What started as a march is turning into a movement. This year’s March for Science will involve rallies on 14 April in more than 200 cities, as a sequel to last year’s inaugural march in protest of president Donald Trump and his administration’s anti-science rhetoric. This time around, the day of protest aims to be more than just crowds of people wielding witty signs – though those will likely still be in high supply.
“The theme of the march last year has hardened and endured into this year,” says David Kanter, co-organiser of the New York City march. “Given that last year it was the early months of the Trump administration, there was more anxiety there. But the ultimate goals of building a community of science advocates and influencing policy with science are still the driving forces.”
In Washington, DC, crowds will descend on the National Mall for a morning of talks and performances before the march. Cities around the world have adapted the March for Science to their own communities, including seminars to encourage more scientific activism. Marches in other places, including New York City and London, will also promote voter registration efforts.
Talking science to power
“We’re hoping people come away from the march knowing more about organisations in their own backyard,” says Jillian Sequeira, a coordinator of the London March for Science. For the New York organisers, the focus is on influencing local and national politics. “Our driving concern is making sure that the work of scientists is used in decision-making to make smart policy,” says Kanter.
An estimated 1.3 million people attended about 450 March for Science rallies around the globe last year. A survey of 20,000 of those marchers conducted by Edward Maibach and Teresa Myers at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, found that 27 per cent were scientists, and 25 per cent worked in a science-affiliated job, while students comprised 8 per cent of marchers. A quarter of the marchers said they don’t work in a scientific field, but care about science. The attendees were highly educated, with 63 per cent holding a graduate or professional degree, and an additional 27 per cent had a Bachelor’s degree.
Estimates for this year’s turnout are lower than last year – from a few hundred in London to between 5 and 10 thousand in New York City, according to organisers.
The march goes on
Since the 2017 march, more scientists than ever have run for political office, Kanter says. There has also been a shift in science funding in the US. Trump’s draconian budget request – which suggested drastic cuts to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), among others – was rejected by Congress, and a spending bill that increases funding for science at many federal agencies was signed into law.
“I would attribute a lot of the holding the line on science funding on sustained activism from scientists and their supporters,” says Michael Halpern at the Union of Concerned Scientists in Cambridge, Massachusetts. But he says that budgets don’t tell the whole story – there’s still a lot to march for.
“They’re marching because they see EPA administrator Scott Pruitt go against his scientific advisers and fail to ban chemicals shown to cause damage to children’s brains. They’re seeing people at the Department of the Interior kicked out of their jobs [working] on climate change. They’re seeing scientists at the CDC being told they can’t use words like ‘evidence based’ and ‘transgender’ and ‘fetus’ in describing their work,” he says.
Kanter agrees that there’s still reason to take to the streets. “There are science posts in the government not being filled, or being filled by inadequately trained people. The reason we’re still marching is that the goal of the march – use of evidence in policy-making – still isn’t being fulfilled in our politics today.”
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