The People’s Science Fair 2020
The Western Massachusetts chapter of Science for the People is proud to present the 2020 People’s Science Fair! The fair showcases examples of STEM by, for, and with the people, here in Western Massachusetts and around the world. We aim to inspire students, faculty, staff, and community organizers: to develop deeper collaborations and more effective solidarities; to recognize and engage the knowledge that each member of our community possesses; to mobilize institutional resources in the service of social justice; and to use our collective power to dismantle systems of oppression. Solidarity science now!
Five Colleges, Inc.
At UMass: College of Information and Computer Sciences; Economics Department; Graduate Employee Organization; History Department; Massachusetts Society of Professors; Professional Staff Union; Social Thought & Political Economy Program; Teacher Education and Curriculum Studies Department; Women, Gender, Sexuality Studies Department
At Smith: Center for Environment, Ecological Design, and Sustainability; Department of Geosciences; Department of Environmental Science & Policy; Spatial Analysis Lab
FogOnyx is working towards eradicating food deserts. Food deserts are areas where the population lives over a mile away from a grocery store for people living in urban areas and over ten miles for those living in rural areas. In addition to the concept of a food desert, there are many areas in the US where the closest, fresh vegetable suppliers are small supermarkets, or convenience stores offering produce significantly more expensive than that sold at larger supermarkets. At FogOnyx, we are making fresh produce more affordable and accessible by growing produce using a combination of fogponics (growing with fog), aquaponics (using nutrients from fish to supply crops), and vertical indoor farming practices. Our FogOnyx – Grow Vehicles are mobile farms that will employ members of the community, distribute customized produce boxes to our customers, and allow us to engage directly with individuals and communities. This growing and distribution system removes reliance on corporate agriculture which often take advantage of workers rights and contribute to land degradation and pollution. For individuals who are looking to grow their own produce at home, the FogOnyx – Tower system makes this possible.
The Pioneer Valley Workers Center
The Pioneer Valley Workers Center (PVWC) is a community based organization whose mission is to build the collective power of low wage workers and workers from migrants communities in Western Massachusetts and beyond. In May, 2019 the PVWC secured access to four acres of fertile land in Springfield, Massachusetts. The land is being used by a Workers Farm Coop. The Coop owner/workers come from the migrant community. They all have full time employment in other jobs and have to work on the Coop Farm after a full day’s work or on their days off. The goal of the Coop Farm is to grow a variety of crops, including vegetables, berries, flowers and perennial plants. In addition to selling some of the produce at markets, some of the crops will help sustain the owner/workers and some will be used to support their communities. The Coop Farm operates in accord with the 7 principles of worker managed coops. The members are collaborating with several organizations to use best practices in engineering and agricultural science, to ensure that the crops are grown in using organic means and using technologies aimed at reducing the Farm’s carbon footprint.
More details on the Pioneer Valley Workers Center Coop Farm
El Centro de Trabajadores del Valle de Pionero (Pioneer Valley Workers Center – PVWC) es una organización comunitaria cuya mission es el desarrollo de poder colectivo entre trabajadores de bajos ingresos, y migrantes del oeste de Massachusetts y mas lejos. En mayo del 2019, el PVWC logro acceso a 1.6 hectares de tierra fertile en Springfield, Massachusetts. La tierra esta siendo usada por el cooperativo De Trabajadores de la Agricultura (Workers Farm Coop). Los propietarios/trabajadores son de comunidades de migrantes. Todos están empleados por tiempo completo, y tienen que hacer el trabajo de la cooperativa agricola después de su otro trabajo o en su tiempo libre. La meta de la cooperativa agrícola es crecer una variedad de cultivos incluyendo verduras, bayas, flores, y matas perennes. Ademas de vender sus productos, parte del cultivo sera para dar sustento a los propietarios/trabajadores y para ser usado en apoyo a la comunidad. El cooperativo agricula cumple con los 7 principios de cooperativismo. Los miembros colaboran con varias organizaciones en el uso de mejores prácticas en ingeniería y ciencias agrícolas con el fin de asegurar el uso de practicas orgánicas en el crecimiento de los cultivos y asegurar que la granja minimize su huella carbonica.
