Reports from Local Groups

This essay is reproduced here as it appeared in the print edition of the original Science for the People magazine. These web-formatted archives are preserved complete with typographical errors and available for reference and educational and activist use. Scanned PDFs of the back issues can be browsed by headline at the website for the 2014 SftP conference held at UMass-Amherst. For more information or to support the project, email

Reports from Local Groups

by Multiple Authors

‘Science for the People’ Vol. 3, No. 4, September 1971, p. 20 – 24

[We solicited reports from local SESPA groups and groups like SESPA, however, the mails have been slow and our request may not have reached some people because of summer vacation. Therefore, we would like to invite our contacts to send us any news of activities for the next issue—deadline Sept. 10, 1971.

Despite the foregoing remarks the response has been good. The reports reprinted here reflect several different political perspectives and we would like to invite you to send us your comments and criticisms.]

Los Angeles, California

Several months ago I suggested that my name and P.O. Box might be used as an L.A. contact point for SESPA, but that I probably wouldn’t be able to get into much organizing activity immediately. This is because I am already spending much time in community organizing and working for the Peace and Freedom Party. However, I have made some contacts with several local scientists, have promoted a good working relationship with Computer People for Peace, and I think by mid-fall we should have something a little more properly called a “chapter”. 

  — Al Huebner

Berkeley, California

SESPA recently gained some ground here in the battle for free speech and free assembly at the Berkeley Lawrence Radiation Laboratory. Director Edwin M. McMillan reversed his long held position that only scientific meetings are allowable and proper. He has appointed a committee headed by physicist J.D. Jackson, an outspoken free speech advocate, to establish “time, place, and manner rules” similar to the ones we have had on campus since 1964. This victory was accomplished by continued pressure from a coalition that included not only science faculty and students but also workers from other areas of the lab such as shops and offices. 

Now we can begin in earnest to hold discussions at LRL Berkeley on the subject of science and social responsibility. It is a place particularly suited to the discussion of atomic weapons policy since many people who worked on the original bomb are now at the lab.

One of our members, Prof. Charles Schwartz, has been the target of institutional repression for his political activities, in particular for his role in the free speech movement last summer at the Radiation Lab. LRL has fired him from the summer appointment he has held for years, a firing that has gone officially unexplained but whose motives are quite clear. And yet, ironically, director McMillan has just decided that what Charlie was fighting for was a good idea after all.

Over the summer we are considering methods of expanding SESPA throughout the campus departments—including the social sciences, which have made great contributions to the politics of empire. Right now our numbers are small because we have neglected the task of organization and relied too heavily on mass meetings, resulting in shallow and transient commitments from potential members. We have adapted for a more organic growth, deliberate growth, the strategy for which will evolve from our self-analysis this summer. 

The movement is now at the point where women must be brought in once and for all and the male chauvinism of the movement overcome. Otherwise further growth is not possible. This is especially true in science and engineering where male domination is extreme and virtually unchallenged. SESPA in Berkeley is considering actions related to breaking down the barriers to women in the sciences, including our own barriers in the Science for the People movement. The women among us are guiding the group in this endeavor.

We are also getting a Science for Vietnam project together, and we held a teach-in and workshops last May 17th, along with groups in Chicago, Madison, and Boston. Messages of solidarity, with invitations for scientific exchanges, have been sent to the D.R.V. and to the liberated areas of Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam. Recently, SESPA arranged for visiting biologist Arthur W. Galston to give a talk and show slides of his travels in China and Vietnam.

— Jeff Stokes

New Brunswick, New Jersey

Several people, last winter and spring, have quite individually learned of SESPA and have joined. These individuals only became aware of each other very close to the end of the academic year. At present the only thing we have is a desire to do much more in the coming year. We have thought of trying to affiliate ourselves with some other chapter that had been meeting, but as of yet have taken no action.

  — George Pallrand 

Lawrence, Kansas

Our Science for the People group this summer has settled down to about 10 people. These include a biology professor, a biochemistry professor, a programmer at the computation center, two students in math and computer science, two grad students in biology, two in chemistry, one in medicinal chemistry, one in pharmacology, and me. We still have the problem of people finding 3 or 4 hours a week away from their regular research work and studies. Attendance at meetings varies from 5-10.

We put out a newsletter in conjunction with Mayday activity on campus. Three biology people went to the Science for Vietnam conference in Chicago. There is some individual activity in preparing packets for Vietnam, but very little. The response to the newsletter was not too great. Many people were suspicious of some of the statements because they weren’t documented. It was also too
long and most people probably didn’t read the whole thing.

