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SESPA at American Chemical Society Meeting
by The ACS Collective
SESPA attended its first meeting of the American Chemical Society this year. The immediate reaction of the lower echelon officials was of hostility. Denied the right even to put up a literature table, some of us circulated among the arriving chemists armed with leaflets and other “subversive” goodies, while others cornered the manager of the meeting. The reasons for their overreaction soon became apparent. The manager knew some of our names in advance and even knew some of our rather disorganized plans. Besides, his counterpart at the AAAS had lost his job after the Philadelphia actions. At one point he threatened to “take whatever action necessary” to keep us from politicizing the meeting. But the ACS Board of Directors was smarter than that. The implicit threat that we might cause a disruption bringing unwanted bad publicity was not to be taken lightly. We didn’t have, of course, the personnel to do this but they were taking no chances. No less than R. W. Cairns, Chairman of the ACS Board of Directors, came personally to give us our officially sanctioned literature table (an unprecedented concession to “outsiders”) and to wish us well in our endeavor. No doubt the average ACS member could not gain an audience with the distinguished Dr. Cairns, but then the average member represents no threat… yet.
Traditionally the ACS has been a spokesman for the chemical industry with little thought for the working chemist. However as unemployment rises and job security declines chemists are acquiring the peculiar idea that their professional society should do something for them. In response to this increasing disaffection the Boston meeting featured a Symposium on Professionalism which SESPA attended. The panel consisted of an AFL-CIO spokesman, J. Golodner, who argued for unionization of chemists, and three ACS officials who were anti-union spokesmen for management (and who, incidently, insisted that there was no essential dichotomy of interests between management and workers). During Golodner’s talk he enumerated a list of means the establishment uses to maintain the status quo—techniques which, interestingly enough, the ACS officials then used when questioned by SESPA members and others concerning the society’s inaction on lay-offs.
A SESPA planning meeting immediately followed the Symposium on Professionalism and was attended by many curious chemists as well as several ACS Council members who tried to channel our efforts into a newly created Member Advisory Board (MAB). Of the some 112,000 members of the ACS only one solitary person has fallen for this ploy and utilized MAB. Unfortunately our meeting was dominated by the pushy ACS officials and the possibility of any serious planning was lost in the deluge of liberal rhetoric.
On the second day of the conference a talk with a reporter told us why the ACS seemed to know so much about us and our plans in advance—the FBI had given them the names of most of our ACS Collective and warned that we were contemplating major disruptions. The fact that the ACS had been nervously expecting SESPA to appear at the last three meetings (cf. Science 767, 151, 1972) led them to accept this bit of espionage unquestiongly and explained their obvious fear of disruption.
Undaunted, we engaged in a series of useful actions throughout the week, from leafleting and postering the ACS Awards Dinner (a formal affair) to a “War Symposium” featuring the NARMIC slide show and a talk by John Froines. This coincided with the escalation of the war and drew many newly aroused chemists. In addition a petition on the posture of the ACS with regard to the Defense Department signed by the requisite number of members was submitted to the ACS Council.
Another major action was at an open forum entitled “Improvement of Nutritional Status in the Developing Countries” sponsored by the Agency for International Development (AID, read CIA), and the League for International Food Education (LIFE), set up and solely funded by AID. We wrote a three page leaflet challenging the real goals and function of AID and calling for a critical evaluation of AID’s attempt to tap the technical resources of well-intentioned chemists. SESPA members successfully channeled the entire meeting into a discussion of the political issues underlying the actions of AID and LIFE, pointing out that the only people with the education or resources to avail themselves of help from LIFE are foreign exploiters or local capitalists, the very people who keep the poor hungry and suppressed.
We learned very early in the meeting that the ACS is a “men’s” club. Sexism was everywhere, from ads at the exposition to treatment of women at discussions (one of the best example being “now listen here, little girl” — spoken to a 34 year old women!) At the beginning of the week we proposed the formation of a women’s caucus. The ACS does have a women’s committee; it seems to serve as a luncheon group. However, the level of consciousness of the women in general was higher than in the past. An open meeting after this year’s luncheon began low-keyed but ended in a heated discussion of examples of discrimination and insistence on action. The committee’s only response was to remind women of the roster for women seeking employment and to refer discrimination complaints to the male-dominated Professional Relations Committee. The response to our caucus was favorable and a meeting of the caucus drew up a list of demands to be presented to the ACS. The potential seems to exist for an effective women’s caucus in the ACS. At the next meeting we plan not only to try to reach more women chemists but also to try to encourage active participation by the wives of men chemists.
The ACS Collective is small but we learned some important lessons at the Boston meeting. We found that the ACS makes strennous efforts to lead us into their organizational structure, forcing us to utilize needed energy in resisting their diversionary co-optation—no small problem in any radical organizing effort and one which Marx warned about. They were not, however, completely unresponsive to our pressures. Each action we took pushed them a little further than the previous boundary. They were ultimately reluctant to push back for fear of disruptions and thus although these small stepwise advances were not our planned intentions, we did manage to make inroads into the ACS for future use. After the dire warnings from the FBI, our low profile necessitated by our small numbers left the ACS officials with very ambivalent feelings about us. However we stimulated much needed dialogue with many of the general members and generated interest in our future activities. Our effectiveness as a collective increased as the meeting progressed and as we realized that each individual must assume personal responsibility and not look for a central leadership.
We are already thinking about the next national meeting in New York, August 27-Sept. 1, 1972. We realize that a considerable amount of background work needs to be done for the actions to be more effective. We strongly urge anyone interested in being involved to contact the ACS Collective, c/o SESPA