Fun in the revolution —
a letter to my friends in Science for the People
by G.S.  <george.salzman@umb.edu>

8 September 2006

this page is at http://site.www.umb.edu/faculty/salzman_g/Strate/2006-09-08.htm

      Science for the People (SftP) was one of the many grassroots groups that sprang up in the U.S. in opposition to the Vietnam War. Before long we had members in foreign countries. Although among us were a good number of prominent scientists, and scientists who later became prominent, among them Richard Levins, Charlie Schwartz, Richard Lewontin, Steven J. Gould, Jon Beckwith to mention a few, our intention was to be non-élitist. We had folks from all walks of life. The group began as Scientists and Engineers for Social and Political Action, SESPA, most likely reflecting the very early organizers, but then changed its name.

      Thanks to all of you who read my recent message to Science for the People and who didn’t immediately believe I’d gone absolutely bonkers, soliciting support for the Oaxaqueños in rebellion. After all, you might have thought, there are lots of people who never heard of Oaxaca, a remote region in southern Mexico, and here's this old guy puffing up its potential importance (and with it his own) in world history with the ludicrous claim that there's an incipient non-violent revolution in progress — out there in the boonies, and of all places, in Mexico, land of the machetes!

The utility of fun

      Steve Cavrak is one of the old-time SftP members, really old-time, from when Britta Fischer and Herb Fox and Al Weinberg lived on Walden Street across the street from the Bromley-Heath Housing Project up in back of the Veterans Administration Hospital in Jamaica Plain, Boston, where we held SftP meetings, because we didn't have an office. I always had trouble with Steve — he never took me seriously. In fact, he never took anything seriously, nothing could get the twinkle out of his eyes. He was just too full of fun, damn it. What a great guy. He’s probably up there now in (or near) Burlington, Vermont enjoying early fall bike rides, while here I’m drinking Dos Equis XX – Ambar por favor (I prefer the dark brew, cerveza oscura).

      One of the mementos of old-time SftP stuff I saved for nearly forty years is part of a newsletter that Kathy Greeley put out. At the time, she was the Office Coordinator of the Boston SftP chapter, situated on Main Street above Toscannini’s ice cream, just off Central Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I think it served as the national SftP office. The newsletter was probably put out shortly after 11 January 1978. Here’s that bit of vintage (and typical) Cavrak:


      I would love to indulge in some fun and humour, like we used to enjoy while we were trying to persuade those in the science establishment to consider the entire social context in which the practice of science was being effected, and to change their ways so as to make science serve the well-being of “the people”. I have in my files, and will eventually dig them out, some pictures that were printed in The New York Times illustrating our ‘disruptive’ actions at the supposedly august meetings of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). In my mind is a photo of Hubert H. Humphrey being ‘bombarded’ by paper airplanes thrown by you know who. It was during the U.S. bombing of millions of women and children and old men, every last one of them proclaimed to be a ‘Vietcong’ enemy. The fire that was in my gut then is still blazing full force.

      If among you there are a few who don’t recall immediately who Hubert H. Humphrey was, he was LBJ’s vice president (LBJ=Lyndon Baines Johnson). And we should all remember that great Tom Lehrer song, “Whatever became of Hubert?”. Humphrey was in his time “a flaming liberal” who, according to Mr. Lehrer, had a difficult time reconciling his job with his “principles”. I want to say a bit about the “principles” of this great liberal Democrat. In a handout on The Green Revolution (as it was then touted), prepared for my Science for Humane Survival course at the University of Massachusetts-Boston in August 1972 I included the following quote from a speech that Humphrey made in 1957 on the “Food for Peace” program:

I have heard . . . that people may become dependent on us [the United States] for food. I know that was not supposed to be good news. To me that was good news, because before people can do anything they have got to eat. And if you are looking for a way to get people to lean on you and to be dependent on you, it seems to me that food dependence would be terrific . . .
      Humphrey’s logic was impeccable, and disgusting. Yes, starve them into submission and you'll have them completely under your control. This not-so-subtle strategy is being pursued right now by the entire neo-liberal establishment — Oaxaca State (PRI party) governor Ulises Ruíz Ortíz (URO), Mexico (PAN party) president Vicente Fox Quesada, the U.S. and Canadian governments with their advisories falsely claiming that tourists should avoid going to Oaxaca because of the danger and thereby cutting off a substantial part of Oaxaca’s income, and just about all of the corporate media in North America (Canada, U.S., Mexico) falsely portraying the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (APPO, in its Spanish initials) as a violent organization set upon seizing power from the established constitutional government. URO has stopped salary payments to the 70,000 teachers in the state-wide union, which has had enormous impact on the economy throughout the state. Threatened or actual strangulation of opposition movements by the guardians of giant capitalism, who have control of most of the money supply, is a long-practiced, world-wide experience, nothing new.

      [I didn’t get around to finishing this at the time – too much else pressing, and then I forgot about it. Until today (25 January 2007) when I was looking for info needed for preparing Nancy’s book about the Oaxaca Revolution. It’s due out in March, to be published by Narco News. Because humour in SftP seems to need emphasis right now, I’m posting this incomplete note as is, and will get back to finish the text later on. I included the Price cartoon to make fun of myself. —G.S.]


"I'll be on the porch, pushing ninety."      —The New Yorker, 1988


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