For the New York City chapter of Science for the People, the past few months have been defined by newfound potential to mobilize people power and grow our roots within the surrounding activist community. For many of our public appearances, we partnered with activists from organizations such as Democratic Socialists of America, Movimiento Cosecha, and Columbia’s Graduate Worker Union. In these efforts we strove not just to band together at public demonstrations, but to nurture our allyship through ongoing collaboration–giving organizers the floor to present at our bi-weekly chapter meetings, hosting art-build parties at apartments and public spaces, and leading topical discussions that related to the campaigns we’ve supported. Additionally, we’ve forged goodwill with local venues such as Verso Books, Bluestockings, Caveat, and Star Barr, where we hosted and co-hosted panels, fundraisers, film screenings, and even participated in science-themed nightlife events.
During the summer, amid the disturbing reports of the Trump administration’s xenophobic immigration policies, we launched a campaign to implicate the use of scientific developments, specifically in the tech sector, to expand militarism and enable governmental agencies to further violate human rights. As workers at major tech corporations began to demand accountability from their employers, we amplified their message in order to draw attention to the connections between corporate control of technology and human marginalization and de-normalize the practice of prioritizing profit over people. Our campaign started small, with a series of efforts such as: petition sharing, leafleting, picketing, and joining protests with our tech-implicating messaging. By July 31st, the influence of our campaign reached a culmination point, as we mobilized hundreds to take to the streets in heeding Cosecha’s national call for action.
After weeks of planning in collaboration with Cosecha NYC, organizers within our chapter staged a picket, march, and civil disobedience, where we disrupted midtown rush-hour to demonstrate at flagship Microsoft, Salesforce, and Amazon locations in the city. At the brick-and-mortar Amazon on 34th street, we created a booming spectacle with protestors chanting and singing and the Rude Mechanical Orchestra driving the energy with boisterous music. We shut business down with a human blockade that dared to hold the line until put under arrest. Coming out of this action we leveraged our momentum to draft a solidarity letter with tech workers, assist in the establishment of a NYC Tech Workers Coalition chapter, and raise awareness by picking up media attention.
As fall set in, we shifted to strategy and outreach events by supporting academics, authors, and community organizers in the execution of panels, discussions, and rallies. In the spirit of SftP’s legacy of international solidarity work, we supported Scientists for Palestine in executing the Second International Meeting for Science in Palestine, a multi-day conference that brought together academics, students, and scientists from Palestine and the international scientific community to collaborate on implementing concrete plans to bolster the access and achievements of scientific pursuits for Palestinians. Locally, we engaged with the community through Verso’s climate change panel series, where we expanded our network with SftP flyers, merchandise, and newsletter sign-up sheets in tow.
The Boston chapter of Science for the People has passed through several stages since the rebirth of the organization on a national level in 2014. Currently, with the incorporation of new members inspired by the national convention in Ann Arbor in February 2018 and by politically oriented science events in Boston, the chapter has more than a dozen active members and many more who occasionally participate in chapter meetings. Most of the active members are associated with five universities around the city as students, post-docs, or faculty and represent a range of disciplines, such as physics, mathematics, oceanic and atmospheric sciences, bioengineering, public health, history and philosophy of science, with a few journalists, editors, and others not affiliated with universities.
The chapter has been consolidating itself through now twice-a-month meetings that include presentations by members and/or discussions of readings. Topics have included biodeterminism (presented by Jonathan Beckwith, one of the original members of Science for the People), the ideology embedded in artificial intelligence, gender/race/caste in science, a chapter on Lysenkoism by Levins and Lewontin, ongoing efforts to increase private-sector involvement in the US space program, and the politics of geoengineering technologies to mitigate climate change.
Boston Science for the People seeks to raise awareness of the political nature of science and technology among academics, STEM workers, and the public. The chapter has raised the profile of Science for the People through organizing or participating in public events such as the 2018 March for Science in Boston, a panel on feminist science in action during the MIT Day of Action, separate events to promote the new books Science for the People: Documents from America’s Movement of Radical Scientists and The Truth is the Whole: Essays in Honor of Richard Levins, and a session on Science for the People at the Solidarity in Action teach-in at UMass-Boston. Possible future projects being considered by the chapter are to organize a public lecture/discussion series at diverse venues around the city and to take responsibility for writing/editing an issue of the new Science for the People magazine.
