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:

Help Us Launch “The Return of Radical Science”

 

Hey Science for the People!

We’re really excited to share that we’ve launched a fundraiser to return Science for the People magazine to print starting with our relaunch issue this May.

Donate to the fundraiser –  http://kck.st/2HrLcIP

From 1969 to 1989, Science for the People served as the forceful voice for a generation of scientists seeking to build justice within science and with science. Now, with scientists again under attack and science once again used to prop up the power structures that have failed us, we’re returning with new urgency to regular publication. Last year, we kicked off our publishing with a special collection on geoengineering and the dangerous claim that technology – rather than radically reshaping our society – will save us from climate disaster.

Our spring 2019 issue has the theme “The Return of Radical Science.” It’s not just about fighting fossil fueled capitalism – we’re wresting control of scientific inquiry from militarism and the surveillance state, we’re examining how to organize science workers to share the fruits of discovery within and outside of academia, and we’re confronting the colonial and patriarchal power structures within science to make sure that science truly is for the people. But we need your help.

If we meet our goal of $20,000, we’ll produce a special print run of our relaunch issue, alongside our geoengineering collection, and deliver it to our backers, and be able to continue digital publication of the new magazine indefinitely. If we meet our stretch goal of $30,000, we’ll return immediately to print publication, distributing two more issues this summer and fall on themes too be announced.

The fundraiser starts this Monday, March 18. We hope you can join us for a special teleconference call this Thursday, March 21at 9 p.m. Eastern time, to discuss what you can do to help spread the news of Science for the People’s return far and wide. Instructions for calling in are below. If you can’t make the launch call, please keep an eye on our FacebookTwitter,Instagram, or website for when the campaign goes live!

The teleconference will be held at 9pm Eastern Time on Thursday, March 21 over Zoom, a teleconferencing service you can join over your phone or on your computer.

ON YOUR COMPUTER: click this link (https://zoom.us/j/584761970)

ON YOUR PHONE: call one of the following numbers, then enter meeting ID 584 76 1970:
– For a faster connection in the Eastern US: +1 (646) 876-9923 
– For a faster connection in the Western US +1 (669) 900-6833 
– Callers in Mexico can call +52 229 910 0061 or +52 554 161 4288
– Those in other countries can click here for a list of local numbers (https://zoom.us/u/ad9TFnO5Cw)

LEARN MORE

You can read more about how different editorial collectives will gather perspectives for each issue of Science for the People on the magazine’s website, or explore the archives that countless volunteers have been working to digitize over the last year. Learn about the amazing work our chapters are doing to build power on the organization’s website, or learn how to get involved or start your own chapter by emailing sftp.revitalization@gmail.com.

We’re so inspired by the work that the revitalized Science for the People is doing. Will you join us in sharing this work with the world?

Donate to the fundraiser –  http://kck.st/2HrLcIP

In solidarity,

Christopher Dols, SftP Publisher
Emily Glaser, SftP Managing Editor
Benjamin Allen, SftP Secretary
Erik Hetzner, SftP Treasurer

Coca isn’t the Problem; Glyphosate isn’t the Solution: How the Debate around Aerial Fumigations Diverts Attention from Peace Agreement Alternatives

Coca cultivation in Briceño, Antioquia. Photo by Isabel Peñaranda

 

In Colombia, the herbicide glyphosate is once again making headlines after right-wing President Iván Duque urged Congress to overturn a 2015 ban on aerial fumigations intended to eradicate coca cultivations. This comes as the Duque administration seeks to back-out of the 2016 Peace Agreement by objecting to the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP), a central component of the Agreements. While there is no scientific consensus on the health effects of glyphosate fumigations, contradictory results in major studies must lead us to employ the cautionary principle. By arguing that glyphosate is safe and effective, Duque and his allies are further justifying their de-facto annulment of the historic 2016 Peace Agreement, specifically points I and IV on land reform and illicit crop substitution respectively. It is important to engage with the health-based debate while maintaining sight of the larger structural issues, namely land reform.  

Glyphosate in Colombia

Since 1978, Colombia has used glyphosate in its aerial fumigations. Between 1999 and 2015 over 1,800,000 hectares were sprayed with the herbicide to kill illicit crops, beginning with marihuana and transitioning to coca and poppy. Glyphosate fumigations of coca cultivations were domestically framed as a means of eliminating an important revenue stream for the now-demobilized Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). For years, campesino communities protested the criminalization of coca and the use of glyphosate, linking the latter to damaging health effects, spoiled agricultural crops, and contaminated water sources. After decades of organized strikes and mobilizations, the Colombian government finally announced in 2015, during the Peace Negotiations, that it would at last ban the use of glyphosate for aerial spraying, citing health concerns. Following pressure from the US, in 2016 it resumed the use of glyphosate, this time using drones rather than helicopters and planes.