Para más detalles del cooperativo De Trabajadores de la Agricultura
NOFA / Mass
In 1971, the Natural Organic Farmers Association was formed in Vermont and New Hampshire and in 1982 chapters were added in Massachusetts as well as Connecticut and New York. Later, chapters were formed in Rhode Island and New Jersey. NOFA changed its name to the Northeast Organic Farming Association in 1989. By that time the word “natural” had become somewhat commercialized. By changing “farmers” to “farming” the NOFA leadership attempted to be more welcoming to those who support organic farming, along with those who practice it. NOFA/Mass (a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization) welcomes to its ranks anyone who eats, anyone who grows food – large or small, urban or rural, and anyone who tends the landscape or lives the activist lifestyle. Its mission is, through education and advocacy, to promote organic agriculture to expand the production and availability of nutritious food from living soil for the health of individuals, communities and the planet. Its vision is a commonwealth of people working together to create healthy landscapes that feed our communities and restore our environment. Their web page is www.nofamass.org.
CISA (the Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture)
CISA is a non-profit, 501(c)(3) organization, founded in 1993 by a consortium of area educational and nonprofit organizations interested in sustainable agriculture (and with a grant from the W. K. Kellogg Foundation’s Integrated Food and Farming Systems initiative) with the goal of strengthening local farms by engaging the community to build the local food economy (the Connecticut River Valley of Massachusetts). More than 250 farms now participate in its programs, as well many area residents and institutions. The work includes the Be a Local Hero, Buy Locally Grown® program, started in 1999 and the longest-running agricultural buy-local campaign in the country, which connects farmers and the community to improve farm business viability. Other programs include Senior FarmShare, technical assistance for farms and food businesses, workshops and events, and research and support for local food and farm businesses of all kinds. CISA’s web page is www.buylocalfood.org.
Nuestras Raices – La Finca
La Finca was born out of a participatory community planning process. Through this process it became evident that community gardeners wanted opportunities to grow food not just for themselves, but to market and sell through small agricultural businesses. Through a collaborative process, Nuestras Raíces worked with community members to locate a suitable piece of land situated next to the Connecticut River in southern Holyoke. La Finca has since grown into a launching pad for both aspiring and experienced farmers to take ownership over the agricultural process from seed to market. La Finca has grown into a regional hotspot for Caribbean cultural crops, which are difficult to obtain through the national industrial food system, and has collaborated with the University of Massachusetts Amherst to build up cultural crop seed stock.
More details on Nuestras Raices La Finca
La Finca nació de un proceso participativo de planificación comunitaria. A través de este proceso se hizo evidente que los jardineros comunitarios querían oportunidades para cultivar alimentos no solo para ellos, sino también para comercializar y vender a través de pequeños negocios agrícola. A través de un proceso colaborativo, Nuestras Raíces trabajó con miembros de la comunidad para ubicar un terreno adecuado situado al lado del río Connecticut en el sur de Holyoke. Desde entonces, La Finca se ha convertido en una plataforma de lanzamiento para que los agricultores aspirantes y experimentados se hagan dueños del proceso agrícola desde la semilla hasta el mercado. La Finca se ha convertido en un punto de acceso regional para los cultivos culturales del Caribe, que son difíciles de obtener a través del sistema nacional de alimentos industriales, y ha colaborado con la Universidad de Massachusetts Amherst para construir reservas de cultivos culturales.
Para más detalles de Nuestras Raices La Finca
International Perspective on Sustainable Agriculture
Accelerated environmental degradation is undermining the efforts to contain climate change. It is particularly alarming when the degradation occurs in hotspots of biodiversity and on lands that are home for indigenous peoples. Research has already shown that indigenous lands emit less CO2 than neighbouring areas. Research developed by Leandro Fonseca from University of Sao Paulo, Brazil and Klaus Nüsslein and Luiz Horta from UMass Amherst is investigating how to make agriculture in the Amazon region more sustainable. Today 70% of the forest cleared is transformed in pasture and 50% of the pastures are abandoned or degraded. Here we evaluated how improving the pasture quality could reduce the emissions of the green-house gas methane (CH4). We show that maintaining the pasture in good condition and correcting the soil pH increased the capacity of the soil to act as a sink for Ch4. This work has great implications because we show that no more forest needs to be destroyed to maintain livestock. We should restore abandoned and degraded pastures which will increase the CH4 sink and carbon storage in the soils. To find more information on this project please go here and find other relevant information here.