Cheers from the Twin Cities chapter! It’s been 6 months since our initial group met with Chris in June, and three months since we kicked off our first public meeting in September. We’re all looking forward to a new year!
As we move forward, it’s good to take stock of where we’ve been. In the beginning, there were just six of us. We began meeting in cafés, inviting friends, and having conversations: not only about SFTP’s history, but what we wanted for our future. This is a process that hasn’t stopped. As our group grew, and continued to lurch toward action, we finally convened ourselves for a four-hour retreat where we laid out our mission statement for the TC Chapter and planned our big public kickoff–where over 30 people attended!
Since then, we’ve been working to develop organizational norms, processes, and governance, all while bringing in more input from our growing membership. Some informal working groups were formed, though coordination has proven a little tricky thus far. As many people who have gotten involved thus far have multiple affiliations and are involved with other like-minded actions, it’s been an open matter of discussion among the organizers about how to best strike a balance between convening (our own events), participating (as an organization in others’ events), and more simply connecting (our members to different organizations and actions that align with interests). As with our many questions before, we’ll undoubtedly converge as a group towards a norm over time.
Here’s a list of some of our highlights thus far:
LOTS of workplace lunches, where we share in each other’s joys and struggles
Semi-regular book club meetings around the SFTP book chapters
Tabling at Rise for Climate, Jobs, and Justice summit organized by the People’s Climate movement
Leading Discussion at the Twin Cities Social Justice Education Fair (a branch of the IWW)
Drafting and Circulating a letter in support of Dr. Blasey-Ford signed by over 450 scientists and allies
Allying with efforts to build an environmental justice movement at the University of Minnesota
Collaborating with the Kitty Anderson Youth Science Center (a justice-focused youth science group) at the Science Museum of Minnesota
Hosting Sheila and Frank Rosenthal from Indiana, long time SftP members, during a Minnesota trip
Involvement in resisting Line 3 construction with other activist groups and water protectors
Continuing to build solidarity and connections with intersectional organizers in the Twin Cities
Developing our norms and structure around governance
Setting up our website!
If you know anyone in the Twin Cities or Greater Minnesota, tell them to like our page on Facebook, sign up on our mailing list and share it with anyone they may know! We look forward to getting more involved nationally and getting to know many more of you all very soon. Until then, we leave you…
A look back at the archives of Science for the People and its writings on the occupational health and safety movement in the United States.
Gail Robson & Taylor Lampe, Columbia Mailman School of Public Health
Science for the People’s publication began in 1969, and the Occupational Safety and Health Act (also known as OSHA) passed in the United States in 1970. The radical science movement in the US developed alongside the workers’ movement for occupational health and safety, and these early 20 years of collaboration are documented throughout the pages of the Science for the People magazine.
1980, Vol 12 No. 2
OSHA’s establishment in 1971 marked the first US federal legislative protection for workers’ safety, but many on the Left felt that the regulations were vastly insufficient. As argued in OSHA Inspectors, published in 1975, OSHA was merely “a capitalist reform program administered in the interests of the ruling class”, with no power, including money, staff, or enforcement, to force corporations to take the steps necessary to improve safety and health. In a 1974 speech, Midwest Workers Fight for Health and Safety, Carl Carlson detailed how corporations could work around OSHA to avoid providing protections for their workers. Dave Kotelchuck, in 1972 in Industrial Health and the Chemical Worker, called it a law “overwhelmingly biased in favor of management”.
RAISING LEFT CONSCIOUSNESS
The passing of OSHA, combined with increased workers’ calls for safety, coincided with the New Left’s increasing “desire…to relate to workers”, further claimed Kotelchuck. Although workers and unions had a rich history of organizing around occupational health and job safety, the early 1970’s critiques from the American Left marked the beginning of this issues as a ‘hot topic’ for the Left, he claimed. In his 1972 article, Kotelchuck hypothesized that the delay was influenced by the “tired old American myth” that workers were only concerned with wages and fringe benefits, rather than safety and health conditions. This, of course, was never true. As argued by Kotelchuck’s 1975 article, Asbestos: Science for Sale, workers have always been forced into the impossible choice between their jobs and their health. Many continued to choose work to support their families, at the literal costs of their mental health, physical health, and in many cases, lives, after daily exposure to harmful chemicals and unsafe environments.
