Resource Pack for Community Workshops
This resource pack was produced by Danielle Larrabee, a member of the Western Mass chapter of Science for the People and a student in the UMass Community Scholars Program. It is designed to accompany the three community workshops that have been put on by Western Massachusetts SftP in 2020 and 2021.
- The first, Making Science Work for Social Justice, focused on the concept of “solidarity science.” It is archived here.
- The second, Storytelling for Solidarity Science, extended the analysis to focus on the role played by storytelling in achieving the goal of solidarity science. It is archived here.
- The third, Building a Community Agenda for STEMM, continued the conversation to explore the principles of “solidarity science” and what it means for our community.
This resource pack is designed to complement the workshops and bridge the concepts of storytelling and building a community agenda. Listed below are resources from SftP archives to take action in your community using the power of story.
So what is storytelling and why is it significant for a people’s science movement?
- Storytelling is a fundamental way that humans create and share knowledge.
- We get our sense of who we are and what the world is based on the stories we tell.
- Storytelling subverts power hierarchies and honors individual and shared experiences.
- A key to storytelling is building relationships and using the power from those bonds to build a movement.
What are some ways to use your stories to take action?
We find inspiration in the work of SftP original incarnation during 1969-1989, members mobilized against war, racism, and patriarchy. The following examples draw from those archived materials to suggest ways storytelling can be put into action for solidarity science.
In this letter from biologist and activist Richard Levins, he shares the reasons behind his decision to decline the invitation to join the National Academy of Sciences. Levins expresses his observations of the NAS’s involvement with “vicious schemes” that results in scientists promising to abide by conditions they would not have otherwise supported if it were not for their integration into NAS. Levins sought to share his experiences with Mr. Allen V. Astin, Home Secretary of NAS, in order to bring awareness to their exploitation tactics and retract involvement of scientists from an organization that did not contribute to building people’s science.
“I have to conclude that by its charter, formation, recruitment, ideology, and modus operandi the National Academy of Sciences is not capable of leading in the creative transformation of science to serve people’s needs, that it is the least favorable arena in which to fight for change in the scientific community, and therefore that is not a worthy career ambition.”
Reaching out and writing a letter to someone or an organization can be a transformative step for mobilizing your cause. In this scenario Levins originally addressed the letter to one person. However, his story was converted into a tool that shared the real life experience of working with NAS. Having access to stories from lived experiences gives the audience a different perspective that can lead to more reading, protests, and potentially a movement.
Sue Taffler’s essay about the strength of agribusiness explains the elimination of competition between small farms and local markets. We, the consumers of these food products from agribusiness, have lost nearly all decision making about the food we see in stores because choices regarding food production are made by monopolies. Taffler shares her story about tending her own garden as a stepping stone away from capitalism. She emphasizes the importance of supporting your community:
“Coops, collectives, and even neighborhood gardens, should be enlarged to include more and more people. More important is broad education and even advertising so people will learn what it is they are eating and why.”
The methods mentioned above are a few examples SftP would encourage you to engage with right now. However, Agribusiness is not going away without mobilizing people who can share their lived experiences through stories. Cooperation through the above examples is a step in that direction.
For more on Sue Taffler’s work with SftP on food justice, see http://science-for-the-people.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/feedneedgreed.pdf and http://science-for-the-people.org/videos/agricultural-science-and-food-justice/
This story shared by Fran Conrad begins with the struggles she faced back in 1975 as a high school public school teacher in Somerville, Massachusetts. Conrad attempted to teach her students about genetic engineering:
“The unit was a disaster and I later realized why… It became clear… the course deals with three types of examples of science against people: 1) science and technology used for profit and not people (e.g., agribusiness, health care); 2) science used to lend authority to anti-working class ideology (e.g., genetic explanations for class differences, like the race/IQ issue); and 3) technology as a means of direct social control (behavior control, gene manipulation). …They [students] still accept the myths that we have democracy and equal opportunity for all.”
Unfortunately, even though Conrad had the ability to choose the course content she shared with students she observed a disconnect between the issues at play and the students. Many people have an understanding that we live in a corrupt world but do not connect that science is a part of that system a lot of the time.
Conrad’s initial frustration caused by her students’ lack of concern motivated her initiative to experiment with different teaching techniques. Conrad inviting every student to the conversation regardless of their underlying knowledge was crucial. Storytelling from the students about the topics relating to their lives in some ways and not others triggered Conrad’s awareness that the student’s misunderstood most of the course content. The students’ stories ultimately played the pivotal role in Conrad’s success of getting the students to understand the course material.
Frank’s story begins with the encounter of a clinic doctor working for the Learning Disabilities Clinic at the Kaiser-Permanente Medical Center in Oakland, CA. According to Frank’s mother and teachers he is not capable of concentrating while in class. However, Frank clearly expresses he is capable of concentrating and does not need to take Ritalin (a drug used for hyperactivity), the real issue is he does not want to concentrate. Authority in this circumstance was unconcerned and completely disregarded Frank’s reasoning. The doctor prescribes Frank Ritalin instead of listening to Frank’s lived story and the true underlying issue.
“It is the first time he has seen the boy and the visit took fifteen minutes.”
If the doctor took a step back and listened to Frank expressing his struggles a healthier and more beneficial solution would have been introduced for the child. Age, gender, socioeconomic status, and race can all play a part in medical treatment. Unfortunately for Frank in this situation, his age deterred him from receiving proper treatment. If Frank’s mother, teachers, or doctor took the time to listen to Frank’s story he could have possibly found a way around taking medication and solve the reason he did not want to concentrate in class.
Listening to people’s voices can be generalized and translated to everyone you engage with. Recognize your conscious listening towards some people and your lack of listening towards others. Focusing on more than one voice can give you a greater perspective of the situation at hand.
Isobel Duxfield uses her words to express the variety of customers that enter a store. Duxfield’s poem is written from the perspective of a cashier working at a checkout counter. The employee at the checkout counter reads the room and acknowledges the different struggles each customer is experiencing.
“Next in, addicts left high and (not so) dry…
For these, there is no stereotype:
Builder, banker, husband, wife.”
The employee notices anyone and everyone can face addiction. Choosing to observe and react to each customer’s story without judgement provides a means of solidarity and equity within the store.
“Our elderly just need a chat,
Confined to the house with only a cat.”
Each customer the employee interacts with has different needs and her ability to notice that is a crucial skill for taking action to help others. Holding a conversation with someone you notice is lonely can go a very long way in their life. Observe the story each person you engage with has to share and react to that story suitably.