The Rayback Collective is loud and packed with people escaping the sleet outside, but the table of people writing postcards is an oasis of focused quiet. A group of graduate students is sitting at a table with a pile of blank postcards, pens, and stamps, all scribbling away. The postcards are bound for Denver and Washington, D.C., and they are all passionate pleas for science funding.
In 2017, the White House proposed a 2018 budget that called for major cuts across science and technology agencies. These cuts would have affected funding for NASA, the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, and others. Scientists all over the United States were suddenly worried that they wouldn’t have the money they needed for their research.
The proposed budget sparked a science advocacy movement across the United States. Among other things, this movement was responsible for the national March for Science in Washington, D.C. as well as many sister marches across the nation. Scientists and science advocates stood up together to express support for scientific institutions.
Other advocacy events were on a smaller scale. In Boulder, CO, graduate student Bridget Menasche organized an event designed to send a message to Colorado politicians about science funding. Actually, many messages—all in postcard form.
Menasche held an event in June of 2017, called “Policy, Postcards and Pints,” at a local bar. She printed out science-themed postcards, brought packets of information about whether representatives in Colorado have fought for or against science funding, and camped out at Rayback Collective. The turnout was high, and by the end of the night, Menasche had collected about seventy postcards addressed to Colorado politicians.
Menasche got the idea when she heard that other advocacy groups were writing postcards to their politicians about various topics, and realized that it might be a good way to ease scientists into activism for something that they care about.
“It’s politics for introverts,” said Menasche. “It’s easy to do over a beer!”
Writing postcards might be easy and fun to do as a group, but it also takes time and effort that “clicktivism” or “slacktivism” initiatives (e.g. online surveys or signing petitions) don’t require. Dan Larremore is an assistant professor in the Department of Computer Science and the BioFrontiers Institute, and he wrote his own postcard at a more recent postcard-writing event. He explained why he thought postcard writing might be more effective than other methods.
“You can’t copy and paste a postcard, you have to write it by hand,” said Larremore. “That amount of effort is obvious to the people who are trying to make decisions.”
Menasche was very pleased with the turnout of her first postcard writing party. About 20 people produced a big stack of postcards, all of which Menasche put in the mail herself. She made the point that the political climate in June of 2017 might have been one of the factors in the high turnout.
“I think people were really concerned,” said Menasche. The White House budget had just come out, and that included a lot of suggestions for cuts to science. We didn’t know how congress was going to respond to the White House budget yet.”
In the end, the final budget for 2018 agreed on by the House and Senate was a pleasant surprise after the fear sparked by the White House’s proposed plan. Funding for science agencies was not cut, but instead stayed mostly constant.
Last week, Menasche held a second “Policy, Postcards and Pints” event. Although the mood was more congratulatory thanks to the optimistic 2018 budget, everybody there was cognizant of the current administration’s stance on science funding and the precarious financial situation. This time, Menasche sent 20 postcards to representatives in Colorado, many of them “thank you”s for the 2018 budget.
“I think it’s important that Congress gets positive reinforcement,” said Menasche, laughing. “Not just messages when we think they’re screwing up, but also messages from us when we think they’re doing a good job.”
Menasche is planning to hold another “Policy, Postcards and Pints” event in June. But if you want to advocate for science sooner than that, why not attend the 2018 March for Science? Science–and scientists–need you!
By Alison Gilchrist (@AlisonAbridged)