Activists converge in nation’s capital to march for science
Managing News Editor
On Saturday, tens of thousands of concerned citizens — some dressed in white lab coats, others in pink hats knit to resemble brains — met in the nation’s capital to celebrate science and its role in informing evidence-based policy. Through unremitting rain showers, the attendees stormed the area surrounding the National Mall wielding signs and stethoscopes in an expression of solidarity with the scientific community.
Inspired by the success of January’s Women’s March, and spurred by recent actions taken by the Trump administration to restrict the ability of agency scientists to perform and communicate their research, at its core, the March for Science was a rallying call against ballooning anti-science sentiments coming from within the establishment.
While its organizers labeled the event as a politically-driven, but decidedly nonpartisan, affair, many of the morning’s messages, including that of renowned science educator and TV personality Bill Nye, were leveled against President Trump, his denial of climate change and his blueprint for the future of the sciences.
“We are marching here today to remind people everywhere, our lawmakers especially, of the significance of science for our health and prosperity,” Nye said, facing the South Lawn of the White House. “This understanding has in turn enabled us to feed and care for the world’s billions, build great cities, establish effective governments, create global transportation systems, explore outer space and know the cosmos.”
Co-sponsored by the Earth Day Network, a nonprofit credited with creating the modern environmental movement, the march emphasized the importance of science as a tool for research and discovery — a message that was echoed in over 610 satellite marches worldwide.
The movement, which began with the purchase of the www.marchforscience.com domain name after all references to “climate change” were removed from the White House website, quickly stepped into the national spotlight after receiving endorsements from several dozen partner organizations and individual donors, including the Science Guy himself.
The event began at 9 a.m. with a series of 23 different teach-in events, focusing on topic areas like “How to Stop Your Climate Denialist Uncle in His Tracks,” “Protecting Wildlife in an Era of Climate Change” and “The Physics of Superheroes.” A four-hour-long rally followed, featuring a diverse list of speakers, like Executive Secretary of the United Nations and key architect to the Paris Climate Agreement Christiana Figueres, former congressman and current CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Rush Holt and Questlove Gomez, leader of the Philadelphia-based hip hop group, The Roots.
Forming on the Washington Monument grounds, the march, which included citizens of all ages, colors and creeds — and even several dogs — proceeded east up Constitution Avenue NW, turning south onto 3rd Street NW and finally concluding at the foot of the Capitol building — a route spanning just over a mile in distance.
While scientists, as a political identity, have traditionally embraced an air of soft-spokenness, the march comes at a time of political awakening for many identity groups who feel that the current administration threatens the nation’s livelihoods and best interests.
Since President Trump’s inauguration, Washington has hosted 13 marches, all addressing different issues, with two additional marches scheduled in the coming weeks. The Climate March, which is set for Saturday on April 29, will precede the Immigrants and Workers March taking place several days later on May 1.
“We’re the leaders of our future,” said 38-year-old march attendee Laura Jacoby as she raised a wind-torn umbrella over a sign, reading, “Defenders of Truth.”
As a professional biochemist, Jacoby, who made the 4-hour drive down from Hoboken, NJ at 5 a.m. with her mother, took exception to President Trump’s apathy towards the sciences, which she felt was reflected in his 2018 budget proposal.
“He’s planning on cutting $6 billion from research funding,” she said. “It’s really going to negatively influence the industry and slow the rate at which new, groundbreaking discoveries will come out in the future.”
Trump’s preliminary 2018 budget plan, which was made public back in March, proposes to strip 31 percent of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) $8.2 billion 2017 budget and $15.1 billion from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) with $5.8 billion of it coming directly from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) — a major source for grant funding.
Many, like Jacoby, demonstrated alarm about Trump’s unwillingness to name a White House science adviser — a move that has deepened the resolve of climate change skeptics within the House, which recently passed the HONEST Act and the EPA Science Advisory Reform Act. The two bills, under the guise of government transparency, will collaboratively function to limit the EPA’s capacity to inform the public about relevant health and environmental research findings.
“What’s happening to the EPA, it’s beyond disgusting,” said Theresa Gonzalez, a 35-year-old medical technologist at a clinical laboratory. “And in 50 years, when things are really falling apart, all we’ll have to say is that we saved some money in 2017, like it’s going to do anything for anyone at that point.”
Wielding a sign that read, “So Bad, Even Introverts Are Here,” Gonzalez, who flew into the capital the night before the march from Tampa, Fla., attended to march to share her concerns about reduced government funding for research and lend her support to the scientific community.
“We’ve got to put our children first,” she said. “We’re all in this together.”
However, according to San Diego biotech and pharma recruiter Barbara Preston, in addition to issues regarding funding, there is often another factor that gets lost in the rhetoric. Preston, who received her Ph.D. in pharmacology from Cornell, asserts that the refusal of science establishes a dangerous precedent not only for public health and the environment, but for the economy.
“Sciences does a tremendous amount of innovation and job creation through the wonders of discovery and technology,” Preston said.
While worrying, according to Laura Elkins, a long-time science teacher from Maryland who now homeschools her two children Ethan and Katie, it was the gravity of these concerns that allowed for the march to gain such widespread, global support.
“I’m sure a lot of people here would love for it to be sunny and 70 out, but I think everyone here can agree that we’re doing something important,” Elkins said. “All of us have different reasons we’re here and all of us come from different backgrounds, but we’re marching for what we think is right and we’re doing it together.”
As the procession concluded, the marchers, shedding their ponchos and raincoats as the rain softened to a drizzle, took a moment to rest their tired feet. Taking refuge under the food truck stands and bus stops lining Constitution Avenue, they stood, hungry and wet, but prepared to continue the fight for science.