Frank Mirer, in a 1972 article titled Occupational Health: Time for Us to Get to Work, indicated that the Left saw this issue as one with the “potential for setting people, [especially industrial workers] into motion in a progressive direction”. Occupational health struggles, Kotelchuck also agreed, could serve as “the seed of worker control over the entire work process… and an important transitional step toward restructuring our society”. It was envisioned, in the face of weak legislative protections, that collaborations between radical scientists, workers, and unions could be used to improve objective working conditions, and also aid the entire Left movement in the process. The workers rights avenues created by OSHA could be strategically employed, as explored in Using OSHA, written by Chip Hughes & Len Stanley in 1977.
1972, Vol 4 No. 6
MOBILIZING SCIENCE WORKERS
Until the Left became more engaged with this specific worker’s fight, as Kotelchuck articulated, “previously, [radical scientists] had been no more aware [of occupational health issues]…than most people of similar middle-class background”. Science for the People membership in the 1970s consisted mostly of educated and technically trained, middle class scientists and engineers working in academia and industry. Many coming out of the American scientific education had little formal training on the socio-economic considerations of their technical work, as explored in a 1977 article Brown Lung Blues by Michael Freemark. In 1971, a union-organized gathering of 50 workers and scientists brought these scientists to a chemical plant, which for most, was the first time they came face-to-face with industrial working conditions. It was written that “the conference was an eye-opener”.
This disconnect, between the class and educational experiences of workers and radical scientists, posed challenges and opportunities going forward. Scientists were clearly, according to Mirer, “Outside the class or cultural background of the constituency they hope to serve”. They needed to, first and foremost, educate themselves. Few had specific training in occupational health. And many of the professional occupational health workers, like those hired by OSHA, were not primarily interested in the well-being of workers, and were not organizing with SFTP.
SFTP & UNION COLLABORATIONS
The SFTP magazine called for radical scientists to educate themselves, then use their technical skills to address this important issue. Scientists could engage in “service projects in this area” or “technical assistance projects” on top of their paid, daily work. A 1975 introduction to a special issue on Occupational Health and Safety made this statement:
“We are aware that as long as capitalism exists workers will be exploited by those who wish to maximize profits, and workplaces will remain unsafe… We urge more of our readers to… participate in the difficult task of finding ways to employ science to serve the health and safety needs of workers.”
The foundation of this work for radical scientists would come from contacts with local unions and workers, both for educational reasons, and for organizing strategic reasons. Kotelchuck, in his 1972 article, claimed that “companies frown on contact between science workers and production workers” because they wanted to keep workers unaware of their health and safety risks. A pamphlet published in 1974, How to Look at Your Plant, empowered workers to cite violations and take action. Then, in collaboration, scientists could provide workshops on physiology, chemical exposures, and safety protections. They could train workers to perform air and temperature tests, set up health clinics, or perform epidemiological studies if little was known about the exposure. Unions and workers could then use this information, and the small workers’ rights offered through OSHA, to document and hold more management accountable to safety and health violations.
1974, Vol. 6 No. 4
As these alliances turned into more formalized coalitions, the COSH movement, or regional coalitions or committees for occupational safety and health, was born in the US. The primary role of COSH groups were for scientists, labor unions, health, and legal professionals to support worker struggles concerning health and safety issues through technical assistance and empowering forms of education. Organizing for Job Safety by Dan Berman in 1980 detailed the history of the movement starting in 1972; Education and Research in Occupational Health in 1982 described the connections of these groups to academics and scientists; Knowing about workplace risk, by Dorothy Nelkin & Michael Brown in 1984, acknowledged the essential role played by COSH groups in knowledge dissemination and education to workers.
OCCUPATIONAL HEALTH OF WOMEN
A theme that emerged throughout the decades of publishing within the realm of occupational health and safety was a focus on the occupational health of women, and the critique of US policies enacted ostensibly to help women workers. Generally, these policies were not enacted to protect the needs of women themselves, rather they protected, or claimed to protect, their reproductive capacity and the babies they could potentially be carrying. For example, the 1980 article Danger: Women’s Workdescribed factories with high levels of toxic exposure banning women of reproductive age from working there at all, rather than insisting on an environment that was safe for everyone. As a result of these policies, many women felt forced to go through sterilization to keep their jobs.
