Message board

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SftP Western Regional Conference 24 February 1974

The conference generated an enormous amount of enthusiastic discussion. Please continue the conversation here and use this space to organize future collaborations!

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58 thoughts on “Message board

  1. Colin Garvey

    Hi all,

    I wanted to reach out and express my deep gratitude for the opportunity to meet the movers and shakers behind SftP and spend a great weekend with you all in Amherst.

    I was the bald guy in the (rented) suit jacket, asking folks about sociobiology and EO Wilson. But that’s not all! I’m working on SftP for part of my dissertation project and I’ve got plenty of questions. I’m going to put a bunch of them below, and add my email address. (garvec AT rpi DOT edu). If you’re an original SftP member, have insight into the matter, or are however ever so inclined, please shoot me a line and lemme know what you’re thinking! I’d like to hear from any/all SftP members so feel free to contact me!

    Here are some general questions to get us started — please feel free to answer any/all that you like, or add anything you feel is relevant. I’ve included some more specific questions toward the end:

    0) Who are you and what is your connection to SftP? (typical interview starter) Why did you join SftP? How long did you stay actively involved? Why? How much time did you invest in SftP? What was the average level of commitment?

    1) What, in your view, made SftP different from other social movement organizations (SMOs)? There were a lot of different anti-war organizations — What about SftP is/was unique? Were there any copycat organizations? Rivals? Allies?

    2) I’m interested in the evolution of SftP’s organization. One question that I’m addressing in my writing is, “How did a non-hierarchical, decentralized group organize to successfully challenge and disrupt a rigidly hierarchical, polycentric adversary (Science)?” There were major asymmetries between SftP and Establishment Science that make for a David & Goliath feel. What was your “sling”? How did you see yourselves defeating the giant? What gave you faith that you had a chance?

    3) Was the effort to remain non-hierarchical challenging? Worth it? Was there a trade-off with effectiveness? Did SftP’s organization, in your view, exemplify the values it espoused?

    4) Reading through the Nov 1972 edition of the magazine and the FBI files gave some background to some of the issues raised at the conference around the centrality of the Helen Keller Collective, and leadership of SftP more generally. It seems that “The Tyranny of Structurelessness” (basically, the emergence of informal-thus-unaccountable leadership) was something that SftP was actively wrestling with for a number of years. Did it emerge stronger for its efforts? Was the organizational format something you found appealing (or not)? Why?

    5) In your experience of SftP, were personalities or processes more important for decision making? Or neither/both?

    6) How formal/hierarchical was your chapter? How many of you were there? How often did you meet and under what circumstances? Were you involved in any disturbances at AAAS/other conferences? How did your chapter plan for and organize those events? What other kinds of activities did you engage in?

    7) In deciding on a set of tactics for a given protest action, what were some lines that you/your chapter would not cross? What was the boundary of possibility for SftP’s political action?

    7.5) What were some of your best strategies/tactics? What worked? What didn’t? How did the square scientists respond? When did they respond well? What battles did you win/lose?

    8) Was violence ever an option for SftP? Why/Why not? How did you draw the line between disruption and violence? Why was indicting Glenn Seaborg for crimes against humanity OK but throwing a tomato at him wrong?

    9) What was your impression of the media’s portrayal of SftP?

    10) What role did the magazine play for you/your chapter/SftP as a whole?

    11) 20 years is actually a really long time for an SMO to keep going. In your opinion, How did SftP manage to do it? Why did SftP peter out in 1989? I heard something about unpaid back-taxes. What is the full story? Were there causes internal to the group?

    12) Many familiar with STS know about the AAAS interventions — but, What is everyone missing about SftP? What is the chapter of SftP history we are forgetting to tell?

    13) What was the lasting impact of SftP? Looking back, what are the things you’re proud of? What did it all mean to you? In your opinion, What difference did SftP make?

