On Tuesday, March 27, Mike, Sam and I joined Hoku West-Foyle and Vasudha Srivastava of Johns Hopkins University in Washington, D.C. to deliver the Stand With Science letter to the offices of six members of Congress. It was a remarkable opportunity to give our congressional leaders a glimpse of the extraordinary passion that you in the Stand With Science community have expressed for the importance of investing in research and innovation.
Our day began in the office of Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee. We met with Dr. Neena Imam, a staffer in Senator Alexander’s office and senior research scientist at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Dr. Imam thanked us for our efforts, and assured us that Senator Alexander remains committed to the value of science and engineering research; the Senator, after all, has been a leader for many years in the furthering of federal investment in basic research, helping to pass bills the America COMPETES Act of 2007. After our meeting in Senator Alexander’s office, we headed downstairs to the office of Senator Scott Brown of Massachusetts. Much to our surprise, Senator Brown himself took the time to stop by our meeting and listen to our message. Jeffrey Farrah, the staffer in Senator Brown’s office who met with us, agreed that science and engineering need to remain a priority; the deficit problem has to be solved with a scalpel, not a hatchet.
After Senator Brown’s office, we took a short detour to the office of Senator Jerry Moran of Kansas. Both Sam and I are Kansas natives, so it was a real thrill to visit Senator Moran’s office and share our message with them. As in all of our meetings through the day, the response from Senator Moran’s office was one of strong and enthusiastic support; Senator Moran has been a staunch supporter of federal investment in research, particularly in biomedical research and the National Institutes of Health.
Next up was a pair of concurrent meetings with Representatives Mike Capuano of Massachusetts and Chaka Fattah of Pennsylvania. Mike and Vasudha met with Congressman Fattah, the ranking Democrat on the House Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations Subcommittee, and he was more than prepared for the meeting, having already read the Stand With Science letter on-line and learned about the project. During the meeting, he showed not only an impressive familiarity with the facts and issues surrounding federal research funding, but an genuine interest in the outcomes of that investment; both Vasudha and Mike were honored to get the chance to share their research stories with him. Meanwhile, Congressman Capuano generously sat down with Sam, Hoku and me for a full half hour. A seven-term congressman and long-time champion of federal research investment, he offered not just support, but challenged us to continue our work, and mold Stand With Science into a permanent community capable of real change. Needless to say, it’s a challenge we’ve taken to heart.
Before our last meeting of the day, we paused to get some much needed sustenance. During lunch we got the chance to meet up with Max Bronstein and Clint Collier of Research!America, a national advocacy organization working to protect and promote federal investment in biomedical research. Max and Clint, with the experience and resources of Research!America, have been critical in helping us spread the word about the Stand With Science project, and it was great to touch base with them, let them know about the meetings we’d already taken, and discuss Speaking Up for Science, a new Research!America resource to help young researchers get involved in the federal budget discussion.
Our last meeting of the day was in the office of Representative John Lewis of Georgia, thirteen-term congressman and legendary civil rights leader. Though we were unable to meet with the Congressman himself, we were able to have a very encouraging meeting with members of his staff. It was during that meeting that one of his senior staffers said something that has stuck with me ever since: he explained that while science and engineering are important to economic growth, “when it comes time to make the budget, if we haven’t heard from you, we haven’t heard from you.” That simple expression perfectly encapsulates the importance of staying involved in the discussion: with so many factors to weigh and interests to consider, our representatives count on us to remind them of what’s important, and why.
All in all, it was a fantastic day; but while we were fortunate to meet with six offices throughout the day, there are still 529 offices that haven’t gotten the chance to hear from the Stand With Science community. In the coming weeks, we’ll depend on all of you to keep the Stand With Science message strong by delivering it to your Representative and Senators. Visit here for more information on how to let them know about Stand With Science and its mission. And keep spreading the word about Stand With Science; we may have over 10,000 signatures, but we’re just getting started.