Atlanta Chapter Report

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

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

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

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

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

(L-R) DeAnna (Dia) Parker (Los Vecinos de Buford Highway), Neil Sardana (Atlanta Jobs with Justice), Lindsay Harper (Georgia W.A.N.D.), Dianne Mathiowetz (WRFG Labor Forum), Billy Michael Honor (The New Georgia Project)
Tom Thrasher from 350.org Atlanta, main event organizer, at the opening of the panel discussion at the Flipper Temple with filled about 100 people.
Dr. Jasmine Clark, scientist, former March for Science Atlanta director, and Representative-Elect from Georgia’s House District 108, speaking to the rally participants.
(L-R) Jordan French, David Hofmann, and Chris Smoot at the Science for the People info table.

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

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

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

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

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

College Park Chapter Report

The College Park (University of Maryland) chapter of Science for the People is just getting started. This semester, we’ve been hosting biweekly discussion groups as we try to find a core group and gain a better understanding for what important on-campus issues we’d like to work on. So far this semester we’ve discussed issues like how experts should interact with democracy, the science of sex and gender and how it relates to transgender rights, and climate change and ecological economics. At this point, we have 5-6 regular participants who are clearly interested in building a larger, more capable group.

Like any university, Maryland has plenty of issues we could tackle head-on: Vice called the University of Maryland America’s most militarized university; our proximity to DC allows for easy activism on federal politics (Congressional visits, etc); and the university is currently experiencing some political pressure from students who want us to cancel a contract with ICE. We’re looking forward to the spring semester and figuring out exactly how we can move from our regular reading groups to real action.

Ann Arbor Chapter Report

The Ann Arbor chapter of SftP has recently focused on the issues of climate change, reproductive justice, and solidarity strategy.

Actions around climate change have primarily been in collaboration with the Climate Action Movement (CAM) at the University of Michigan to put pressure on the U-M President and administration to develop a plan for carbon neutrality that is aggressive and incorporates the principles of environmental justice. SftP members were instrumental in aggregating data to assess University progress toward climate goals and, with CAM, developed a set of emissions reductions targets in accordance with the the latest IPCC recommendations for limiting warming to 1.5C. SftP and CAM members drafted resolutions based on the recommendations, which were then passed unanimously through student and faculty governments. Current work is focused on garnering a commitment in adherence to these recommendations from the President and Regents of the university, with tactics including official testimony, op-eds in university publications, and organizing direct actions.

We have also been working to introduce those engaged in climate action to a larger critique of the social structures at the root of the climate crisis. Along these lines, we have partnered with the local Marxist Collective to host Jason Moore for several speaking engagements at the University this Spring. Jason Moore is an environmental historian who is known for his books and essays on environmental history, capitalism, and social theory. Furthermore, a subgroup of SftP members are actively advocating to incorporate a course in the core curriculum in the School for Environment and Sustainability at U-M that more adequately incorporates environmental justice, critical analysis and environmental ethics.

SftP members have conducted a number of direct actions in solidarity with larger campaigns. These have included: 1) targeting events hosted by banks responsible for financing environmentally destructive pipelines with blatant disregard of indigenous land and rights; 2) advocating for effective and unbiased local police oversight; 3) debunking pseudo-scientific claims made by an anti-immigrant speaker.

Ann Arbor SftP periodically facilitates Science for Who events with an open discussion between panelists and community members about a specific area of science and its interplay with society-at-large. Our upcoming topic will revolve around reproductive justice, with invited panelists having expertise in the history of eugenics and genetic counseling, women’s studies, and reproductive ethnography. Science for Who has provided an informal setting (over food) to engage with and learn about the deeper implications of a variety of fields and served as the first point of contact with SftP for many members.

East Tennessee Chapter Report

Science for the People East Tennessee research party

The East Tennessee chapter of Science for the People is centered in Knoxville, but the activities of our membership extend to Oak Ridge and into the rural areas of the region. The largest research institutions in the area are the University of Tennessee, Knoxville and the Oak Ridge National Laboratory – the largest research and development facility for the US Department of Energy. We began to form around the time of the 2017 March for Science. Many of our members had been involved in both labor and environmental activism long before the emergence of SftP or the contemporary science movement in general. So, when it came time to plan and execute the local March for Science, we saw it necessary to strengthen the linkages between our organizing and our jobs as science workers. In building the march and speaker roster, we sought to build unity between the voices of people often marginalized within science, the campus and research workers that make science happen locally, and environmental justice organizations. We felt successful in steering the message of the march towards a distinctly radical tone—advocating the necessity of system change to address climate change, lifting up the struggles of marginalized and oppressed people within science, and promoting these struggle above banal “science advocacy.” Overall, the march helped us understand the balances of forces operating within the local science community and develop strategy for building our chapter over the coming months and years.

It took us some time to get into the rhythm of chapter building. We hosted a screening of the documentary Command & Control, about nuclear weapons accidents in the US, on the UT Knoxville campus in fall 2017, with about ten people showing up to learn more about SftP. This event went okay, but it probably would have done better to focus on SftP itself, rather than the content of the film. So, we reoriented our activities towards engaging with students and science workers we had personal connections with to bring them into to fold of SftP to learn about organizing in general, the struggles within science, and to think more deeply about how to engage in our local community.