Health & Environment
Corporate Toxic Information Project: Tools for Environmental Justice Organizers
This project supplies researchers and activists with essential information about which corporations are releasing what toxic substances into which communities. Directed by James K. Boyce and Michael Ash of the Political Economy Research Institute at UMass Amherst, it demonstrates how economists can put their expertise to work for environmental justice. Economists have traditionally treated pollutants as “external costs.” As Boyce says, “these are costs imposed on other people, without their assent and often without their knowledge,” and the goal of this project is to “give us a better picture of who generates these costs, and who is on their receiving end.” Michael Ash further explains that the project is “intended to increase the effectiveness of the right-to-know approach to corporate pollution—by bolstering the ability of stakeholders to interpret information on toxic releases and by increasing the incentive for shareholders and managers of polluting industries to clean up their act.” The project also includes information on the top corporate producers of greenhouse gas emissions.
Mold Action Committee
Founded by Springfield-based community organizer and mother Tatiana “the Mold Lady” Cheeks, the Mold Action Committee educates people on the health hazards of mold in indoor environments and advocates for better regulation of mold at the local and state levels. The Mold Action Committee recognizes mold as an environmental justice issue: homeless and low-income people are more likely to live in dilapidated housing and have fewer resources to compel reluctant landlords to fix the problems. Exposure to mold can result in serious respiratory illnesses; Springfield, Mass. is known by public health experts as “the asthma capital” of the United States. With support from Arise for Social Justice and Western Mass Science for the People, the Mold Action Committee:
- Engages in educational outreach at community events
- Develops handouts on the hazards of mold contamination and its relationship to economic and racial injustice
- Analyzed proposed revisions to the State Sanitary Code with the guidance of environmental health scientist Christine Rogers
- Mobilized community members to testify at hearings on the proposed revisions to the State Sanitary Code, held in Northampton, Worcester, and Boston
Science for the People & the Fat Liberation Movement
To invest in science as a tool for collective liberation from capitalism, white supremacy, imperialism, and all systems of oppression, it is crucial that we do so through the lens of fat liberation. Medicine and perceptions of health are not objective or neutral. The belief that fatness is unhealthy is not one of biological reality but rather the result of lobbying from diet and weight loss corporations and the long history of “obesity” science originating from eugenics and racism. The medical industrial complex historically and currently attempts to establish white bodies as the norm and denominate Black and Brown bodies as inherently deviant and “diseased.” But we see yet again that it is capitalism fueling these studies, not science– profit over people. While Science for the People has written extensively on the history of eugenics, Fat Liberation is a missing perspective that is essential for radical scientists to dismantle capitalism, white supremacy, and ableism within medicine and the larger healthcare system.
Western Mass Health Equity Network
The Western Massachusetts Health Equity Network seeks to eliminate preventable inequities in health care. With an explicit focus on racial justice, the Network mobilizes experts on and off campus to support collection and sharing of meaningful data that emphasize the voices of often marginalized communities, and to create a regional policy voice for Western Massachusetts cities and towns. Through policy assemblies, education and legislative forums, and regional summits, the WMHEN sheds light on the social determinants of health—the way historical and contemporary injustices contribute to dramatically different health outcomes for people based on race, class, gender, and other social identities. Together with the UMass School of Public Health and Health Sciences, WMHEN has held three Health Equity Summits. In 2018, the summit’s workshops emphasized the role of public health agencies in dismantling racism; the need for community-engaged data collection and community control over data; and the use of “power mapping” to pursue health equity at the levels of policy and community organizing. The fourth Western Massachusetts Health Equity Summit will be held on September 25, 2020. For more information, please contact Risa Silverman in the UMass Amherst Office for Public Health Practice and Outreach at the School of Public Health and Health Sciences: at (413)-545-2529, email: email@example.com.