In 1980, Your Body or Your Job, by John and Barbara Beckwith, argued that sexual harassment in the workplace was an essential occupational health issue, and one neglected by the feminist movement. The term “sexual harassment” itself did not exist until 1975 and at the time of publishing this article, the only legal precedents were at district court levels, including a ruling in 1976 that sexual harassment was violation of title VII sex discrimination clause of Civil Right Act. This article acknowledged that Black women were the most vulnerable to sexual harassment, while simultaneously these women often took on leadership positions on the issue and brought forward the greatest number of lawsuits around the US. The writers called for the struggle against capitalism and patriarchy to carry on side by side, since anti-capitalist work alone would not be sufficient to also tackle patriarchal oppression in the workplace.
1980, Vol. 12 No. 2
Another major advocacy activity by SFTP was for workers’ right to know the hazards of substances with which they were working, and pushing for the enactment of state-level right-to-know legislation. In Knowing about Workplace Risks, Dorothy Nelkin and Michael Brown described the complex barriers preventing workers from information around their own safety, and how some workers effectively obtained information in their own workplaces. Mandy Hawes, in Dying for a Job in 1980 documented trends in chronic Benzene exposure and leukemia and put forward suggestions for organizing by documenting health effects in the workplace, and the protection measures that exist, while calling for hazard evaluations and standard-setting at a federal level along with state-level legislation. Asbestos and the chemical sterilizer DBCP were also key issues in right-to-know advocacy in the 80s, as described in the 1982 articles, Keeping Workers in Line, and Asbestos in the Classroom.
Chris Anne Raymond in the 1984 article, Whose Health and Welfare, critiqued the mainstream press as treating disease revelations “like natural disasters, a sudden and unforeseeable accident, to which the industry and government responded wisely and forthrightly” while in reality these risks were embedded in the system of production, and industry and government had no incentive to protect workers without strong union opposition.
Science for the People publications ended in 1989, and since then, many of these themes are ongoing today. Work environments and hazards continue to change as industries and technologies develop, and as the labor movement changes, there is a continued need for sustainable collaborations between radical scientists, workers, and unions. Future articles and publications can further engage with the gendered and racialized aspects of occupational health and safety, and reflect on how the field has changed over the past decades.
Authors: Gail Robson and Taylor Lampe, MPH Students at Columbia Mailman School of Public Health
The Science for the People blog periodically publishes reports from our chapters across North America. To find a chapter near you, or to start your own chapter, email email@example.com.
The Western Massachusetts chapter is an eclectic and dynamic group with a core of about ten people who regularly participate and about seventy people on the mailing list. Our greatest strength lies in the diversity of experiences and perspectives we bring to the table, along with the many exciting intersections in our interests. We include community organizers, research scientists, historians of science, teachers, and students/recent alums—and many of us fall into more than one of these categories.
We meet weekly, rotating between the campus of UMass Amherst and the offices of Arise for Social Justice, a grassroots organization in Springfield. This allows us to be plugged into multiple communities and facilitates coalition work, for example with the Springfield Climate Justice Coalition. Public events this year have included a book talk at UMass with political agroecologist Jahi Chappell; a community discussion on mold, housing, and health at Arise; and tabling at two neighborhood gatherings in Springfield.
Many of our meetings include discussion of an article, short story, or video. In addition to reading some of the articles on geoengineering from the new SftP magazine, we often discuss materials related to geology, agro-ecology, space exploration and the militarization of space, and science fiction. We have future plans to continue exploring these and other issues.
Our most sustained campaign to date involves raising awareness and effecting change on the problem of mold, housing, and health—mold is a major factor in the high rate of respiratory illness in Springfield. At the center of this campaign is SftP member Tatiana Cheeks, a Springfield mother who has developed much expertise on the subject as she fights the mold that has caused her son to suffer respiratory illness in their rented apartment. Locating our meetings at Arise has provided many opportunities to learn from community organizers working directly with homeless people and tenants of slum-lords, making our understanding of mold contamination broader and more socially and politically informed.
