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Membership Survey & Northeast Regional Conference
by the Northeast Regional Committee
‘Science for the People’ Vol. 6, No. 6, November 1974, p. 37 – 38
The Northeast Regional Committee of Science for the People undertook a survey of the membership, activities and political perspectives of SESPA chapters around the country. This is a first step in the direction of assessing the need and support for a national conference which would work toward a national organization. We were unable to elicit responses from all active chapters. Our own constituency, the Northeast regional chapters, and two from the Midwest returned completed questionnaires, but we have no information from four midwestern and the two far West chapters. The following summary is based on answers supplied from seven chapters, one of which — Boston — had reports from five subgroups. It had been agreed beforehand that the political makeup of individual chapters would not be described. Hence there may be an unavoidable lack of specificity in this report. Still in view of the upcoming Northeast Regional Conference, November 16–17, which will address the questions: whom shall we organize around what and why, the results of the questionnaire are of importance.
Roughly 100 people are represented in the survey. Of these close to 50% are women. However the proportion of women varies quite a bit from chapter to chapter, with some chapters being predominantly composed of men. Black and Third World people make up only 3% of the total, while about 20% are over 35 years of age. Slightly over half are in academic occupations, including graduate students and some employed on the non-teaching staff of universities. One-third classified themselves as being in the medical and biological sciences, about one quarter in the physical sciences and engineering, 12% in the social sciences including psychology, some 8% in other occupations including community organizing, day care, laboratory work, switchboard operator. One chapter did not accept these categories and provided no information on them, but listed a long enumeration of collective knowledge resources. Not all the people on whom the above percentages are based consider Science for the People their primary political activity.
The activities of the chapters cover a wide range: from study groups, actions at professional meetings, production of the magazine, preparation of pamphlets on professionalism, genetic engineering, health care, the energy crisis to technical aid for Vietnam, consumer protests against a local electric company, and research on pesticides affecting farmworkers; from workplace organizing to guerrilla theater.
SESPA chapters have engaged in joint activities with the Indochina Peace Campaign, the Union for Radical Political Economics (URPE), Committee for Social Responsibility in Engineering (CSRE), a Dump Nixon coalition, Socialist Feminists, Medical Committee for Human Rights (MCHR), Committee Against Racism (CAR), May Day Coalition, Honeywell Project, Attica Brigade, Energy Coalition which included October League, New American Movement, Revolutionary Union among others.
When asked about the political perspective of chapters, they replied in a variety of ways, some defining themselves as ranging from diffuse liberals or left liberals to radicals, socialists, Marxist-Leninists or anarchists; others expressed more the content of their views as anticapitalist, strong emphasis on class analysis, or community and workplace struggles, struggling against racism, sexism and imperialism, anti-liberal and anti-social democratic.
Political education is engaged in by many groups regularly, some plan to have more of it in the future, some have political education at irregular intervals, only one chapter had none.
Three-quarters of the people covered in this survey subscribe to Science for the People, even more actually read it. Almost all acknowledge the magazine’s usefulness in their work, although in varying degrees, such as in organizing and college teaching. Suggestions for improvement of the magazine were made by some chapters but at least half were pretty much satisfied with it or did not have any comments at the moment. One chapter likes special issues, another wants more on people-serving science, others hope for more reporting on successful SESPA activities, feedback on actions and articles, more on women, materials on interlocking institutions and foundations, developmental biology, Marxist anthropology, less rhetoric. Several mentioned that the magazine should have more humor.
All but one (outside the East) chapter were represented at last year’s Northeast Regional Conference. Virtually all found it worthwhile; however one chapter qualified this with a “somewhat”.
In response to the question whether there should be a national organization four chapters answered with an unqualified yes, two were not sure, and one wished to hold off until there is more evidence of local organizing.
The needs which a national organization would fulfill were coherence and communication (mentioned several times), leadership and coordination, increased political effectiveness and understanding, growth and spreading around of decision-making.
The political perspective that such an organization should have was most frequently characterized as socialist and Marxist. One chapter was not clear on the issue, one did not think it was possible to have one nationally, others said it should be representative of its members, non-dogmatic and non-sectarian.
As for a national conference, five chapters would like to see one in the near future, the summer of 1975 being most consistently mentioned as a possible time. Projected attendance at a national conference was up to four members from each chapter, a sizable women’s group being a striking exception by stating that most of its members were likely to attend.
N.E. REGIONAL CONFERENCE NOV. 15-17
Dear Sisters and Brothers,
At the first Northeast Regional Conference in October, 1973, this coordinating committee was created and charged to prepare a conference each year for the Northeast Region and build for a national SESPA/SftP into an organization with a clear anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist perspective and strengthening the structural features of the group. We will take the resolutions passed at last year’s conference and the work done by the coordinating committee over the past year as a starting point. Although the time is not yet ripe for a national conference, we must continue to do groundwork for it so it can be held soon.
The decline of the economy and the attendant social unrest have replaced Vietnam as dominant issues in our political life. We now face many crucial questions as to the choice of areas of political struggle as well as to our methods. The need for a change in our orientation is reflected in our internal politics. For quite a while now, the magazine has not been gaining subscriptions, and new chapters have been formed at a very slow rate. Existing chapters do not grow in active membership very f~st, and may seem to outsiders to be isolated from practical work. The Boston chapter still retains its dominant position in spite of sincere efforts by many in Boston and outside to change this. Some trouble has been experienced in forming editorial collectives from members with adequate experience in the group, and people in Boston tend to work so hard they bum out, while those of us outside Boston often cannot find a way of building enough of an organization to keep us busy.
These persistent weaknesses must be taken seriously and dealt with on a regional basis, before we can strengthen the national organization. Clearly, last year’s conference only started this process, and we must now work together to develop clear principles of unity and correct these problems for the months and years ahead.
The Northeast Regional Coordinating Committee has decided upon the following tentative agenda for the conference:
- First Day: Progress in our ongoing work.
- Workplace organizing, occupational health, energy crisis analysis, critique of professionalism, science teaching, Science for Vietnam, activities at science conventions, and other projects.
- Struggling against racism, sexism, and elitism.
- Internal SESPA/SftP structure, leadership, the role of the magazine in our work, methods of political work, format and tone of the magazine and other literature, membership m editorial collectives, political accountability of spokespeople to the group as a whole.
- Second Day: SESPA/SftP and the wider political struggle.
- Who are we trying to organize around what principles and why? How do we formulate our positions on concrete political struggles? What should ‘principles of unity’ for SESPA/SftP be, and how should we change or extend them as the situation demands?
- What role can the Northeast Regional Conference play in helping strengthen a national organization? What positive steps can we take to begin this task?
All of these topics are important political questions and require advance thought and preparation by members. We will solicit the cooperation of chairpeople for the workshops on the first day, people who have been involved in these various projects and can help us to deepen our understanding of them. Papers for the conference should be sent in advance to the regional committee, so they can be duplicated and sent out for discussion before the conference. These papers should be the work of groups, not individuals, and should represent clear, concise, and comradely thinking. Individuals who are not in a group should contact one of the SESPA chapters or groups and work with them. The regional committee may seek to prepare a draft statement before the conference, and we would appreciate letters or papers from members of the organization. We will also be issuing invitations to non-Science for the People groups who identify with our work, and to others who wish to attend as observers. For more information, call or write:
674 W. 161 St., #4A
New York, NY 10032
Phone: (212) 781-0008
The Northeast Regional Committee