Citizens Awareness Network
CAN is a volunteer, grassroots organization, committed to the creation of healthy, sustainable, environmentally just communities with the replacement of nuclear reactors & fossil fuels in New England with sustainable solutions. We believe that clean air, water, land and a safe place to live are a human right. We are committed to empowering people to participate in the democratic process to ensure a sustainable, equitable & energy independent future with the closure and safe decommissioning of New England’s aging fleet of reactors. CAN advocates for replacing nuclear energy with sustainable, reliable and affordable energy generation. We are therefore committed to a democratically led, environmentally just and scientifically sound solution for nuclear waste. Our waste campaign focuses on the problems that MA as well as New England must face in dealing with reactor closures and protecting indigenous groups in the southwest from being burdened with the waste of the nuclear industry. CAN envisions a future of safety, prosperity and health for all: Where people generate electricity for their own homes & communities; Where local energy production & conservation create new local jobs; Where renewable energy is integrated into all of our cities, homes & public buildings; Where it is easy for everyone to access sustainable & affordable energy sources; Where clean, efficient energy use is standard practice; Where family farms and locally owned businesses are the backbone of our communities and we have what we need to provide for our future.
Street Medicking and COVID-19
I was trained as a street medic before I became an EMT. The emergency medicine class, the textbook, the tests and the job training gave me the credentials to drive an ambulance and respond to 911 calls but I learned everything I know about care and medicine from street medics. Both emergency medical professionals and street medics respond to crises to care for the sick and wounded; splinting, bandaging, resuscitating but where emergency medicine stops at protecting life and limb, the doctrine of the street medics extends to protecting peoples agency and exercising medicine as a prefigurative political tool. Here’s some of what I learned from street medics, and what sets their practice apart from other medicine.
- Medicine is not neutral
- Medics are not politically neutral
- Medics treat those who wouldn’t otherwise receive care.
- Always practice consent
- Care for people’s right to health extends beyond treating your patient.
Redirecting Research & Education
Historians of Science… for the People!
Historians of science, along with our colleagues in sister disciplines, have vital roles to play in movements to mobilize STEM for social justice. Increasingly, historians of science have ceased writing “origin stories” that justify our existing knowledge systems as the inevitable results of steady progress over time. Instead, we highlight how ideas and practices have differed across time and space, and thus the contingency of our current situations. Any work that opens our minds to the variety of past experiences, and thus the range of possibilities before us, serves the work of social and political transformation. But some scholars take a more direct approach. We trace the roots of current systems of exploitation and injustice, helping to explain how we got into the messes we find ourselves in… and how we might get out. We document activist struggles to ensure that new generations can build and improve on the work of their predecessors. We map out activist scholarly agendas. And we write people’s histories of science that recognize the contributions of farmers, workers, hobbyists, and others to the knowledge we collectively share.
The attached is just a sample of writings in the historical and social study of science and technology that can inform the work of justice movements.
Reimagining Environmental and Earth Science Education
Born scientists at heart, we, Emma and Mia, have spent our whole lives questioning the way the world works. We grew up one hour away from each other and met in college and bonded over how limiting our scientific education was and all that was left to learn. Why was science not making connections to the real world and contextualizing its applications? What perspectives were being left out of science? Is science objective? Can science be objective? And who are these courses catering to?
Emma introduced some of these questions into an Introductory Geosciences class that she taught a few lectures in, and Mia had insights and answers, and of course, more questions. And so, we decided to continue this work the following year by reimagining the Introductory Environmental Science course. We co-taught courses titled “Abolition Ecologies” and “Extraction and Human Health”. These two courses focused on highlighting how science has and can be used as a force of evil and the ways we can use science to reimagine our world right these injustices. The lessons we create keep core scientific concepts intact while scaffolding historical context, political analysis, and opportunity to react, reflect, and feel. We believe that earth and environmental science education must make room for an honest conversation about the power this knowledge holds and the pain that it has caused. To us, learning about the world around us is paramount to participating in collective liberation, and vice-versa. Together, Emma and Mia continue to dream up new lessons and ways to teach science and will create our own curriculum and classrooms. Here are a few of our lessons and sample syllabi to use in your teaching and learning!