Glyphosate, the world’s most widely used herbicide, was patented by Monsanto in 1970 and is the active ingredient in Roundup. International regulatory bodies have published conflicting results regarding its health impacts. The World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has described glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic to humans,” pointing to ““convincing evidence that glyphosate (…) can cause cancer in laboratory animals.” Specifically, recent studies have shown a compelling link between exposures to Glyphosate-based herbicides (GBHs) and increased risk for Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma (NHL, a cancer of the lymphatic tissue). Alejandro Gaviria, a former Minister of Health, has linked the fumigations to “a high probability of infant mortality increases, dermatological and respiratory problems, and possible interference with embryonic development”.

Ineffective and Counterproductive Policy

Even if glyphosate were safe, fumigations in Colombia and beyond are ineffective and counterproductive. From Afghanistan to Vietnam, aerial fumigations have more often been used as commercial opportunities or chemical and agricultural warfare than effective policy. In Colombia’s Valle del Guamuez, rural areas were founded with names like Arenosa (“The Sandy”) after fumigations dried up the land. Communities learn to adapt their coca farming to fumigations but they give up on agricultural crops. Fumigations further aggravate internal displacement in a country with the second highest IDP (internally displaced persons) population in the world. Fumigations eradicate farming communities, not coca cultivation.

We do not yet know the results of the Congressional debate on the use of glyphosate. While there were more speakers in favor of upholding the current glyphosate ban, we know that the administration of Iván Duque is under significant pressure from the US.

The Trump administration has been “seriously considered designating Colombia as a country that has failed demonstrably to adhere to its obligations under international counternarcotics agreements” unless coca cultivations change their course. Former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had testified to the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations regarding Colombia, stating, “what we’ve said is you have to get back to allowing the spraying of these fields, the destruction of the fields.” Earlier, in 2014, the State Department had complained about protests against fumigations: “National level protests blocking access roads and inhibiting movement were a major hindrance to manual eradication’s ability to operate in major coca growing regions, and also bedeviled aerial eradication operations.” But perhaps the bluntest explanation came from former US Ambassador to Colombia, William Brownfield, a top counternarcotics official at the State Department for the Trump administration. Collective action and road-blocking, he observed, were not a problem during aerial fumigations. “You cannot protest from the ground an airplane that is flying over a coca field and killing the coca from the air”…

The renewed debate around glyphosate is particularly disturbing because Colombia has tested, proven, and agreed-upon alternatives. The 2016 Peace Agreement’s points I and IV address Land Reform and Crop Substitution respectively. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime reports that voluntary crop substitution programs, the basis of the Fourth Point, are overwhelmingly more effective than fumigations and other forms of forced eradication. Their report affirms that just 0.6% of coca cultivations are re-planted under voluntary crop substitution programs while, under forced eradication programs, 30% of crops are re-planted in the first three months and over 50% of crops are re-planted within the year. The high rates of re-cultivation are the result of a policy that does not address the basic need for a stable sustenance– the reason families cultivate coca.

Beyond crop substitution, Colombia needs land reform. Nearly seventy percent of the country’s productive land is concentrated in 0.4 percent of agricultural landholdings, Oxfam reports. As long as this reality holds, no form of coca eradication has a chance of succeeding. We can and should debate about glyphosate without losing sight of the more central, historic debate in Colombia.

Further readings:

The problem of glyphosate spraying, by Pedro Arenas

Coca and Agriculture in Post- Peace Accord Colombia (Part I) and After the Peace Accord, Violence Persists in Colombia’s Coca Regions (Part II) by Isabel Peñaranda

En la Corte, el Gobierno está casi solo en su defensa de la fumigación con glifosato, by Juanita Vélez and Adelaida Ávila Cabrera

Twilight Hour of Coca Fumigation in Colombia Shows its Injustice, Ineffectiveness, by Adam Schaffer and Coletta A. Youngers

The Cocalera Marches: An Expression of the Right to Demand Rights, by Luis Felipe Cruz

Occupational Health and the Radical Science Movement

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 Work described 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

WORKER RIGHT-TO-KNOW

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.

FUTURE DIRECTIONS

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

ALL ARTICLES

Vol. 4 No. 3: “Industrial Health and the Chemical Worker” by Dave Kotelchuck (1972)

Vol. 4 No. 6: “Occupational Health: Time for Us to Get to Work” by Frank Mirer (1972)

Vol. 6 No. 4: “Midwest Workers Fight for Health and Safety” (speech 3/16 by Carl Carlson at “Workers’ Forum on Safety and Health” in Chicago, 1974)

Vol. 6 No. 4: “How to Look at Your Plant” (1974)

Vol. 7 No. 5: “About this Issue: Occupational Health and Safety” (1975)

Vol. 7 No. 5: “Asbestos: Science for Sale” by David Kotelchuck (1975)

