It’s only been two weeks since I responded to some well-intentioned goading – “Why don’t scientists ever get involved in politics?” – and spontaneously decided to start a revolution. But it already seems like months. I am referring, of course, to Science Is Vital, the grassroots campaign that kicked into action following my call to arms, No more Dr Nice Guy. When I wrote that blog post, and soon after threw a hashtag into the maelstrom of Twitter, I had little idea that it truly would take off the way it did.
Since that day, we’ve entered into a wonderful coalition with the Campaign for Science and Engineering, are being advised by the redoubtable Evan Harris, and have expanded into a core organizational group of a dozen or so people. We’ve had more than 2,000 people sign up on Facebook, and our petition, which went live only a few hours ago, already has more than a thousand signatures.
I’ve had offers of help from so many people that – in my sleep-deprived state – it sometimes brings tears to my eyes: from web designers and coders to photographers and journalists – and even a samba band, keen to rally our troops for the Central London demonstration we aim to stage on the 9th of October. Before I even had a chance to, someone bought our web domain for us and set us up on their server. We’ve had coverage in the Telegraph, the New Scientist, Research Fortnightly, The Guardian, and Twitter is a-swarm with supportive re-tweets. An MP has put up an Early Day Motion on our behalf in Parliament . Within five minutes of sending a mailshot to university Deans across the country this afternoon, we’ve had people reporting back that our call-to-arms had been forwarded to department heads, and from thence cascaded to entire departments. We’ve heard tell of coaches being organized at far-flung universities to ferry students and staff down the rally. All of this, I am acutely aware, has been made possible by the miraculous power of social media: words cannot describe how awed I am by its power.
It hasn’t all been easy. Every one of the core group has been run ragged these past few weeks as we’ve struggled to get our campaign together – food, sleep and day jobs have all taken a back seat. We’ve been meeting in the Prince Arthur pub near Euston Station, a war cabinet replete with bowls of chips and pints of Spitfire. The 9th of October is ridiculously short notice, but our haste is entirely necessary: the Comprehensive Spending Review is on the 20th of October, and we want to make our voices heard before all the decisions are made. To facilitate this, we’ve got Committee Room 10 booked at Westminster for a lobby at 15.30 on the 12th of October – fuelled by a letter-writing campaign to ask as many MPs as possible to meet with us.
On a more somber note, we’ve now had first-hand experience with the rather ominous changes in approach that seem to be clamping down on a citizen’s right to assemble in the capital. The police gives lip service to their welcoming of peaceful protests and marches, yet have been relentlessly trying to herd us into stationary positions in backwater areas of London. Yesterday morning, one officer told us dourly that since “new regulations” have kicked in, not one group has decided that they could go ahead with a full-fledged march because of financial and liability concerns. (The recent Pope protest got permission before the clamp-down.) Yet when we sought legal advice on this warning, the expert in question thought that no laws had changed: were we actually just being fobbed off? It’s been nearly three months since the Peace Camp was evicted from Parliament Square, London’s most desirable site for public demonstrations, but I was unable to book it: the Greater London Authority informed me today that it is still being “repaired” and could be out of commission for “months more”. (For those of you who don’t know it, Parliament Square is essentially a large piece of grass. My university recently needed to re-turf half of its quad, and it only took about a week.) Is the government secretly happy that excuses like this, along with terrorism, are making it increasingly easy to deny people the right to make their voices heard, especially with the rise of unrest that cuts of all descriptions will eventually bring? I have no proof, but I’m starting to wonder.
But enough of the tribulations: the most important tidings I bring are of significant progress: we now have the infrastructure to ask you to help us. Visit our website, sign our petition, write to your MP, put the 9th of October at 2 PM into your diary, and the 12th if you want to meet your MP at the lobby. Spread the word. We need your help to get our message across: that science is vital to the economy, and worth fighting for.