Scientific Workers: The Radical & The Antithesis.

We celebrate scientists today who have contributed to radical thought and who are constantly found at the forefront of progressive movements, especially those who have fervently worked towards the betterment of their communities. Yet, as in all disciplines, we must recognize the harm that has also been inflicted by leaders once espoused for their work.

Moreover, in the version of science often taught to us by the status quo, researchers and innovators are inordinately complacent with the idea that their work is confined to a lab: and negligent to the fact that its scope reaches far beyond the vicinity of a university campus or the safe haven of corporate shelter. Many scientists find comfort in the idea that science is apolitical; in actuality, our work can not be separated from politics. We must be conscious of the impact we can have as scientific workers — this impact surpasses the microscopic scale or simulated realities of our studies.

Many scientific thinkers, while their work has been thought to advance their respective fields, came to their accomplishments only at costs far too detrimental to humanity — often, hurting the most those subjugated to the forces of oppression already entrenched in society. The very invention of the atomic bomb, for example, while it expanded the realm of possibilities in physics, now endangers those suffering from imperialist regimes and whose safety lay in the hands of corrupt world powers. And yet others, while their work may have contributed to expanding knowledge and challenging scientific principles, may have used these tools blindly and negligently, tainting their achievements with shameful applications, detracting from their potential to foster growth and reach liberation. The entire theory of evolution, for example, provided scientists with a newfound understanding of the origin and ongoing development of humanity. Yet it was used to argue for the genetic superiority and evolutionary “advancement” of the white race. Scientists, like Darwin, while a product of their time, can not be excused for such primitive thinking, and must be held accountable.

We recognize these figures and their ideas not to praise them, but to acknowledge that scientific thought can be rerouted, even from noble roots, and to prevent this history from repeating itself. Instead of depicting their findings and proposed theories as steps forward, we must recognize them in their relation to society; science does not exist in a vacuum (though our physics problems may…) To work for the betterment of science is a privilege, and science is innately connected to the people it serves. As scientific workers, therefore, our responsibility is to the people. 

We also highlight the scientific thinkers who have paved the path for progressive action and analysis, bringing our societies closer to a liberated future. These actors have recognized the pursuit of knowledge as a privilege, and their consequential responsibility towards their communities for holding this ability to seek knowledge for its own sake. Throughout history, these scientific workers have acted as servants to their communities, making their work purposeful, and constantly challenging the structures and systems that contribute to the exploitation of people. These scientists have stood up for racial equity, anti-colonialism, and environmental preservation. We acknowledge that understanding their positions on all issues are complex, and we may not endorse their stances universally.

The Zapatistas.

The Zapatistas were a military (Ejercito Zapatista de Liberación Nacional; EZLN or Zapatista National Army of Liberation) from 1994 to 2006 and have remained a revolutionary movement in the southeastern part of México. They were inspired by Marxism and socialism to build their movement as an indigenous community that struggled actively against the incredibly violent Mexican government. Beautifully and succinctly stated, their objective was not to “take power”, but to achieve something even more difficult: “to build a new world”.

The Zapatistas’ struggle for work, land, shelter, food, health, education and liberation deeply inspire the Scientific Workers Collective (SWC), who honors the wisdom of indigenous peoples that show us how to care deeply for our communities and land by struggling against imperial powers.

This drawing was made with reverence by one of our members. In black wording, it reads: The Zapatistas realize that we need scientific knowledge to transform reality. In white wording, it describes the EZLN ConCiencias por la Humanidad (The Zapatista National Army for Liberation, EZLN, ConSciences for Humanity), a gathering that connected dozens of scientific workers and hundreds of attendees from various parts of the world in the Zapatista headquarters for the purpose of exchanging scientific knowledge with the Zapatistas and listeners alike.

At the opening of the conference, subcommander Galeano said that “the sciences have the possibility of reconstructing the catastrophe that is operating throughout the world. Scientific knowledge can reorient desperation and give it real meaning in order to stop waiting [for change]. Those who stop waiting can start acting.” As such, the Zapatistas created this gathering to because “they have a great responsibility to defend and save the world that we live in” through “artes de artistas, ciencias de científicos y los pueblos originarios con los abajos del mundo entero” (art by artists, scientific knowledge by scientific workers and the roots of the entire world by indigenous peoples). 

This Indigenous Heritage Day, the SWC honors the continued legacy of the EZLN. We honor the struggle of indigenous peoples to nourish the Earth and all who live in it, to share their wisdom and practice across generations, and to remind all who have settled in land ajena (that which we do not tend to and are estranged to) that we do not exist above their livelihood. The ConCiencias por la Humanidad gathering teaches us to exchange scientific knowledge with listeners and teachers who want better for future generations. In the process of doing so, scientific work can shift from acting as a colonial power to an act towards liberation. Scientific knowledge does not have to be tied to violence if those who discover it and share it do so to restore our connection to ourselves, to the earth, to other living beings, and very importantly, in the fight against anyone or anything that obstructs that vision.

The Revolutionary.

Che Guevara

Che Guevara was a medical doctor who also acted as a Marxist revolutionary leader and a key figure in the Cuban revolution. He first became radicalized during his travels around South America, where he witnessed first-hand the capitalist exploitation of Latin American workers and resources.