    14) Going forward, it seems to me that the experiences of SftP’s members are a potential treasure-trove of battle-tested wisdom on organizing collective action against a much larger, better-funded adversary. In short, I think the Occupy-generation can learn a lot from SftP — but I’m not sure that anyone is explicitly connecting the dots. We’re trying to change that. Can you help us out? What would you tell the next generation? What do we need to know about SftP as we go fight the current face of corporate science (Monsanto/WTO/TPP)?

    Again, any/all questions you feel like answering/expounding upon — much appreciated. And as well — thanks for a wonderful weekend and the opportunity to meet all of you.

    Please direct any correspondence to colin.k.garvey@gmail.com

    Here are some more specific questions that might only be relevant for a few. I’m quite interested in this incident involving EO Wilson and a pitcher of ice-water. SftP was not the culprit – but as John Beckwith points out, for better or worse SftP got all the credit. The story is reproduced in each generation as one battle in the “Culture Wars.” I’m interested in how we can break out of this cycle, and heal the “Two Cultures” divide, so I’m exploring the incident in as much detail as possible in order to offer a possible reinterpretation:
    –What was the relationship between SftP and InCAR (International Committee Against Racism)?
    –At the 1978 AAAS meeting, it appears that InCAR had adopted SftP’s signature tactic of disruption and famously stormed the stage at the symposium on Sociobiology, pouring water over EO Wilson’s head. Who was responsible? Why pour water? What distinguished this act from one of SftP’s disruptions?
    –In the many accounts of the Wet-Wilson incident that I’ve read, only one (by Val Dusek http://human-nature.com/science-as-culture/dusek.html) suggests that the InCAR members were African Americans, and that Wilson’s response was mildly racist. Was this the case?
    –Later accounts of the Wet-Wilson incident (by Steven Pinker and Napoleon Chagnon) claim that the InCAR protesters’ signs had swastikas – any truth to this? If not, anything that you can think of that might have led to such an assertion? Seems strange that Anti-Racist protesters would have swastikas on their material…
    –What did Sociobiology mean to you? What did it represent for you? What was your impression of EO Wilson?
    –If I told you that EO Wilson has recanted his view about genetic explanations of human social behavior, would you believe me? Would that change you impression of him, or not?
    –Indeed, in 2010 Wilson coauthored a paper (Nature 2010) rejecting the major tenets of sociobiology, including the priority of genetic relatedness over all other explanations of altruism. Kin selection, Hamilton’s rule, inclusive fitness – all scrapped because they are consequences—not causes—of social behavior. Now he’s taking a far more holistic approach, and tied it to his concern over the future of humanity and our seemingly endless appetite for destruction (see The Social Conquest of Earth,Wilson 2012). What do you think about that? Should we chalk this up as a win for The People? Has Wilson finally understood what people were trying to tell him with the ice-water?

    Thanks! Again, please feel free to respond to colin.k.garvey@gmail.com

  2. Sigrid

    My inbox is full of emails from people reaching out to others with an interest in building the movement forward. I hope people will use this space to continue to connect. We’ll also have an email contact list ready for circulation next week.

    And a brief update from what might be called the SftP History Collective (name not definite yet). Five graduate students (Ben Allen, Alyssa Botelho, Dan Chard, Thomas Conner, and Colin Garvey) and I are in the initial stages of putting together an annotated reader of documents from the movement for use in classrooms and living rooms. The energy behind it is tremendously exciting!

  3. Melanie

    All attendees are encouraged to respond to students who are blogging the conference. Click their article titles to leave a comment.

  4. James Birmingham

    Hi – I am likely coming from RPI over in Troy for this. Two questions:

    Will there be vegan options at the dinners or should I plan on finding my own accommodations?

    And do any presenters or attendees identify if anarchism or as an anarchist and if so would they be wiling to be interviewed (probably after the conference)? I organize with the Institute for Anarchist Studies and engagement with folks in the ‘natural sciences’ in the anarchist milieu doesn’t have much literature and I am hoping to intervene with that in some capacity.

    1. Sigrid

      Hi. There are vegan options at the dinners, but the deadline to buy dinner tickets was April 7th. There will be food available at The Hatch (bottom of the Student Union) and the library cafe. Downtown Amherst is about a fifteen- or twenty-minute walk away and has many other options.

  5. Martin Voelker

    I’m coming from Golden, Colorado via Boston Logan. Would love to hitch a ride on Friday and back again Sunday. Or share a car rental.
    Very much hoping to share a room. Returning Sunday to Boston with an 8:15 flight out of Logan.

    In 1988/89 I was an exchange student from Germany at UMass Boston and joined (or sat in, rather) on editorial collective meetings for the magazine above Toscanini’s. Sadly, this was its last year. My wife and I took part in the fateful whale watch fundraiser for SFTP in September 1989 – fateful because 7 people were injured on that boat including both of us (but two surgeries later all was fine).
    To cover medical expenses we sued the negligent boat operator and Cambridge attorney Lee D. Goldstein (a self described Marxist), took the case. He took a lower fee and suggested we donate the difference to the standard fee to a progessive organization of our choice. By the time the case was settled (3 years later) SFTP was no longer around so I donated my portion (a substantial chunk) to David Barsamian’s “Alternative Radio” who was so instrumental in bringing radical voices like Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn to large audiences. When I returned to live in Boston in 1997 I was dismayed to find Alternative Radio was not on the air so I joined a college station (first Tufts, then Boston College) to broadcast it myself. It led to producing two political public affairs shows, of which one received the Sacco & Vancetti award. Fascinating to look back and see how it all connects, and how arbitrary coincidences end up shaping our lives.

  6. Purple R

    Arrived to Amherst late last summer after living off of the grid most of my life and I’m currently still officially listed as homeless. During this past semester, I lived on campus. I traveled across North America nonstop until recently when my own illness and the death of my parents caused me to pause and rethink and enter a new phase in my life. Raised being active in numerous political and activist organizations since I was kid, currently trying to be more under the radar. Active in Gay whatever and have always identified as female. Formally known for my costume and makeup creations. Come from a multiracial and multiethnic background and can be sensitive to people being racist be it from a right or left point of view. Going to this conference and taking the class despite not owning a laptop, will fill in thoughts on page after conference using library’s computers.

  7. John G. Dove

    Looking forward to seeing old friends, especially anyone connected with the 1973 China trip. I’ve been back to China every 5 years or so (7 times so far) so my mind is filled with an incredibly fast moving picture.

    My wife, Gloria and I taught in Shanghai in 1986-7 with our two sons. My last trip was to visit our son who was studying at the time at Beijing University.

    We have several close Chinese friends now where we’ve gotten to know three generations of their families. This, too, represents a very fast moving picture.

  8. Brian Tokar

    As our conference approaches, some of the issues that inspired the founding of SftP are in the news again.

    This feature story in today’s Times documents how scientists are increasingly pressed to pitch their research to individual philanthropists to make up for declining public funds. Today, 30% of research at the top 50 research universities is privately funded. Includes profiles of several of the key players:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/16/science/billionaires-with-big-ideas-are-privatizing-american-science.html

    ———————————————-
    Brian Tokar
    Institute for Social Ecology
    P.O. Box 93
    Plainfield, VT 05667
    http://www.social-ecology.org

  9. Maxine Bridger

    When our youngest daughter was little she went on a Science for the People fundraising whale watch and I guess the organization made an impression on her…she is now one of the panelists.

    1. Martin Voelker

      Was that the fateful whale watch of September 1989? It was a last ditch attempt to fund a reprieve from creditors (which didn’t work) and ended with an accident that injured 7 people?

  10. Melanie McCalmont

    I am arriving in Hartford at 10pm Friday, April 11 and will have room for 2 people to ride. I will be driving back to Hartford about 2pm Sunday, if you’d like a ride then, too.