The other big project that we’ve taken on is a workshop for K-12 teachers on science and social justice, which we hope to offer in the spring. The workshop would provide 15 hours of contact time so that teachers could receive 1 graduate credit and professional development points. We plan to introduce teachers to several conceptual frameworks for seeing the connections among knowledge of self, knowledge of society, and knowledge of nature. These frameworks will help teachers integrate three areas that are often treated separately: STEM, social studies / language arts, and social justice activism. We expect to provide approximately ten practical examples that draw from our diverse areas of expertise, including solidarity science (focusing on the mold campaign), geology in social and political context, agro-ecology and food justice, the ecopolitics of built environments and urban planning, and more.
Our website has recently undergone transformation and better reflects some of the exciting work we’ve been doing: http://westernmass.scienceforthepeople.org. We hope people will come visit us—whether in person or on the web!
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.
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.
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!”.
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!
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.
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.
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.
Over the previous months, technology workers have demonstrated remarkable courage and solidarity by raising their voices and organizing to stop the use of their technology to support the malicious operations of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE). We salute the organizers of these efforts and seek to offer encouragement, analysis, and continued solidarity in this ongoing struggle.
As reports of family separation, child abuse, racist policing, and inhumane detention by ICE circulated, these workers investigated the contracts between their employers and the agency to understand how technology companies were facilitating these harmful activities. Workers at Microsoft, Amazon, and Salesforce took to action by writing open letters in the press to the executives of these companies asking them to do the right thing and drop multimillion dollar contracts with ICE that provide technological support for the agency. Of particularly alarming concern are the deployment of Microsoft’s Azure and Amazon’s Rekognition platforms for facial recognition and identification to enable ICE to target individuals for detention and deportation.
In response, executives at these companies have taken a predictable route of denying culpability in ICE’s reprehensible and inhumane behavior, with Amazon doubling down on its support of the agency. At present, none of these executives have signaled that they will move to end these contracts or commit their enterprises to humane practices. These executives’ inhumanity is pronounced by their calculated, contradictory behavior regarding immigration, by paying lip-service to supporting immigration reform, while simultaneously profiting from the oppression of immigrants. While these workers appealed to their boss’s humanity, morality, and knowledge of history, the executives in turn demonstrated that they have none. Their power relies on profits taking precedence over all else.
We hope that workers at these companies and beyond understand that their struggle for justice is only beginning and that they do not struggle alone. Science for the People stands in full support of all efforts by technology workers to organize their labor and to demand that their work not be used as tools of oppression.
The capacity of companies to sell products and make profits relies entirely on the labor of the technology workers who create the hardware and software. Whether that labor looks like writing thousands of lines of code, maintaining a clean office space, or building integrated circuits on the assembly line, all of these efforts combine to create the technology that envelopes the modern world. However, the way this technology is deployed and its purpose is presently outside of workers’ control. It does not have to be this way.
The very same labor power used to create this technology can be slowed or withheld entirely to make incontestable demands for justice, born out of solidarity with everyday people. Doing so requires the organization, collective decision-making processes, and legal representation that only building a labor union with rank-and-file leadership can offer. The inspiring actions to get hundreds of technology workers to raise their collective voice against tech-enabled injustice is a crucial step towards building an organized workforce that can win the fight for justice.
For science workers, it is necessary that we watch closely and learn from these pioneering efforts of technology workers, while providing support and showing solidarity for their struggle. As Science for the People has documented extensively, our labor as science workers has been used to enable injustice and create profits from misery throughout history. Our struggle to ensure that science serves the needs of everyday people, rather than supporting the interests of the powerful few, faces similar challenges on the road ahead. Together, we can build our power to win these struggles, and become a strong link in a long-running historical chain of workers striking out against oppression.
Science for the People’s Science for Puerto Rico Working Group is leading a solidarity brigade to the island, July 19-29, 2018. While a new hurricane season has begun, Puerto Ricans still face many frontline struggles in infrastructure, food, and housing in the wake of Hurricane Maria. The volunteers in this brigade will contribute to ongoing community projects while cultivating relationships with existing groups, including Casa Pueblo Puerto Rico, to help the people of Puerto Rico build resilient, community-owned infrastructure.