Diversifying STEM by Transforming STEM Classrooms
Professor David Gross, biochemist and longtime union activist, researches the impact of active learning pedagogies on student learning in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) courses. In one upper level, math-intensive course for life science majors, men performed significantly better than women. However, when the course was reorganized to include student-centered, active learning pedagogy, the women in the course achieved performance parity on two of the three exams. Research like this can help universities move from a simple goal of “inclusion” to an understanding of the institutional transformations that produce social justice.
Justice for Native American Communities: Politically Engaged Anthropology
UMass Amherst professor Sonya Atalay conducts archaeological research in partnership with indigenous and local communities. In addition to communicating these principles to other scholars through academic writing, she has produced a research-based comic that documents the work she has done with her Native Nation to repatriate their ancestors back from the University of Michigan and Harvard University. The comic teaches about NAGPRA, a complex repatriation law, and aims to educate both citizens of Native Nations and the broader public about these issues. This is a great example of politically engaged anthropology!
Unpacking the Blackbox: A Call to Audit, Democratize, and Reimagine Data
Data can be used as a means of predicting the future based on the past- it can be used as a window for us to explore existing patterns in our system and to act accordingly. But what happens when the past is filled with oppression and when we use our resulting predictions to influence the future? Blackbox algorithms, whose functions are protected as trade secrets, are used in both public and private decision-making to optimize for certain factors- often time and money. These algorithms use data in unknown ways to inform decisions on deeply complex issues with far-reaching impacts. This project, inspired by the works of Ruha Benjamin, Virginia Eubanks, and Yeshimabeit Milner, looks at examples in the United States justice system where historical oppression is perpetuated through our modern, hidden algorithms. We look at ways that individual data warriors can assess these hidden processes for bias. We also explore legislation in the context of an overall movement to re-envision the idea of big data and how we can use it to tell stories and create lasting change, rather than to deterministically inform a future based on the past. For now you can email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information and if you want to read the paper I wrote on this. I’m planning on putting up a static webpage soon.
Race: Are We So Different?
This project of the American Anthropological Association, co-led by Hampshire College professor Alan Goodman, brings together history, science, and lived experience to inspire critical thinking about race. Through an extensive museum exhibit and associated educational materials, the project uses knowledge from the biological sciences to disprove centuries of racist scientific theories and demonstrate the profound limits, and even the untenability, of race as a biological concept. At the same time, it chronicles the history of racism and colonialism, and engages people in conversation about their lived experience of racial identity and racist oppression. The project shows race to be a recent human invention that is about culture, not biology—as such, it empowers us to challenge the myths of biological inferiority while ensuring that we recognize the very real experiences that racial categories and identities produce at the social level. For a concise and informative overview of the project, check out Goodman’s blog post, “Race Is Real, But It’s Not Genetic.” The project website offers a wealth of related resources. The podcast “Speaking of Race,” from the AAA, is another excellent resource.
Resistance Center: Divest From War, Invest In People
The Resistance Center’s Divest from War, Invest in Human Needs is laying the groundwork for an intersectional grassroots effort to pressure cities, towns, corporations, and elected officials to divest their money from war and invest in human needs. 60% of the U.S. budget is military spending, much of which goes to weapons engineering and science rather than STEMM that could support plans like the Green New Deal and Medicare for All. We are spreading awareness about the massive military budget and advocating that this budget be cut to pay for the needs of our community: education, healthcare, affordable housing, and green jobs. We’re kicking off by taking a closer look at L3Harris: a weapon contractor in Northampton that is on track to become one of the top ten weapon contractors in the world. L3Harris is a living example of the culture of militarism that exists right under our noses and STEMM work that upholds the military industrial complex. Through community events and nonviolent direct action, we can create a force for change that urges L3Harris and those invested in the company to re-evaluate their priorities and invest in community needs.