    1. Brian Schultz

      I also can drive people to Bradley/Hartford airport Sunday afternoon. I’d have room for up to 3 more; I’m already taking one person at ca 2:30-3pm for a 5:30 flight. Brian 413-687-9345.

  11. Joe Bowman

    I am coming with my wife. Looking forward to meeting friends from the 70s, and hearing from today’s radical science students on how to reach out to their peers in my home town (Cincinnati, OH).

  12. Susan Lindee

    I am arriving at Hartford at 5:11 p.m. on Friday and have rented a car–room for three passengers if anyone is coming in at around the same time. Let me know. Susan

  13. Seth Shulman

    Just learned of this thanks to an email from Terri Goldberg. What a wonderful idea. Laura and I are looking forward to coming and reconnecting. Would love to have SftPers over for drinks on Saturday night after the dinner at our home in Northampton.

    1. Sigrid Schmalzer

      What a wonderful idea. I’ve just realized, though, that the program doesn’t yet reflect the music and other entertainment that Herb Fox has organized for Saturday night. I’ll update it promptly!

  14. Peter J. Taylor

    Register now for March Collaborative Exploration online focusing on “Policy and practices around new genetic technologies, here and there”
    http://sicw.wikispaces.com/CEMar14

    Collaborative Explorations (CEs) are an extension of Project-Based Learning (PBL) and related approaches to education in which participants shape their own directions of inquiry in response to a scenario in which the problems are not well defined. The online CEs consist of live 60-minute sessions each week for a month and exchanges on a private community between sessions.

    Part of “Scientific and Political Change” series:
    * February: The democratic control of science-A self-guided e-trail [almost finished]
    * March: Policy and practices around new genetic technologies, here and there
    * April: Preparing people to be informed participants in political debates about science, technology, and social change
    * May: Science-policy connections to improve responses to extreme climatic events: Briefings requested-quickly!

    The format is designed to address the needs of online learners who want to:
    * participate for shorter periods than a semester-long MOOC
    * dig deeper, make “thicker” connections with other learners
    * connect topics with their own interests
    * learn without needing credits or badges for MOOC completion.
    In short, online CEs are “moderately open online collaborative learning.”

    Day and time is set to suit the people who register. Open to the public–please spread the word. For more information and link for registering on the website above. Organized in collaboration with UMass Boston’s Science in a Changing World graduate track, http://www.cct.umb.edu/sicw .

  15. Sue Tafler

    It is great to read names that I am just remembering after a long time. Looking forward to seeing you all again. It’s hard to think that we/SftP have become something historical.

    1. Ross Feldberg

      Hi Sue, looking forward to seeing you again! I have definitely become historical (or hysterical…. not sure which)
      Ross F.

      1. Leslie Fraser

        Sue and Ross, how wonderful to see your posts. I saw Laura Reed tonight at a 95th B’day party for WMass legendary activist Frances Crowe–who will be on one of the SftP panels–and learned about this conference/reunion. Happy to know you are still hysterical, Ross.

  16. Camilla Royle

    Great to see so many people coming to this. Are most people staying at Hotel UMass? I just asked for a room and they gave me one with 2 double beds so if someone wants to share and help with the cost let me know.

    Camilla (Geography research student from London, UK)

  17. Al Weinrub

    Looking forward to seeing old comrades, agitating for the continued, if not increased, relevance of SftP today as part of a world-wide movement for economic and climate justice.

  18. Bertram (Chip) Bruce

    It’s great to see this conference happening and I hope to attend. It’s especially gratifying to see that the mission of Science for the People continues.

    I was active in the Sociobiology Study Group and wrote some articles for the magazine in the late 70’s and 80’s. I look forward to seeing old friends and learning about current activities.

