Students participate in March for Science in Washington, DC.

Marching is a Start

Monday, May 1, 2017

On a rainy Saturday in Washington DC, I joined 40,000 scientists from all academic disciplines gathered to March for Science. This was one of over 600 satellite marches across the world spanning all seven continents. The marches drew hundreds of thousands of people out to make our voices heard.

We marched to end the use of “alternative facts.” We marched to encourage diversity in science. We marched to display the importance of immigrants to the scientific community. And most prominently, we marched for the future of science.

As put by Bill Nye during his speech in DC, “Today we have a great many lawmakers… deliberately ignoring and actively suppressing science.”

While waiting in the security line for the rally that preceded the march, I wondered what the organizers would choose to emphasize. I was pleasantly surprised to listen to a set of speeches from speakers heavily focused on education and diversity.

The future of science was on prominent display as 5 “Science TEENS” spoke about their love for science. This was followed by Taylor Richardson, a 13-year old aspiring astronaut who has already dedicated her life to encouraging other women to pursue careers in STEM.

While no politicians were given the stage, Rush Holt, a former congressman and current CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, took to the stage to relay message of positivity. “We march today to affirm to all the world that science is relevant, useful, exciting, and beautiful,” Rush proclaimed.

The steady stream of talks from science educators and communicators was interrupted periodically by the music of Jon Batiste and a number of musical guests, almost making the weather an afterthought as we were drawn into the excitement.

The enthusiasm continued as the rally ended and the march towards the Capitol building began. As a contingent that had traveled across the country to show our support for science, the graduate students, post-docs, and professors from UCSF were a significant presence at the march. Our group of over 40 people marched proudly behind a banner that read, “Science now more than ever.” With a variety of signs with science puns, clever messages, and hopeful words, including one that read “SCIENCE LOVES YOU,” in big flowery light-up letters, we marched with people gathered from all over the country.

When the march was over and we were finally dry, we had time to digest the events and speeches of the day. One phrase that continued to play over and over for all of us, was the repeated idea that “a march is not an end, but rather a beginning.”

Taking this to heart, 30 people from UCSF participated in a UCSF advocacy day at the Capitol in Washington, DC, organized by Natalie Alpert from the UCSF Office of Government Relations. We met with Representatives, Senators, and the people who help write legislation related to science funding to share our stories and advocate for steady national science funding, the importance of immigration in scientific advancement, and the need for diversity in science.

Of course, UCSF was not the only group energized by the march. The organizers for the March for Science put together a “Week of Action,” that included specific tasks for each day of the week following the march. With specific tasks such as contacting federal officials to talk about science on their “Science Communicates” day, the organizers laid out specific tasks for every person who marched.

With the mobilization of scientists that was started on April 22nd, it is important to continue what we were fighting for during the march. It is easy to retreat back to our labs and never think about being political again, but that’s not how we progress as scientists.

As participants in the march, it is our job to ensure that science funding remains in tact. It is our job to encourage diversity in the current and future scientific communities. It is our job to show the importance of immigrants in scientific advancement. And as scientists, it is our job to properly use and communicate science to every person.