So we decided to form a study group for the summer to develop a concrete analysis and program of action which will hold together when we get back into mass organizing actions. We are doing posters and putting them up all over campus to keep in touch with people. Enclosed is the first one.

The development of the study group has gone like this; We first each gave brief personal histories so as to get to know each other better and to see where we’re coming from. One of the people had already been working with a street drug analysis program. Out of this came some lively discussion of drugs, a few of us feeling we should take a stand against drugs for political reasons and most feeling it’s a matter of individual choice. All agreed we should develop the drug analysis and education program. We do qualitative and quantitative analyses and are doing a series of drug education articles in Vortex, the local underground newspaper.

A couple of us have talked to a couple of ambulance medics and are beginning to work towards setting up a free health clinic and program.

Right now, the study group is getting into developing the overall analysis of what we mean by “Science for the People.” As I said in my previous letter, we really need literature and study suggestions from other groups, like copies of SESPA Newsletter and Science for the People magazine. We are also investigating the research activities at Kansas University to provide local data for our analysis. Again there is a split between those who want to just deal with small immediate problems and those who want to read and study to develop an overall understanding of capitalism, science and technology. But we’re all struggling together pretty well. We need suggestions and communication from other groups.

  — Steve Hollis

New York, N.Y.

The New York chapter sends greetings to the Editorial Collective and to SESPA chapters throughout the country. New York activities remain centered upon Riverside Research Institute, the largest weapons laboratory in the city. The project to close down Riverside, begun in 1969, continues with morning and evening picket lines in front of the Institute and with frequent picketing of the homes of weapons engineers who work for Riverside. In May a sit-in was conducted at this laboratory by four of our members. The action succeeded in preventing the lab’s staff from using the building’s elevators and stairways to reach their offices and resulted in at least two employees’ resignations. Since we began the Riverside project, approximately 20 out of a total staff of 100 professionals working at this death lab have quit and made their resignation known to us. Several of these people have joined the weekly picket lines.

The city government and the Consolidated Edison Company (New York’s power supplier) have also been picketed on the Riverside issue. Both the City and Con Ed have given money or have under consideration research grants to Riverside. In the process of ferreting out information over a period of six months we have learned that Riverside has officers of the corporation and former employees peppered throughout Mayor Lindsay’s administration. At the Urban Technology Conference held this spring in New York, Lindsay had us for company at the podium as he gave the keynote address to an audience filled with the sagging hulks of the aerospace industry. The mayor refused to discuss with us the two officers of Riverside who sit on his Science Advisory Board. We later learned, at the same conference, that one of the Mayor’s appointees to the Fire Department was formerly employed at Riverside and awarded the laboratory a contract to ride technical shotgun on a sick elephant project the Fire Department had with the defense electronics firm, Norelco. It now appears that Riverside’s hopes for a pollution study grant from Con Ed have been effectively squashed and that the name of Riverside is not much better than mud in the non-Lindsay quarters of the City government.

Among short term projects conducted last Spring in New York was a week long action at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers convention. A literature table was placed on the main exhibiting floor and podium protests were conducted at a technical session on air pollution run by weapons engineers. The annual banquet was attended by three SESPA members who stood before the head table with signs when David Packard rose to give the featured address. This demonstration had an immediate effect upon the audience and we were told would have  repercussions throughout the Institute’s hierarchy. Our actions at the IEEE are described in more detail in the March 29 issue of Electronics News and in a quest editorial we were invited to write for the June issue of Electro-Mechanical Design.

To acquaint engineering and science students with SESPA and the activities of the New York chapter, members have spoken at several anti-war and professional career opportunity conferences at various engineering schools throughout the city. Stressing action projects along a clear anti-weapons line, we have found participation in these events has brought us new members, particularly from the engineering schools.

At Columbia University action was recently taken against a member of the physics department who is also working for the Jason Division of the Institute for Defense Analysis. A Sigma Xi initiation ceremony at which this professor spoke was leafletted by a student of his own department and by an initiate of the honor society.

Members here who are publishing have begun to respond to reprint requests from military laboratories with signed postcards politely refusing such requests. The policy has been applied without national exception: requests from military establishments of foreign countries are also informed of refusal.

In addition to manning the Riverside picket lines, New York SESPA is planning some new projects at weapons labs in the metropolitan area and invites SESPA members visiting New York to meet the crew on the job any Wednesday morning (8:45 to 9:30AM) or Friday evening (4:45 to 5:30PM) in front of Riverside Research Institute, 64th Street and West End Ave, Manhattan.

  — David Wuchinich

Cleveland, Ohio

Not much has happened in Cleveland. I was just a contact for most of the year and the first SESPA meeting was not held until the spring. At the first meeting we couldn’t decide on anything except a second meeting. By the time of the second meeting I had my terminal notice and brought along a colleague who had, similarly, been fired. The half dozen people at the meeting became enthused about a protest meeting around firings generally triggered by these two. We had already discussed the common interests of campus students, teachers and workers at our first meeting. In addition there was a clear political dimension in my case, where the teaching content had become more radical and my disagreements, gentlemanly but firm, with the dominant conception of social science more explicit. The meeting on campus firings was small, reflecting a weakness in our organization of leafletting activities. Parts of the campus where students of the three fired teachers who were to speak lived were insufficiently covered, a typical bit of self-undercutting: a typical radical weakness, to fear success. Nevertheless two dozen people came, mostly known to the handful organizing the meeting. Also there was success in the University’s chief anti-subversive agent, Vice President Musselman, came and took notes. Unfortunately, we did not learn his identity until after he left, or we could have exposed him beautifully during the meeting.

For the meeting we did a lot of research and found out a good deal about the firing picture for teachers on campus. But many teachers are afraid to say they’ve been fired and, if they fear a political motive, or a personal one, afraid to say that. I hope we can bring some of these together this fall.

What SESPA here lacks is a couple of good fighting organizers. That’s probably true everywhere. I’m sure Cleveland has the capacity to support more action than we’ve had yet. I wish someone other than myself would become chief local non-organizer; I don’t know how strong an organizer I’ll be. There is plenty to hit here; besides doing military and police research and polluting the environment and the minds of students, the university is a big exploiter of workers, especially women and black people.

  — David Nichols

Boston, Massachusetts

Boston SESPA continues with a diversity of activities each involving relatively small groups of people. Two kinds of groupings have developed in Boston: one is issue or task-oriented, the other is workplace or school oriented. In the first category is the Science Teaching Group, Science for Vietnam, Editorial Collectives and various short-lived study groups. In the latter are the BBN Underground and the Harvard Medical Area group. Because workplace and school organizing has been weak organizing projects are planned for the fall at Northeastern University, Raytheon Corporation, Boston University and Tufts University. If we have the resources, we will also pull together selfsustaining groups at other technology-based companies.

Science for the People Center. In May the Helen Keller Collective gave to Science for the People the first-floor four-room apartment of their house in the Jamaica Plain/Roxbury section of Boston. The center is now almost fully equipped. It has a main office and reading room, a meeting room (also used for silk screen work and mailings) a small office and a workshop/kitchen. A very large barn is also available if the resources to fix it up and a use are forthcoming. Accomodation for out-of-town visitors is available and a few have already made use of it.

Office Collective. A general meeting of Boston SESPA agreed to establish an office collective for the
summer/fall. The six people in the office collective have been gradually getting things in order-setting up files and records, fixing up shelves and benches and finding people who will commit 4 hours per week to the office. There is still a hell of a lot to do. If your letter hasn’t been answered yet please be patient. Suggestions and criticisms of operating procedure and volunteers for office duty should communicate directly with the office collective at Walden St. (427-0642). They meet  Thursday evenings. Hopefully by January when a general meeting selects a new collective there will be a lot of experienced people available.

Activities at Professional Meetings. Boston SESPA has not hosted activities at local meetings in the past few months but did participate in actions or simply sold magazines in cooperation with others at several meetings elsewhere. We joined with Computer People for Peace (CPP) in Atlantic City in May at the Spring Joint Computer Conference (the poster we provided is reproduced on p 25.) At the Society for Microbiology meetings in Minneapolis David Baltimore announced upon receipt of the Ely Lilly Award that half of it ($500) was being given to SESPA/Science for the People. We also had a table of literature at the Medical Committee for Human Rights (MCHR) meeting in Cambridge. 

Technical Assistance Project. Pretty quiet during the summer, activity has been scattered-fixing our own office up, advice on carpentry and electrical wiring to a food coop, installing a gas heater for a child care center, fixing the IBM typesetting machine at the Media Center, etc. An interesting problem we can use some help on is that of finding a mechanism for slowing down traffic. The automobile-caused death of a young child across the street from the Science for the People Center stirred the people of the neighboring housing project to action. They barricaded two streets running through the project and forced the city to erect permanent barricades to prevent through traffic. Since there must be at least one street with through traffic we have been asked to propose some method suitable to a north-temperate climate (e.g. something that does not interfere with snow removal) for mechanically slowing traffic. Any ideas?