Beyond assisting current projects, Science for Puerto Rico will expand our network through participation in meetings with members of the community, local organizations, and international climate justice groups. The brigade will also conduct interviews and dedicated political education events to learn from Puerto Rican community members and activists and find areas where we can continue to contribute beyond our initial July brigade. While we express our solidarity through volunteering, we are also working to expand a sociopolitical analysis of the causes and consequences of the disaster in Puerto Rico.
There are many local organizations in Puerto Rico that need financial support. Consider donating to Güakiá Colectivo Agroecológico.
The Science for Puerto Rico brigade is possible because volunteers are covering their own airfare and food. You can support Science for the People’s direct action, volunteering, and organizing costs by becoming a patron for just $5 a month.
This Monday, June 25, 3-4 p.m. EDT, join Science for the People and other radical and progressive scientists and activists during the #ScienceRising Twitter Chat: Science Should Support Equity and Justice.
The following two speeches were presented by members of Science for the People’s Atlanta chapter, Lauren Wiggins and Rebekah Ward, at their local March for Science on April 14, 2018. Click here to see photos and read reports on Science for the People organizing at the March for Science in the U.S. and Mexico.
Good Afternoon! My name is Lauren, and I am here representing the Atlanta Chapter of Science for the People at the 2018 Rally for Science and I’m excited to be here with you all today! And today I’m going to talk about climate change, big business, and social justice.
My first introduction to climate change was in 2014. I was an intern for Greenpeace–you may have heard of it. At the time, I wasn’t aware of the influence they’d had on society since the 1970s, nor was I aware of their current status as the largest global environmental organization. Truth be told, I’d just heard of the idea of climate change a few months prior to getting the internship. I’d heard of climate change from a friend in my junior year of college. I read a few articles, joined a sustainability group, and attended a conference or two on climate science and activism, and at that point I really thought I’d found my passion…but while I was interning at the Greenpeace USA headquarters, I stumbled upon an article about people who are trafficked into forced labor in the fishing industry. I was absolutely blown away, and wondered why this aspect of sustainability wasn’t more widely publicized along with the “save the whales” marketing Greenpeace had used for decades.
But I’m not here to talk about what lead me to my passion, I’m here to open your minds to what wasn’t taught to me as a school-aged child: climate change and social responsibility.
Most of us here have heard plenty about the environmental movement. We all support it and I’m sure I don’t need to stand here and convince you all that climate change is real, but what I will do is convince you that there’s a neglected narrative in the green movement. While we focus on campaigns to save the polar bears, the Sumatran tigers, the green sea turtles and other species that are undoubtedly worth saving: We often leave the most under-resourced and marginalized communities behind in this movement. It always baffles me to see large environmental campaigns driven by the concern of species far outside our own, but when we think about the human beings–you know, our neighbors, our community members, those who look like and reflect us–who in this instance, live less than ten miles from us, we often have no remorse for their circumstances or surroundings, or concern for their well-being.
In the midst of these changes in climate, the world often forgets to acknowledge that those who are producing most of the pollutants that are harmful to our health and our atmosphere are those farthest away from enduring the consequences of climate change. I cannot stress enough that the poor, and people of color, have always been and will continue to be the first affected and worst affected by natural disasters that are fueled by climate change. An example of this has been widely noted with Hurricane Katrina, a tragedy that displaced almost half a million people. I must emphasize that there are powers who are benefitting from these natural disasters. Naomi Klein, a Canadian journalist, author, and social activist, termed this consequence perfectly as “disaster capitalism.” She says, “some stockpile canned goods and water in preparation for major disasters, [while others] stockpile free-market ideas,” such as privatizing public services and corporate buyouts of low-income housing.
So those of us here probably aren’t looking for the next opportunity to build a beachside resort the next time a typhoon hits (which, by the way, is what happened in the Philippines following the Typhoon Haiyan disaster–and if you’ve been following the news, a similar cycle of exploitation is happening in Puerto Rico), but do consider this: When another natural disaster hits our world, the people who possess the means to do so will simply evacuate and reconstruct it without concern for those whose lives have been uprooted and whose families have been torn apart. However, the communities that were disenfranchised way before a disaster comes along will not have that option, and there are capitalists who bank on that occurrence (pun intended).
In one of my favorite books, Warriors of the Rainbow: A Chronicle of the Greenpeace Movement, author Robert Hunter writes, “A small group of people, acting imaginatively and nonviolently, can affect the course of events in our global village.” And this is true! Small groups are the seed of any movement! And if that small group is determined to change society to everyone’s benefit, it can make the largest impact!
