It was March 2015, and I was sitting in the Ice Room with two of my friends at a local Korean spa. In that rare moment of delicate reflection that I gave voice to a long-stewing idea: “I’m thinking of starting a blog…” I stumbled through my self-conscious thoughts about science and social justice, how I’d seen so many of my friends feel that they had to abandon one for the other, how I wanted people to be as critical of science as they were with elections, education, media. Sophie quickly chimed in, “Let’s call it Free Radicals.”
None of my visions for Free Radicals or myself had ever factored in a President Trump.
In the last week I’ve upended almost every aspect of my life. I’ve quit my job, started moving out of my apartment, scrapped nearly every plan I had for the coming year. And for a moment I considered that Free Radicals may be another thing I was ready to leave behind. I kept thinking, “Does our work matter? How can I think about science when I’m worried about the safety and livelihoods of my friends and communities? Do I really want to focus my energies on science – an institution of Ivory Tower elites?”
But then I thought about the women who are routinely harassed out of STEM, and how our president-elect, a self-admitted sexual predator, would only intensify the sexual harassment of women everywhere. We need to protect them.
I thought about the Dakota Access Pipeline, and how the construction under Lake Oahe will endanger the water sources that the Sioux Tribe rely on for their survival. We need to hold scientists and engineers accountable for their complicity in violence against marginalized groups.
I thought about the threat to Planned Parenthood, Obamacare, and in particular healthcare access for women and trans folks. We need doctors who are ready to defend our rights to our own bodies and the treatments we need to survive.
I thought about how with a unified Republican Congress, federal funding for the sciences – such as the NSF and NIH – may see budget cuts that will drive science out of academia and into corporations and profit-making. We need a science that is directed to supporting our most marginalized, not for benefitting the wealthiest and accelerating rising inequality.
We are already seeing what a Trump presidency will mean for both science and for our most vulnerable communities. Trump has selected Myron Ebell, a notorious climate change denier, to lead his transition for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Reversing Obama’s climate change achievements – such as the Paris Climate Accord, enforcement of the Clean Air Act, and basic environmental regulations carried out by the EPA – are all under attack. The fallout of these decisions will invariably hurt low-income communities of color hardest, who already bear the burden of exposure to contaminated water, toxic waste, and pollution.
Now more than ever, we need a science that steps outside of the comforts of the Ivory Tower and is prepared to critically engage with the challenges of our time. We need everyone from geochemists and ecologists to civil engineers and cybersecurity experts to come together to resist Trump’s dangerous policies, document their effects on our bodies and environment, and help rebuild a better future.
For now, many of us are still grieving. In the coming weeks our postings may be less consistent, and in the coming months our activism may look different from what it has this past year. If you are in the sciences and want to know what you can do to help – reach out. If you’re not in the sciences but think this work is important – reach out. If you’ve just started thinking about these things for the first time – reach out. We want to hear from you.
There is so much work to do.
[Disclaimer: Free Radicals is a collective and the opinions presented in this piece reflect only the author’s individual perspective. We will be sharing Trump responses throughout the coming weeks, which you can access here].