It’s 2017 and we have to march for facts. Last Saturday, millions of people across the world marched for science. This was the first-ever pro-science, bipartisan march of its kind, and drew people of all demographics from every single continent on the planet. Here in New York, a handful of Manhattan College students marched too.
Among these students was Carly Brownell, a freshman environmental science major, who heard about the march through Facebook and knew that she had to attend.
“I don’t know how to describe it, but I felt like that was just where I needed to be,” she said.
She brought the idea up to her lab partner, Sophia Misiakiewicz, and they attended together. Brownell regards the few hours they marched as an “amazing experience” and reflects on the experience as a whole.
“The crowds were enormous. The streets were full of people who were excited to be surrounded by other people who are passionate about science. It was not just a march against anti-environment policies, it was also a march against policies that were cutting funding for research for all different fields,” she said.
Brownell touches on an important aspect of the march: many lawmakers — not just in the United States but around the world — are actively ignoring and suppressing science. As a result of this, research funding has stagnated over the last few years, which is something that could be detrimental to public health.
“One thing that stuck out to me was that we were some of the only younger people there, which is not what I expected for protests, which I thought were traditionally run by people our age. This one, however, was almost all adults and even elderly people. It was mostly established scientists who were there to defend their jobs and the important work that they are doing.”
Sophia Misiakiewicz, a freshman and environmental science/pre-med student, attended the march along with Brownell because of her passion for the STEM community.
“The march was meant to symbolize not so much a specific area, but more to bring attention to general ideals of the scientific community including sustainability, conservation, and the importance of research. With the current social and political climate, I was interested to find out the priorities and opinions of career scientists and researchers, to better gage what the future holds in terms of research priorities and how expression of facts/data findings will be focused,” Misiakiewicz said.
Recently, President Trump signed an executive order curbing the federal government’s enforcement of climate regulations, a move which is sharp reversal of Barack Obama’s attempts to slow the increasing sea levels and global temperatures. Trump, in a statement regarding the order, said: “With today’s executive action, I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion and to cancel job-killing regulations.”
While President Trumps rhetoric and actions regarding the environment have been considered problematic and infuriating by many citizens, the crowds remained harmonious.
“It was peaceful in the way that no one was pushing against each other to get to the front; many people brought their children; the police and activists were very polite to each other,” Misiakiewicz said.
Brownell explains that while she and Misiakiewicz were traveling to the march, many other people attending the march were on the subway as well.
“[We were] talking about the march and science in general, and a woman came up to us and told us she was going to the same event and that she was excited to see young scientists attending as well. The people in front of us were wetland scientists discussing their latest projects and issues they were having with funding,” she said.
Brownell confesses that the most memorable part of the march was the signs.
“The signs were my favorite part honestly because scientists can be some of the most clever people around. One of my favorites said ‘I will not be pH 7’, another said ‘kNOw science, kNOw life’, another said ‘Before you dismiss science, Mr. President, here is the molecular formula for hairspray’ and it had an image of the molecular formula,” she said.
Aside from the funny signs, many took on a more direct and serious message.
“There were a few that had an image of the Earth that said ‘Respect your mother’, a few said ‘Science not Silence’, one said something along the lines of ‘Are you not dead from a disease yet? That’s because of science.’ One that really stuck out to me had the Wildlife Conservation Society logo on it and it said ‘No Science = No Wildlife’, which was really one of the main reasons why I went to the march,” Brownell said.
Misiakiewicz reflects on the importance of the signs as well.
“Although the march was expressed online as non-partisan, there were many anti-Trump signs. Talking to people, this seemed to be due to the cutbacks on important health and scientific research, as well as to the EPA. There was an emphasis about facts on many signs, and staying informed. It was interesting to see the rejection of the ‘he-said she-said’ mentality that has been plaguing media and politics in the past years,” she said.
Brownell’s sign read, “There is no Planet B” on one side, and “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the pollution” on the other. She also recalls that for a while, the crowd was chanting,”Science makes America great!” and that she noticed many of the people there were wearing the pink cat-ear hats that were widely popular at the Women’s March in January.
Brownell nor Misiakiewicz were surprised at the massive turnout for the march; there were over 600 different science marches across the U.S. and world, and millions of people attended.
“The scientific community is very large and with the political climate, it’s become more important to express fact versus opinion, and incite discussion about issues regarding future energy resources and environmental impacts. It can be hard to express your opinion alone without an outlet for discussion or support. The march allowed for a platform for people of different scientific communities to come together and express their own priorities and thoughts,” Misiakiewicz said.
Many marched with disdain for President Trump, who has continually vocalized his disbelief in climate change and his desire to rollback environmental policies by defunding the EPA and funding for scientific research. As we are only in the dawn of his presidency, this can be discouraging. For science, environmental policies, and public health, the road ahead will be long and turbulent. Still, Brownell and Misiakiewicz are willing to continue to fight, and the turnout of Saturday’s march is indicative that many others are as well.
“I believe that the concern for science and the environment is a bipartisan issue that has been distorted into a polarizing issue. Scientific research is important for so many different reasons that are not political at all, like research for cures of different diseases,” Brownell Said. “Earlier, I mentioned that I decided to go to the march because I found it on Facebook, well the reason I was so interested when I saw it was because I had just read that the current administration was moving to pass policies that would transfer federal lands, such as National Forests and Federal Wildlife Refuges, to state ownership, which could potentially lead to them being used for property or energy development. As someone who is very passionate about nature and wildlife, the idea that the National Parks could be turned over to possibly be drilled for oil terrifies me.”
“I believe that climate change and the need for new resources of sustainability is a serious issue and action needs to be taken. I do not think that the current administration has addressed this at all, and that the fact that environmental crises haven’t been taken seriously is itself a threat to public health. Pollution, global warming, and the need for sustainable resources aren’t a partisan issue- they’re future issues everyone with have deal with,” Misiakiewicz said.
The demonstrations on Saturday were telling of how concerned the world is for both environmental and human health. They are also a reminder that in order to keep our civilization on track, respect for science as an institution and as an idea is crucial. Science has the public on its side.