I am an activist by trade, and by recreation. I volunteer with a group called Science for the People. We’re a group of scientists who, in 1969, were key in debunking the myths surrounding race and genes. Well-known figures like Stephen Jay Gould and Richard Lewontin started our organization! Our pamphlet’s title, “The Dual Nature of Science,” which you can find at our booth is inspired by yet another influential scientist, Richard Levins.
We are revamping Science for the People now, in the 21st century, because we believe that Science IS for the People, not for profit! We believe that Science IS for the People, not for war! We work on demilitarizing science, we work on making science accessible, and we work with communities because science is key for policy-making and transparency!
Science for the People works with the Atlanta community to make sure that our city is fueled by 100% clean energy, as the city council has promised in their recent resolution. Our vision for a 100% clean city, and ultimately a carbon-neutral world, is where clean energy develops alongside increased equity. So I urge you all to join us or join another organization that actively helps with this ambitious plan that can make our future more equitable, more sustainable, and more harmonious!
In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “it really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one destiny, affects all indirectly.”
My life’s work is centered around justice for the environment and primarily the marginalized communities that have been oppressed, exploited, and constantly overlooked by the structures that, if they chose to, could “save” these communities. But I’ve come to a powerful realization in my years of organizing: we can’t wait around for anything to save us. One of my favorite idioms is, “If you want something done right, do it yourself.” To be clear, I don’t intend to save the world by myself, nor would I suggest that the task be taken on by a single organization, because history has shown us that no movement reaches success by uniform assembly, but rather a diverse collective of shared power and respected values. We have to work alongside our communities, and at the same time, provide them with the tools and support to liberate themselves, as Science for the People is poised to do in this nation and eventually around the world.
After my first Black Lives Matter action and other environmental justice engagements at the United Nations climate talks, I declared to myself–and now to all of you–that I would spark a fire in each person I have the pleasure of meeting; so I want to spark the fire of empowerment in you, and you, and you…I want you all to join a movement and uplift a cause that is outside of yourself, your culture, and your upbringing. Like I said earlier, we all share this earth, and each of you in this audience possesses an invincible power to change the way humans live in it and among each other.
Thanks for listening, y’all.
There is a context to the current attack on science, and science education specifically. The first year Congress actually made specific appropriations for science education was 1958, one year after Sputnik was launched. What’s of note here is that it took the Cold War to motivate our government to take science education seriously. Previously, and historically, science had been the domain of the few and privileged. But that began to change during the 1960s and ‘70s as quality science education became much more accessible and new fields opened up prospects of quality jobs. Then, in the 1990s, the U.S. responded to changes in the global economy by moving toward neoliberalism. Briefly defined, this is a structural readjustment in funding that moves toward privatization of public services in order to bolster the free market. Here’s where you begin to see the push to change the nature of education. In grades K through 12, funding was cut and charters and vouchers were incentivized. In the academy, fewer secure well-paying tenure track positions were available. The academy moved toward adjuncts to bear the teaching load and post-doctoral fellows to crank out data. This data was then used to get grants that could pay for the staff that was needed to get more grants.
Fast forward to the 2008 crisis. Governments of the world bailed out the banks, and the source of that money came from the social safety net. Funding for things like unemployment, infrastructure, and education were all cut. This was austerity, and it only accelerated the attacks on quality public education. According to the American Association of University Professors, the share of adjuncts teaching across higher ed has increased 66 percent in the past four decades. Adjuncts now make up 40 percent of the academic labor force at institutions surveyed, more than all other types of faculty combined. This majority of the academic labor force makes an average of around $20,000 a year. This is one of the ways that universities have coped with historic decreases in funding: a supplementary low wage labor force. And K-12 is even worse. The teacher pay penalty is bigger than ever. In 1994, public school teachers’ weekly wages were 1.8 percent lower than those of comparable workers; now it is approaching 20% lower than other workers. Education, including most types of science education, has been systematically devalued.
