With dizzying speed, the new administration has set to work rolling back years of progress on public health protections, climate change, civil liberties and women’s rights. They’ve moved to muzzle our public agencies and launch an all out war on science, a free press, indigenous lands, religious freedom, immigrants and the value of facts.
All of this in week one.
Meanwhile, Trump’s long-awaited nomination of former Georgia governor Sonny Perdue to head up the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) officially makes this cabinet the least diverse in decades. It’s also arguably the least qualified for the job, with many of Trump’s picks openly opposed to the mission of the agency they’re being tapped to lead.
During the confirmation hearing for Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator, for example, Scott Pruitt gave responses that one senator called “shockingly devoid of substance.” Other answers from Pruitt were also in direct contradiction to his track record as Oklahoma Attorney General, where he drove more than a dozen lawsuits against EPA on behalf of oil and gas interests — and consistently questioned the reality of climate science.
Scientists fight back
On Tuesday, the Trump team issued clear instructions to several agencies to halt all communication to the public. In the case of EPA, they also paused all grants and contracts — indicating that, going forward, scientific findings will likely be reviewed by political appointees before release.
Some pause in communications during transition periods is common, but veteran civil servants are reporting that these measures go well beyond what’s happened in the past. And the proposed political vetting of scientific findings flies in the face of longstanding policies on scientific integrity. Former EPA head William K. Reilly, who ran the agency when I worked there for a minute under the George H.W. Bush administration, told reporters at the Chicago Tribune that these moves send the agency “down a very dark road.”
But this is where I get to feel hopeful again: scientists are fighting back.
Starting with Badlands National Park and spreading to EPA, USDA, NASA and many other national agencies, scientists and civil servants have set up dozens of “alternative” Twitter accounts where they vow to continue sharing scientific findings and facts on their own time. This public show of resistance reflects tremendous courage, and a deep and firm commitment to the public interest.
And now scientists are planning a march in support of scientific integrity and fact-based decisionmaking. I’m betting our three brilliant woman scientists here at PAN will be front and center, standing firm in support of science for the people.
Last weekend, many PAN staff took to the streets in Oakland, St. Paul, Sacramento, Orlando, San Jose and Washington, DC. When we publicized our active support and participation for Saturday’s historic women’s march, some questioned how the protest was relevant to PAN’s work.
Here’s my take: The “unity platform” developed by march organizers includes the “right to clean water and clean air,” and the belief that land should not be exploited “for corporate greed or profit — especially at the risk of public safety and health.” These directly match up with our efforts to “reclaim the future of food and farming,” and build support for a thriving, healthy food system from rural communities to urban centers. In addition, PAN’s work is deeply rooted in science, equity and social justice, all of which are under direct attack by the new administration.
Team Trump is already testing our democracy in unprecedented ways, at a time when public faith in many of our institutions is already weak. Showing up — on the streets, in city council meetings, statehouses and with strong online voices — is incredibly important at this moment in history. So is showing up in solidarity with and for those most at risk. And when the next election rolls around, we’ll need huge turnouts at the ballot box and on the ballot, too.
As our Executive Director Judy Hatcher recently noted, “there is no such thing as a single issue struggle, because we do not lead single issue lives.” Adelante.