Informal Planning Meeting. Taking advantage of travels of Chicago and New York people we had a weekend of informal discussion attended by several local people. Among the topics was the question of the nature of our participation in the Philadelphia meetings of the AAAS. As a result of those discussions and subsequent general meetings in Chicago and in Boston, we agreed to recommend to all SESPA chapters that participation in the Philadelphia AAAS meetings should be primarily as critics in the regular sessions and not by organizing our own sessions under their auspices. Other topics were the Science for Vietnam program and problems of organization. These topics will be discussed in subsequent issues of Science for the People.

  — Office Collective Boston


The following article is reprinted from the June 1971 newsletter sent to us by TASC (Technology and Society Committee), a group of scientists, engineers, and other technical people in Santa Clara County, Calif. For more information about TASC, its newsletter, its weekly luncheon schedule, and other activities, write to P.O. Box 952, Palo Alto, Ca. 94302. 

One of the more notable features of the kind of political system in which most of us have grown up is that in fact politics is taboo. It is somewhat curious to become aware of this, but the so called democracies have abolished politics. It is taboo to have politics in the schools, it is taboo to have politics in the home (in particular in a heterosexual group) and most definitely it is taboo to have politics at the place of work. Having noted this it then comes as no surprise to realise that in fact the politicians are also non-political. That is to say, no politician in a western democracy would be caught dead expounding a serious attempt at a political analysis of a social problem. All good and evil in the social world is in their view a question of personalities, not ideologies. (One must also realize that this anti-politics is itself political and serves certain ends.)

The depth of this depoliticization is astonishing. One finds that expeeimental physicists who have been carefully trained to apply logic, test theories by experience, and build axioms when dealing with the material world, have apparently been equally carefully taught not to do any of this when dealing with the social world. One can hear distinguished and internationally famous scientists gravely explaining that the political behavior of the United States is governed by the set of rules they used to teach in seventh grade ten years ago.

It is thus an interesting and rewarding experience to violate these taboos in a government-funded laboratory. When the Cambodian thing broke in May of 1970 it was evident at Stanford linear Accelerator Center that people were ready to do something. After a few days it was possible to organize a group of about fifty people into a set of activities around raising consciousness about Indochina. Altogether, an informational picket line was maintained on the main gate for a full month, some 20,000 leaflets were distributed to employees, there were some dozen or so rallies, there were theater groups, lunches on the lawn, small group seminars and beer parties. There was no doubt that a lot of consciousness was raised. After that time one’s politics were a public thing and you knew who was who. One irate employee called the sheriff because the flag was displayed upside down and another wrote his congressman, causing a field investigator from the AEC to put in a month interrogating the cadre.

But all that died down with the rest of the movement after the sadness of the Kent State and Jackson State murders. The question then came up, how and what to do to make use of the awareness raised at that time. Two approaches have been used. Firstly a couple of people have organised a series of lunchtime discussion groups. These started out with no clear plan of how we would proceed. We started by just raising some ideas and reviewing the literature. People talked about Marcuse, about the Chinese Cultural Revolution, or about an overview of the modem corporate economy. We talked about the revisionist view of the relationship between the third world and the advanced industrial countries and we talked about Ivan lllich. Lately we have begun bringing outside speakers, but again emphasizing the analytical approach rather than the phenomenological.

The group is growing in size, the people are beginning to sound like a group rather than competitive collection of individuals, and it seems likely that we are facilitating the development of political consciousness. There is evidence that the discussions do not end when people leave the room, but are carried on with others later.

The second activity which began about the same time was the development of a magazine of political commentary. This has followed a similar line to that of the lunchtime meetings … that is, an analytical and radical position. Most of the writing is presently being done by two or three people, with four or five others helping with the layout and printing. One innovation is worth attention. The mailing list was chosen by the editors. We didn’t ask who wanted it, we decided who would get it. The importance of this point was not obvious to us at first. But we realize now that if we had asked who wanted it we probably would have gotten few responses, largely by reason of taboo. But with this blind list we have never had anybody tell us they didn’t want it after they got it in the mail. Similarly, we don’t charge people. We ask for voluntary contributions, and so far have been able to cover our printing bill this way. We have had many people volunteer favorable criticism, and many people have been able to relate to the issues raised in the text in ways that were surprising to us. Politics at this laboratory is no longer taboo, and one even begins to hear political comments being made in the context of technical and administrative meetings. We don’t see clearly where this is going, but it feels good right now. Why don’t you try it?

  — John Harris