Locally, we see this play out in the University System of Georgia in several ways. State funding for public two- and four-year colleges is, nation wide, nearly $9 billion below its 2008 level, after adjusting for inflation. These kinds of cuts increase tuition, impact the Hope education tax credit, increase the adjunct to tenure track ratio, and decrease the support staff for students. This trend underlies the recent mergers between campuses. Georgia Perimeter and Georgia State University, along with many other physically proximal colleges and universities in the state, were combined into a single institution. Part of the stated purpose was to “reduce redundancy.” Why have two Human Resources departments, two Financial Aid departments, when you could have one that works twice as hard? Also, there are examples of science faculty in particular, who have been subject to paying for the underfunding of the USG.
At one local college, faculty who teach labs have recently been informed that they must teach an additional class next year for no additional pay. This amounts to around a 20% wage cut. In the labor movement, this is sometimes called a speed up. This allows the institution to hire fewer adjuncts without reducing incoming tuition. The trend is clear: education in general, and science education, with its equipment and reagents costs, in particular, are a target for the ongoing budget cuts.
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Why do we “March for Science”? A central impulse is to fight the exercise of power for private gain at the expense of broad interest; oil companies ought not determine the quality of climate science!
However, if we generalize this impulse we risk making science into a neutral counter-power to be deployed merely through Evidence-Based Policy. But defense of science is not enough. We need to transform the role of science in our world.
Science for the People engages with what ecologist Richard Levins called the dual nature of science. That is science as “an episode in the growth of human knowledge in general, and as the class-, gender-, and culture-bound product of Euro-North American capitalism in particular.” Levins noted that two common reactions to the intersection of science and politics, scientism (the ideology that science is always correct and just) and antiscience, fail to grasp this dual nature:
Both scientism and modem antiscience are one-sided. This is not the same as “extreme,” the ultimate reproach of liberal criticism. “Extreme” implies as its preferred opposite “moderate,” a solution with the implication that the truth is a little bit of this and a little bit of that, or “not all black or white, but some shade of grey,” an optimal middle ground defined by the extremes that are rejected.”
Both scientism and antiscience fail to address the real challenges facing scientists, society, and the planet today. A few examples show that a sensitivity to the dual nature of science is the necessary backbone of our movement.
Science tends to satisfy capitalism’s need to constantly innovate in the pursuit of profit, and as a result becomes the center of a misleading progressivist ideology. But progress for whom? More than half of American government science funding is channeled through the military. The invasion and occupation of Iraq killed over half a million Iraqis and cost $2.3 trillion. The total budget of the National Institutes of Health over the same period was about $225 billion. The US spent ten times more killing over 500,000 people than it did on research to improve healthcare!
Science is often integrated into profoundly anti-democratic policy. Writing in Science for the People magazine in 1977, Linda Gordon noted that the birth control movement started with an emphasis on women’s liberation, but the entry of doctors and other professionals infused the movement with elitist values such as population control, often due to openly eugenicist views. The fight for reproductive justice continues today. Black women die at a rate four times higher than white women in childbirth and abortion access has been declining for decades. Our movement must not repeat these errors of technocracy and elitism, but must join broad democratic struggles.
Eugenics and Biological Determinism
Too often, scientific acceptance promotes injustice. The Eugenics Movement reached mainstream scientific status in the early 20th century (with many universities hosting Eugenics Departments), justifying tens of thousands of sterilizations of black, poor, and disabled people up through the 1960s.
Ideas that later are deemed reprehensible can exist as accepted science for decades; this happens even today. Eugenics is a cruder version of the general science of biological determinism–the justification of social violence and inequity through their naturalization as biologically inevitable–which is alive and well.
How should scientists organize politically?
The discrediting of biological determinism was the joint victory of the women’s movement, the Black freedom struggle, and the radical science movement. Radical scientists contributed by publicly exposing ideological motivations through careful, sustained, confrontational argument. And the fight continues. So long as structural injustices persist, so too will their naturalization, from Charles Murray’s “color-blind” notion of biological class, to James Damore’s claims that women are underrepresented in tech because they are innately inept.
Science is not an abstraction removed from society. Science is produced by our labor. But the conditions of this production and the use of science are controlled by the wealthy and powerful. We must fight for a science that serves all people, organizing wherever science is produced or applied alongside all those fighting for justice.
Against any tendency to antiscience, we should remember: knowledge is won with our labor and can be used to advance common goals. Against any tendency to scientism: our movement lives and dies with the broader left; technical knowledge alone never delivers justice.