family Separations across the Brooklyn Bridge on June 30

Atlanta

On Saturday evening, July 14, Science for the People (SftP) Atlanta in coalition with Metro Atlanta DSA rallied its members and allied tech workers in the halls of Lenox Square Mall in front of the Microsoft store in solidarity with migrants and Microsoft workers protesting their company’s contract with ICE.

After SftP and DSA members engaged in one-on-one conversations with Microsoft store employees to inform them about the ongoing petition, explain its demands, and express our organization’s support with the MS workers’ petition, the larger group of activists gathered in front of the store with signs and chants to draw attention to the cause. Flyers with Microsoft workers’ demands and ongoing petitions to end the contract with ICE were passed out to a large crowd that had gathered soon in the hallway around the store. To our surprise, many passerby joined the protest raising their voice in solidarity and chiming into our choir: “No Tech for ICE!”.

Metro Atlanta DSA and Science for the People members with No Tech for ICE signs in front of the Microsoft store at Lenox Square mall.

The protest action at the mall gathered much attention by passerby, many of whom showed interest in the cause and even joined the chants: “What’s disgusting? Family busting! What would be nice? No tech for ICE!” and “No hatred! No fear! Immigrants are welcome here!”

As anticipated, this spectacle was cut short. Police officers from the mall precinct eventually accosted the protesters and hustled the speaker out of the mall as the crowd booed, but they made no arrests. Watch a video recording of the Lenox square mall picket.

As noted also in the report by our allies from the Metro Atlanta DSA, this unfortunately interrupted the team’s plan to observe a moment of silence to reflect on the life of Efrain De La Rosa, who died by suicide the week before the action in ICE custody at Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, GA. Any death in ICE custody is murder, facilitated by Microsoft technology and corporate profiteers. Despite the disrespect shown by Atlanta police, we can take a moment now to express love and solidarity for our Latino brother, Efrain De La Rosa: ¡Presente!

Boston

Coinciding with the Families Belong Together national day of action on June 30, SftP’s Boston chapter organized with Microsoft researchers and the local Solidarity chapter to flyer and make signs outside the Microsoft NERD Center in Cambridge. Thirty activists then marched to meet the main Families Belong Together event on Boston Common and talk to march participants about the link between tech labor and immigration injustice.

On July 11th Science for the People Boston, Tech Workers Coalition, ACLU Massachusetts, and LOGIC magazine hosted a panel discussion at MIT. Panelists were Sasha Costanza-Chock a scholar, activist, media-maker, and current Associate Professor of Civic Media at MIT; Kade Crockford, the director of the Technology for Liberty program at the ACLU of Massachusetts and MIT Media Lab Director’s Fellow; and Valeria Do Vale, the Lead Coordinator at the Student Immigrant Movement and an undergraduate at Northeastern University.

What’s Next?

In early June, Google engineers compelled the company to not renew Project Maven, a contract with the Pentagon using AI to improve drone strike accuracy. The success of their campaign—and recent outrage about human rights abuses by ICE—have inspired similar efforts at Amazon, Microsoft, and, Salesforce.

While these companies have not cancelled their contracts, pressure is growing. Microsoft has released two statements related to their complicity in supporting ICE–the first of which was a direct response to their January blog post proudly proclaiming support for the agency ahead of the outcry over the family separation  policy, and a more recent post largely deflected from the core message of the Microsoft workers’ letters by focusing exclusively on facial recognition technology and the role of government in regulating it–not on the company’s existing ICE contract.

Salesforce also faced immense shame after RAICES, the legal firm responsible for the defense of many detained immigrants, rejected a $250,000 donation from the company while they continue to hold their ICE contract. The letter from RAICES explicitly called on the company to follow its workers’ demands.

Amazon, most shamefully, expressed its pride in serving the police and ICE by providing facial recognition technology. Its workers also face the most severe repression for organizing around this policy and have not gone public with their identities for fear of retaliation. To contextualize what they face, Amazon recently called the police on its own European workers while they were on strike, which led to severe state violence against those workers. Amazon has shown its dedication to profit by any means necessary, but like any historical institution, it is fallible.

That these companies were forced to acknowledge the internal and public outcry around their ICE contracts shows that they feel the pressure. Indeed, workers at several other companies have been successful in calling on their companies to cancel ICE contracts, including the consulting firm McKinsey & Co. For the tech companies we targeted, Science for the People is committed to acting in solidarity with workers at these companies and to building external pressure until they stop supporting ICE and CBP.

Will you join us?