Photo by Diego Rojas
On April 22, 2017, scientists marched on Washington to celebrate science and its role in our daily lives. It was my first protest. Like many, the results of the 2016 election left me frustrated and angry; I wanted to do something. Along with my friend Omar Gowayed, I organized students to travel to DC from New York to voice our concerns and see what the movement was about.
I’d never experienced anything like it — thousands of people in the rain, talking with strangers about their research and its place in society. With our 100,000 voices in DC, and over a million globally, we called for evidence-based policy and more funding for the sciences. We called for science done for the common good.
I left DC hopeful to become part of the fight for science, and Omar and I harnessed that energy to build the March for Science movement’s NYC satellite. Since 2018, we’ve held rallies and marches, registered voters, and built a network of science advocates dedicated to our mission to Educate to Empower — a theme that means for me, as an engineer, to use science as a tool to be an active member of my community and to use science to protect human and environmental rights.
Three years since the first March for Science, the importance of science and evidence-based policies still cannot be understated. Misinformation is everywhere. The Trump administration has injected climate denial into our science research; in the face of a pandemic, their rejection of science has led to a nationwide public health crisis. The COVID-19 pandemic has put a magnifying glass on the systemic change we need to tackle crises of this scale. However, the rapid, global response we’ve witnessed in response to the virus shows that these changes are possible. The response has not been perfect, but it shows the extent to which people will change their behavior when the scale of the crisis at hand is communicated effectively.
Three years since the first March for Science, the importance of science and evidence-based policies still cannot be understated.
The reality of the climate crisis is not up for debate. Like the pandemic we are in, it will take a toll on human rights, food production, healthcare, transportation, housing, education, and national security. None of these issues can be separated from the other. In order to solve one, you must address them all, with national policies informed by scientific data. In the words of Audre Lorde, “There’s no such thing as a single issue struggle because we don’t live single issue lives.”
That is what I stand for as an engineer and activist: scientific advancements rooted in social justice. Science is simply a framework for finding solutions, and it should belong to everyone. From 1945 to 2017, most science done in the United States was even publicly funded. Proposed legislation like the Green New Deal shows how scientific data can guide a national policy that creates jobs and updates infrastructure while protecting the environment and uplifting frontline communities. This is important because women are 80% more likely to be disproportionately affected by the climate crisis than men, and people of color and the working class will be more affected by climate change than their more affluent, white counterparts.
That is what I stand for as an engineer and activist: scientific advancements rooted in social justice.
With less than a decade to turn things around, and with the voting public caring more about the climate crisis than ever before, it is time to act — both for the public and scientists, specifically. Despite a common fear, advocating for political positions has not damaged scientists’ credibility. The scientific community is realizing the critical role it must play in decision-making, and scientists are increasingly engaging in activism. Last month, the editor-in-chief of The Lancet announced that “[the journal’s mission is now to] gather the very best scientific evidence, [and] to then think strategically about how that evidence fits within the overall trajectory of scientific and political policy in the world.” Likewise, Nature Energy has started publishing monthly policy briefs based on submissions to their journal.
We must also rethink what activism looks like in this age. Youth climate activists, for example, have gone on digital strike. We at March for Science NYC, together with Earth Day Initiative, have decided to move our day of action entirely online. The Earth Day 50 Virtual Kick-Off will be a re-creation of the event we had planned to hold in April in Union Square to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the first Earth Day. The online broadcast will feature a lineup of public officials, scientists, activists, and entertainers discussing the urgency of climate action. The broadcast will be paired with an online platform where participants can engage with the speakers, exhibitors, and organizers even after the stream ends.
It will be the first virtual climate rally of this scale, as far as we know, and it will lead us into the rest of the week’s youth-led Earth Week programming. It’s uncharted territory for us, and it will be an experiment in virtual experiences and science communication. But at the end of the day, we hope for it to communicate the same message that we hoped to bring to Union Square on April 19 — that, equipped with the facts and a way forward, another world is possible, if we can come together to make it happen.
This article is published in partnership with Science Rising, a network of partners and advocates coming together for one purpose: to fight for science, justice, and equity in our democracy leading up to the 2020 election. Take the Science Rising Challenge and join the movement at www.ScienceRising.org.