  19. Minna Barrett

    Hi all. Looking forward to being with all of you and learning from you and about what you are doing. I’ve been very fortunate to continue to be able to “actualize” my understanding and to continue to be a community activist and to teach young students in undergraduate public sector to think broadly and critically about the use and abuse of science. So much of who I continue to be, so much of the way I integrate “new” events (is anything humans do really all that “new”?) from the perspectives of the SftP collectives and the dedicated and knowledgeable people who gave so much to attempting to make the human condition more just and rational. I continue to be frustrated, as well, by the consistent power of those who engineer imperialism and greed to distort and enlist so much of human and environmental energy and productivity to reify and compound their interests. Minna Barrett

  20. Britta Fischer

    I’ll be there.
    Does anyone know how to get in touch with Virginia (Ginny) Pierce? She worked on many issues of the magazine, and I have not been able to find her on google or facebook.

  21. Marcia Deihl

    I was one of the “office workers” in SftP, due to working in a science office with Al Weinrub and others. He was the first one to talk about COINTELPRO and as a rootless post-college radical, I soon found myself editing the education issue of Science for the People. I was younger and not a prefessional, but I’m sure I used SftP as much as they used me. I typed many a leaflet and article, used the office mimeo machine (this was 1971-72) and socialized with the older scientists in Boston. I got to work through a political identity, from Marxist to feminist to socialist/feminist cultural worker, which I sort of am today. I have many memories of many people, esp. the Helen Keller collective in Jamaica Plain.

  22. Ben Allen

    Very excited about the conference! Science for the People has a lot of promise and relevance for the world today, so I am hoping to revive and revitalize this for the next generation of scientists and engineers!

    1. Sigrid Schmalzer

      Thanks, Peter! Yes, it was very important. Jon Beckwith will be talking about it on the Myths of Race and Gender panel — and I think others will be raising it in other panels as well. We originally had the idea of a panel just on the SSG, but with so many panels we needed to consolidate… and we decided to organize them around issues rather than specific SftP activities.

      1. Susan Lindee

        Dave: I am quoting your oral history in my talk–really looking forward to meeting you! Susan

  23. Larry Romsted

    I am really looking forward to this conference. I want to meet people, finally, on the SftP list, and to see SftP revitalized. People around the country are in motion on the left. Time for scientists to join them.

    I have most excellent intentions to attend, but the reality of my work life, e.g., grant proposal deadlines, could win. I am acquainted with a few people at U Mass, Amherst and will try to get them to invite me to give a seminar. This often covers travel expenses anyway.

    Thank you Sigrid and the organizers for doing so much work.

  24. Frank Rosenthal

    I am planning to attend. Congratulations and appreciation to the organizers for launching this. I look forward to seeing old friends and meeting new ones. (SESPA, SftP, 1969 -1974?) Frank Rosenthal (West Lafayette, Indiana)

  25. Phil Bereano

    I’m really sorry that I will be away on a long-planned family vacation and unable to make this weekend event. What a great idea to celebrate what we did and have continued to do. My SftP experience was formative–transformative!–and I have often acknowledged it. My best to you all–I look fwd to seeing whatever is published on-line, and participating in any follow-up activities. la lucha continua!

    1. Organizers

      Phil and others who can’t be there in person: please contact Sigrid and arrange to get us a narrative. We’d love to hear your thoughts and have them become part of the conference!

    2. David Kotelchuck

      Phil: Sorry you can’t make it. Ronda and I would love to make contact with you again via email. Where are you living these days? Dave

  26. David Westman

    Hello Fellow members of SftP! I am excited to hear about this conference, and I hope I can attend. I remember some of you, and I remember the thrills of confronting imperialism and exposing the complicity of establishment scientists. I remember how the vision that you put forward caused profound changes in the way that I viewed the tasks of a scientist. Now it is forty years later, and I want to reconnect with some of you and find a way to bring our collective struggle into the 21st century. I hope that this will be possible.

    David Westman

  27. adm1n4SftP

    I’m attending! Melanie from Madison. Would love to talk with anyone who was a regular editor on the magazine.

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