Vol. 7 No. 5: “OSHA Inspectors” by Anonymous (1975)

Vol. 9 No. 3: “Brown Lung Blues” by Michael Freemark (1977)

Vol. 9 No. 5: “Using OSHA” by Chip Hughes & Len Stanley (1977)

Vol. 12 No. 2: “Dying for a Job” by Mandy Hawes (1980)

Vol. 12 No. 2: “Danger: Women’s Work” by East Bay SFTP (1980)

Vol. 12 No. 4: “Organizing for Job Safety” by Dan Berman (1980)

Vol. 12 No. 4: “Your Body or Your Job” by John Beckwith & Barbara Beckwith (1980)

Vol. 14 No. 1: “Education and Research in Occupational Health” by Luc Desnoyers & Donna Mergler (1982)

Vol. 14 No. 4: “Keeping the Workers in Line” by Heidi Gottfried (1982)

Vol. 14 No. 4: “Asbestos in the Classroom” by Nancy Zimmet (1982)

Vol. 16 No. 1: “Knowing About Workplace Risks: Workers Speak Out About the Safety of Their Jobs” by Dorothy Nelkin & Michael Brown (1984)

Vol. 16 No. 4: “Whose Health and Welfare: The Press and Occupational Health” by Chris Anne Raymond (1984)

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?

Solidarity Letter: Tech Won’t Build It!

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.

Tech won’t build it, and we won’t either.

In solidarity,

Science for the People

Science for Puerto Rico Solidarity Brigade, July 19-29

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.

The Science for Puerto Rico brigade will also join Güakiá Colectivo Agroecológico and El Hormiguero in their ongoing work to develop sustainable agriculture and sustainable energy infrastructure, respectively.

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.

 

HOW TO GET INVOLVED

Interested in joining the brigade or learning more? Email SfPRManagement@googlegroups.com or Bolivar Aponte-Rolon.

Learn more about the situation in Puerto Rico in Naomi Klein’s article in The Intercept. All royalties from sales of her book, The Battle for Paradise: Puerto Rico Takes on the Disaster Capitalists, go to the alliance JunteGente.

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.

Stay tuned for more updates from Science for Puerto Rico on this site and on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Rallying for Science in Atlanta

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.

Lauren Wiggins:

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.

Lauren Wiggins

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.


Rebekah Ward:

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.

Rebekah Ward

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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The Dual Nature of Science

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.

Militarism

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!

Reproductive Justice

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.


This essay was written by NYC chapter member Conor Dempsey as part of our March for Science organizing. Find more M4S materials here.

Help support Science for the People’s mission and the relaunch of our publication in the coming months. Become a Patreon patron today.

 

March for Science 2018 Organizing Resources

Around the country, Science for the People’s revitalized and growing chapters are organizing to represent a radical, political perspective at the second annual March for Science on Saturday, April 14, 2018.

To help SftP and those looking to join our mission engage with the March on a local and national level, we’ve compiled some materials you can print and share at the March.

RECRUITING  AT THE MARCH
Organizing conversations are more structured than regular conversations. Identify the goal of your organizing and build the conversation around that goal: Are you attempting to get people to join SftP? To disseminate information? To build connections with other scientists who are politically engaged? To politically educate scientists who are engaged but still developing? Build the conversation around the specific thing you are “asking” from the person you’re speaking to.

1. LISTEN!
Introduce yourself, but focus on active listening more than talking.
Why is the person you’re speaking to at March for Science?
What are their interests and concerns?

2. RESPOND!
More than likely, some part of the conversation will resonate with your own interests or with something that SftP is concerned with. That’s the time when you should talk–to offer a perspective that complements or pushes forward what the other person is expressing.

3. KEEP TRACK!
Sign people up for something and give them a way to engage with you or the group in the future. Newsletter subscription is ideal; SftP is also on Twitter and Facebook.

PAMPHLET
Looking to recruit new members to your local chapter? Print out copies of the new Science for the People pamphlet, “The Dual Nature of Science,” to hand out at the March.
For print
For displaying online

You can also read the essay here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

RESOLUTION
SftP members brought forward a resolution to frame Science for the People’s participation in the march.  Read it here.

NEWSLETTER SIGNUPS
Print and use this form to stay in touch with new contacts.

CHANTS
Need a rallying cry? Learn and share these chants!

Science for the people, not for profit
Science for the people, not for war

BANNERS AND POSTERS
Download, print, or paint your SftP banner using these designs from NYC chapter member Matteo Farinella.

 

CHAPTER REPORTS
Please share your chapter’s participation for the March for Science! Are you recruiting new members? Raising awareness of a certain issue? What do you think is crucial for SftP to organize around? Tell us your thoughts in this quick form.

Tweet and share your experience at the March for Science and use the hashtag #ScienceForThePeople.