Bringing STEM to our local communities and beyond
For the past four years, UMass Amherst Microbiology Professor Kristen DeAngelis has led the Western Mass pod of 500 Women Scientists. The mission of the 500 Women Scientists is to serve society by working to make science open, inclusive and accessible. We recognize that science touches the lives of every person on this planet. And right now the science is unequivocal. Fossil fuel emissions have already contributed 1°C to global warming, and CO2 emissions are still accelerating today. If we do nothing, the Earth will warm by 4°C by the end of this century, an outcome that would be devastating for humanity. We are in the middle of the sixth biological extinction, but limiting warming to well below 2°C will reduce the loss of insects, plant and animal species. Warming also threatens the world’s soils, which could lose a third of their stored carbon with 5°C of warming. Healthy soils store carbon to support our food, fiber and fuel. To advance these goals, we have organized postcard writing events, helped to organize the Amherst March for Science, and coordinated to make science more approachable for our local community. Learn more about the 500 Women Scientists here:
Labor & Political Economy
Labor Organizing in STEM
Organizing professional scientists (whether in industry or academics) is not often done. Professional scientists typically do not view themselves as laborers, but science is a collaborative endeavor and scientists can be convinced to work together in the political sphere as well as in the laboratory and other research sites. Organizing STEM faculty, students, and staff brings them tangible employment benefits, but it also helps to advance numerous social and political justice goals. As union members, STEM faculty, students, and staff can more readily fight discrimination and sexual violence in the workplace, and they can win supports for women, people of color, and LGBTQI people who face greater obstacles in securing long-term professional success. STEM faculty, students, and staff can also supply invaluable assistance as labor unions mobilize broader political causes. For example, they bring scientific credibility and verifiable facts about the needs for reduction of fossil fuel use, environmental protection, universal health care, strengthened education, and occupational safety to the social justice causes voiced by organized labor.
Massachusetts Society of Professors (at UMass Amherst)
Graduate Employees Organization (at UMass Amherst)
Professional Staff Union (at UMass Amherst and UMass Boston)
“Lessons from the Long Sixties for Organizing in Tech” (SftP magazine article)
“#UsToo: How Unions Could Fight Harassment in STEM” (SftP magazine article)
Wealth Redistribution & STEMM
STEMM workers have a unique and powerful role to play in speaking out against violence and injustice from STEMM corporations. RG calls out the violence behind the profits made from exploitative science industries. We want to organize with people who do work in this field to actively reject the status quo of oppressive science. Science for, from, and with the people must be prioritized, and we are excited to work with scientists who fight to end all acts of violence committed in the name of innovation and progress. The voices of STEMM workers and inheritors of wealth made from oppressive science are essential in this fight! There has always existed a science for and with the people, but this has not been the dominant narrative of science, and many don’t recognize this as ‘real science.’ We reject this elitism and lift up the work of Science for the People! Wealthy people and people with high-earning jobs in STEMM fields have the responsibility and power to work together to reject the wealth and status that comes from their positions, and return resources to the communities they were stolen from.
The Compost Co-operative is an anti-racist, anti-oppression compostables hauling business developed, owned, and operated by people with experience of incarceration. They serve residential and commercial customers in Franklin County, Massachusetts. A shared analysis of the history of systemic oppression in the US and the world informs their work as they address the failures of global capitalism at the local level, providing safe, empowered employment at a living wage for workers who face extreme discrimination in the job market. The cooperative’s mission, to enrich the soil and rebuild lives, is more relevant than ever as they adjust to the radical changes required by the COVID-19 crisis while keeping the focus on why they began. Members of the Compost Co-op possess a deep knowledge of the fundamental inequalities in the capitalist economy and the intersecting systems of oppression that produce the carceral state. They are simultaneously part of a growing movement that is transforming our understanding of the waste stream and its relationship to environmental sustainability. This inspiring organization offers an exciting opportunity for solidarity work: public health experts can contribute advice on keeping customers and workers safe from COVID-19 and future viruses; computer engineers can design software to organize residential pickups so the cooperative can expand to offer citywide curbside collection in this city of 18,000.