We began hosting regular meetings in early 2018, with much of the content centered around discussing topics of organizing practices in general, our personal struggles within education and research, and thinking about how to engage with existing movement work locally. One of the lessons learned from these meetings is just how eager many people in the sciences are to learn about political organizing. A common theme in sharing our experiences in the sciences was how institutionally repressed we were from both engaging in political activism and coming to understand science in political terms. Therefore, the meetings became a space where we were sharing our knowledge and skills with one another, introducing each other to concepts familiar to political organizers but less so to scientists, while discussing how we could put this knowledge to practical use. When sharing our memories of the past year, many of our members felt strongly that this was one of the more useful aspects of our meetings.

Through our discussions, coalition building with other movement forces emerged as a primary goal for our work. In particular, there was real concern that if we weren’t careful, we might duplicate the efforts of existing movement groups operating within the region, which might be seen as pretentious or chauvinistic coming from a group of scientists. We took this concern to heart, so rather than plan our own campaigns, we reached out to existing groups in the area to help them with their already existing work. For instance, our members assisted with data entry for Appalachian Voices to aid with their campaign to build bottom-up membership power within rural electrical co-ops. Our members also turned out to support the longstanding efforts of Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment (SOCM) to hold the Tennessee Valley Authority and the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) accountable at hearings for their multitude of failures in the region, especially regarding the 2008 Kingston coal-ash spill. This environmental catastrophe killed over 30 cleanup workers and caused severe illness in several hundreds more of the one thousand workers, due to severe and deliberate negligence on the part of the contractor responsible for the cleanup.

SOCM routinely monitors the permit applications submitted to TDEC for wastewater, hazardous waste, and more. In the fall of 2018, one of the organizers for SOCM approached us concerning a hazardous waste permit application from a chemical plant operated by Dow Chemical subsidiary Rohm & Haas. This plant is located in the heart of Knoxville, in a high density neighborhood where predominantly working class people, people of color, and students live. The plant had racked up a series of wastewater violations in the past due to leakages of volatile organic compounds into the groundwater and nearby stream, so there were major concerns regarding permitting the storage of thousands of gallons worth of hazardous waste on site. As such, there was an opportunity to build coalition between SOCM and SftP and to engage in a shared campaign of awareness raising and to call for a public hearing regarding the plant. According to Tennessee state law, TDEC must comply with requests to host a public hearing regarding any new or renewed permits.

We requested that TDEC host a public hearing and we set ourselves to the task of raising awareness about the plant, and organizing community members and students to attend the hearing. From the outset, we understood that it was probable that the permit would be granted, but we saw this as the first step in long-term organizing for environmental justice in the area that intersected with class and racial dynamics. As such, this was a good chance to grow our collective skills and strengthen our solidarity. To build the coalition, we reached out to a long-standing student environmental group on the UTK campus called Students Promoting Environmental Action in Knoxville. SPEAK allowed us to come to their meeting to talk about this project and SftP in general, and many of the students were very curious about the permitting process and excited to turnout to the hearing. In preparing for the hearing, we hosted a research party to collect information about the history of Rohm & Haas, analyze the details of the application permit, review state and federal environmental law, and to prepare a community briefing document to enable people to make informed comments at the hearing. The research party was undoubtedly one of the most enjoyable and meaningful activities we have done together, as it allowed all of our members to put their scientific knowledge into service.

At the public hearing, we put all of this effort into action. As is typical, the state environmental regulators put forward a canned powerpoint full of assurances regarding their monitoring of the plant. When it came time for our members and coalition partners to comment, we brought the science in a strong and righteous way that demonstrated our prowess as scientists and commitment to serving the people. Each of us comes from different disciplinary backgrounds, including public health and environmental engineering, and our comments showed that our concerns were to be taken seriously. The local press coverage of the hearing reflected this, as they reprinted much of the strong commentary we brought forward. Many of the environmental regulators present expressed in private that they were impressed with our comments afterwards. We learned that, in addition to voicing these concerns at the hearing itself, it helps to prepare a solid written statement in conjunction, as these written statement are reviewed by the state beyond the hearing itself and can have an impact in the decision-making of the regulators. To carry this work forward, we are planning environmental “know your rights” trainings for community members in urban and rural areas to raise awareness and provide education on spotting environmental violations in these environmental, legal rights regarding the environment, how to effectively engage the state regarding these issues, and how to organize for environmental justice in ways that go beyond relying on government agencies.

Overall, we’ve learned a lot over the past year or so in building our chapter and working on our first campaigns. We hope to continue growing our membership base, strengthening our coalition partnerships, and demonstrating our solidarity with everyday people in the region. We also hope to create linkages with other chapters and to share skills and share organizing work to build Science for the People! You can reach out to us at sftpetn@gmail.com.

New York City Chapter Report

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.

Presently our subscriber list is 300+ strong! Follow our activity on Facebook at www.facebook.com/pg/SFTPNYC and our newly launched website at https://nyc.scienceforthepeople.org.

Boston Chapter Report

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.

Twin Cities Chapter Report

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
  • Supporting efforts by the Agroecology and Rural Economics Research Corp

Things we’re looking forward to:

  • 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…