After initiating his work in social reform in Guatemala, he met Raul and Fidel Castro in Mexico City. He joined the 26th of July Movement which aimed to overthrow Cuban dictator Batista, the start of a two-year campaign which was ultimately successful in overthrowing the regime. After the revolution he stayed involved in the fight for liberation in many other ways, including agrarian land reform, a nationwide literacy campaign, and serving as an international diplomat for socialism.

The“Father of the Atomic Bomb”.

J. Robert Oppenheimer

Oppenheimer (1904-1967) was a theoretical physicist responsible for the design and research of the atomic bomb. His work stemmed from an obligation he felt he had to help with U.S. war efforts. He served as one of the leaders of the Manhattan project, more specifically, directing research at the Los Alamos Laboratory, where the bombs were designed. He initially pushed for military control of nuclear technology. Although he later admitted regret for this advocacy, he believed that he “had no blood on his hands” for the consequences of the bomb. All too often, scientists deny responsibility for the political and social implications of their research or choose willful ignorance, claiming that “Science” is somehow above and outside of these systems. This ideology is harmful, as it absolves scientists from accountability. He later called for international controls on the bomb, but it was too late to do so. The bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War 2 caused over 200,000 causalities total.

The “First Daughter”

Winona LaDuke

Winona (“First Daughter” in the Dakota Language) La Duke is a Jewish-Indigenous American environmentalist, economist, and writer widely recognized for her advocacy and work around Native land claims and preservation.

Born in Los Angeles, California in 1959 to Betty Bernstein and Vincent LaDuke (“Sun Bear”), Winona was connected with the Ojibwe Nation at an early age. However, she only began to live at the Ojibwe White Earth Reservation in Minnesota in 1982 after graduating from Harvard with a B.A in Rural Economic Development.

Although she interacted with indigenous activism during college, Winona’s political involvement increased while working as a principal at the White Earth high school (while she was also completing her Master of Arts in Community Economic Development).

In 1985, she helped found the Indigenous Women’s Network (IWN) and worked with the Women of All Red Nations (WARN) on a public campaign against the forced sterilization of Native American women. In 1989, she founded the White Earth Land Recovery Project (WELRP), a non-profit working to “buy back” Anishinaabe land through a conservation trust with the eventual cessation to the tribe.

LaDuke is a firm advocate for Northern American Native communities. While the bulk of her work focuses on indigeneity issues in the Americas, she has acknowledged other Indigneous nations across the globe, including Palestine. However, her strong use of metaphor in a public post concerning the Palestinian struggle obfuscated her stance. Her meaning was widely misunderstood, but support for Palestinian rights necessitates clarity and conviction.  

This incident alludes to a broader issue: that we are often restricted from talking about atrocities committed against indigenous peoples due to the far-reaching effects of imperialism and colonialism. Because of the violent cruelty committed by these oppressive powers, we are often faced with ‘whataboutism’ arguments that make it difficult to criticize modern day colonial efforts. Settler-colonialism acts as a malevolent force that removes indigenous peoples from their land, restricts their access to water and critical resources, and essentially, aims to commit genocide to erase any evidence of indigenous existance. The Native american struggle, her struggle, is inextricably linked with the Palestinian struggle, and with the struggle against settler-colonialism across the globe. Liberation for one means liberation for all. Winona LaDuke is currently the Executive Director of the Honor the Earth organization that works to…

“create awareness and support for Native environmental issues and to develop needed financial and political resources for the survival of sustainable Native communities. Honor the Earth develops these resources by using music, the arts, the media, and Indigenous wisdom to ask people to recognize our joint dependency on the Earth and be a voice for those not heard.”

Through this role, Winona played an active role in organizing and supporting the 2016 Dakota Access Pipeline protests (#NoDAPL). Her activism against oil pipelines continued well after these events, and in 2019 she gave an address to the National Audubon Convention regarding the resistance against the “Sandpiper” pipeline, imploring everyone to be water protectors and to stand up for our rights to not only survival, but to life.

Winona’s agricultural activism has focused on cultivating traditional Indigenous crops, such as wild rice, hominy, and more recently, hemp. LaDuke now runs a 40-acre hemp farm on the White Earth Reservation in Minnesota, where she grows hemp variations from across the globe, vegetables and tobacco. Nevertheless, her advocacy for the growth of hemp and marijuana on tribal land as a source of self-sustaining revenue for Indigenous communities gave cause for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to raid the Oglala Sioux Tribe.

Along with her political organizing, Winona LaDuke is also a writer and author of works like “Recovering the Sacred: the Power of Naming and Claiming” (2005), “The Militarization of Indian Country” (2013), and a co-author of works like “Conquest: sexual Violence and American Indian Genocide”, “Grassroots: A field Guide for Feminist Activism”, “Struggle for the Land: Native North American Resistance to Genocide, Ecocide, and Colonization”, “New Perspectives on Environmental Justice: Gender, Sexuality, and Activism”, “Daughters of Mother Earth: The Wisdom of Native American Women”, and numerous others.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *