Science Rising in Indiana

by Dori Chandler

This summer, Hoosiers gathered at several science rising events throughout Indiana to show their support for sound science in our political systems.  Events included a webinar watch party on engaging candidates this election cycle; a Faith, Food, & Farm Bill event, which included an advocacy postcard writing session to members of Congress to support SNAP funding and local sustainable farming; a film screening of the NOVA science film “Decoding the Weather Machine“ with a round table discussion with experts on weather and climate; and a Nagasaki Day Vigil and Rally.

Crowd learns about engaging candidates with science at a watch party.

The webinar watch party began with  Science Champion John Ulmer introducing the event goal: to connect with our candidates in meaningful ways to protect and defend science.  Attendees watched the Union of Concerned Scientist national webinar on “Engaging Candidates in Science this Election.” Attendees were extremely engaged and wanted to know how to amplify their voices at the local level.

In the final part of the evening folks discussed how to engage their local political candidates.  Issues that mattered to the attendees include: climate change, low-carbon energy, universal health care, public education, solar energy, evidence-based policies, re-investment in mental health, public-focused decision making (not trickle-down decision making), public interests rather than business interests, and less monied lobbying.

Political targets were identified, including incumbents and candidates such as Senator Donnelly, Mike Braun (Candidate for Senate), Representative Susan Brooks (U.S. Rep for district 5), and Dee Thorton (Candidate for District IN05). Other targets include media and grassroots outreach to the community to educate and change the public’s mind and thereby increase the influence on politicians.

Participants decided to ask these targets for incentives for solar, commitments to universal health care and health insurance, and improving recycling programs. The evening ended with attendees making pledges to continue the work they are doing or to do more to work on these issues!

What do food insecurity, faith, and the farm bill have in common? This was the question asked during the Science Rising event held in Fort Wayne, Indiana.  Union of Concerned Scientists partnered with Hoosier Interfaith Power & Light and Beacon Heights Church of the Brethren to discuss how the 2018 farm bill, local and sustainable farming, food access, and SNAP benefits could be a safeguard against food insecurity and how these go hand-in-hand to make good policy that supports our food systems.

The program included a lunch made by a small business that grows much of its own food, a presentation by the Indiana Organizer of UCS on the latest in the 2018 Farm Bill, interactive activities on food access and privilege, and a letter writing component to members of Congress including Senator Joe Donnelly and Representative Jim Banks.  Attendees included people from the Parkview Health Care System, the Northeast Indiana Local Food Network, the Allen County Food Council, students and professors from Goshen College, local churches, students participating in the Fort Wayne Urban League summer job training program, and local members of the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Fort Wayne, in northeast Indiana, has huge food access challenges. Although it is an agricultural hub of the United States, most of the produce grown is destined for the commodities markets that go to feeding animals and making biofuels rather than feeding people.[1] With nearly 90,000 individuals served every year at the Community Harvest Food Bank of Northeast Indiana[2], there is a disconnect between a community that grows food and the people in it that need to eat.

After the program, participants–some of whom were SNAP beneficiaries– plan to continue to work to ensure that the 2018 farm bill includes such safeguards as reducing red tape for farmers trying to sell their produce at markets (some farmers need three id numbers to use SNAP), local food distribution and production, young farmers training programs, and more!

In July, science teacher Nica Solomon, in partnership with Union of Concerned Scientists Indiana, Hoosier Interfaith Council, Citizens’ Climate Lobby, and Earth Charter held an intergenerational learning event on weather and climate for #sciencerising.  The event was held at the Hasten Hebrew Academy with 60 adults and 12 children in attendance. Together, they watched excerpts from the Nova Science Film “Decoding the Weather Machine,” which was followed by rotating round table conversations with local experts including:  Mike Ryan, a Senior Meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Indianapolis;  Dr. Kathy Licht, Associate Professor of Earth Sciences at IUPUI; Stephanie Schuck a land manager and restoration ecologist at the Nina Mason Pulliam EcoLab at Marian University; Dr. Yi Wang Assistant Professor in the Department of Environment Health Sciences and Epidemiologist at the Indiana University Richard M. Fairbanks School of Public Health;  Jesse Kharbanda, Hoosier Environmental Council Executive Director; and Christopher Anderson, Indianapolis Chapter Leader of Citizens Climate Lobby.

There were separate climate and weather activities for youth led by local high school students.  Vegetarian and kosher finger food was available.  Following the round tables there were tabling opportunities to learn about how to write to your members of Congress on issues of climate concern and the clean car standards.

The fourth Science Rising event held this summer was a Nagasaki Day vigil and rally, held in Bloomington, Indiana to discuss and bring awareness to the nuclear arms race.   There were 60 people in attendance. Bloomington Peace Action Coalition spokesperson and science champion David Keppel opened up the evening with remarks and welcome, followed by a benediction by Rabbi Brian Besser of Congregation Beth Shalom. Rabbi Besser asked the pertinent question: can the expansion of our compassion keep pace with the growth of our technology?  This was followed by the exquisite flute playing of Alain Barker from the Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University, and a selection of poetry read by Antonia Matthew.  In addition, speeches were given by Bloomington’s Mayor John Hamilton, IU Professor Heather Blair, and David Keppel.

The event commemorated the 70,000 people who were killed in the Nagasaki bombing and the 135,000 who were killed due to radiation in later years. Attendees of the vigil called for this to be the last time that humanity uses nuclear weapons.   Indiana Legislators were called out for continuing to support the expansion of nuclear armament. Both of Indiana’s Senators, Joe Donnelly and Todd Young, as well as 9th District Congressman Trey Hollingsworth approved a $1.2 trillion nuclear weapons escalation package.  The aim of the funding is to build a new generation of “usable” nuclear weapons. Some of these will take years to complete, but one, known as the W76-2, will be available to President Donald Trump during this term. It retrofits a ‘low yield’ but by no means low impact, nuclear warhead onto the Trident submarine-launched ballistic missile.  Attendees expressed shock that Senator Joe Donnelly, Ranking Member of the Strategic Forces Subcommittee blocked Senator Elizabeth Warren from offering an amendment to cut off funding for the W76-2.  Senator Richard Lugar in a letter sent at the beginning of the year to Senator McConnell warned: “Ultimately, the greatest concern about the proposed low-yield Trident warhead is that the president might feel less restrained about using it in a crisis. When it comes to using a nuclear weapon, restraint is a good thing.” The event called on Hoosiers to hold their politicians and candidates accountable for these choices.  The Bloomington Peace Choir closed the event with songs for peace.

It has been a busy and empowering summer for Indiana Science Rising Advocates and Science Champions.  By organizing a variety of types of events, on a broad spectrum of topics, we’ve been able to engage a wide swath of Hoosiers.  This fall we will be working  with science supporters and scientists on federal policy issues, encouraging voter registration, submitting science-based questions to candidate forums, and hosting additional Science Rising events!

Dori Chandler is the Indiana Organizer for Union of Concerned Scientists; defending science and science-based policies and defeating legislative and administrative efforts that threaten scientific integrity, our climate, public health and safety.  An environmental planner, climate activist, and educator, Dori works with nonprofits, governments, and universities to promote energy efficiency, renewable energy, eco-justice, waste reduction and reuse.  Dori is the statewide coordinator with Citizens’ Climate Lobby, an organization creating the political will for a livable world by passing Carbon Fee & Dividend Climate Change Legislation, a board member with Hoosier Interfaith Power & Light, inspiring faith communities to respond to Climate Change, and staff at Butler University’s Center for Faith & Vocation. 

[1] https://www.in.gov/isda/3555.htm; https://www.in.gov/isda/3548.htm

[2] http://www.communityharvest.org/hunger-in-indiana/