Scientists turn up the heat on Trump

April 25, 2017

Leonard Klein and Elizabeth Schulte report on an outpouring of opposition to Trump's attack on science and the environment in marches around the globe on April 22.

MOLECULAR BIOLOGISTS, botanists, researchers, doctors, computer scientists, public school teachers and scientists of all kinds along with hundreds of thousands more turned out for protests on April 22 to show their opposition to a president who thinks climate change is a hoax and is sharpening his budget ax for deep cuts to government funding for environmental protection and public health.

April 22 is Earth Day, which was first held in 1970, when it turned out millions of people and ushered in a new movement in defense of the environment.

With more than 600 marches on seven continents, and with hundreds of scientific professional organizations, environmental groups, labor unions and non-profits endorsing this year's April 22 March for Science, organizers hope this will be part of its own new resistance.

As one sign read, "The oceans are rising, and so are we."

Scientists, a group not known for organizing protests, turned out en masse for the call for a national day of action in support of science, in response to the Trump budget that slashes funding for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Institutes for Health.

Marching for science in Washington, D.C.
Marching for science in Washington, D.C. (Susan Melkisethian | flickr)

Beka Economopoulos of the Natural History Museum told Democracy Now!:

This is unprecedented. Scientists and science institutions don't really do advocacy. There have been robust debates for decades about whether science is political or not. And it is really refreshing to see this coming-out party for a new movement of scientists who are engaged in the public sphere, who are advocating on behalf of science and communities who are going to be hit the hardest by these attacks on science.

AS MANY as 100,000 people turned out for the march in Washington, D.C., some dressed as Albert Einstein or the excitable Muppet lab assistant Beaker, and others wearing lab coats and safety goggles. Many held handmade signs reading "There is no Planet B," "This Spring won't be Silent," "Science NOT Silence" and "I am with Her [Mother Earth]" as they lined up to get into the protest area as early as 8 a.m.

Speakers included a cross-section of scientific disciplines and concerns, including Indigenous, immigrant, and racially, ethnically and gender diverse speakers.

Mustafi Ali, who resigned from the EPA's Environmental Justice Program--a program he founded--in March, emphasized the importance of linking together struggles:

Today we stand up for Standing Rock, to protect and support cultures that honor Mother Earth and the lives of our people. Today we stand up for Flint. Today we stand up for Baltimore. Today we stand up for East Chicago, where the devastating effects of lead will have long-term health and economic impacts.

Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, the pediatrician who discovered that Flint's water was poisoning the city's children with lead, was there, accompanied by Mari Copeny, or "Little Miss Flint," who helped tell the Flint story. Hanna-Attisha said:

About a year ago, my research proved that our contaminated water in Flint was leaching lead into the bodies of our children. And I took a risk. I walked out of my clinic to speak up publically for my kids. I was attacked. But when you are fighting for children, you fight back. And I was loud and I was stubborn, and science spoke truth to power.

Science is not an alternative fact. It is time for all of us to fight back against those who deny science and those degrade science.

Nine-year-old Copeny added, "When our government doesn't believe in science, kids get hurt."

"It's time for all of us to step out of our clinics, our classrooms and our labs," Hanna-Attisha said. "We need to make ourselves known in the halls of government."

While the March for Science mission statement described the organizers and sponsors as "nonpartisan," Trump was decidedly the target of many angry remarks from the stage, and the barbed wit of the many signs.

Marchers brought homemade placards with slogans such as "It's the Environment, Stupid," "Make America Think Again" and "Stop Global Warming; Save Mar-a-Lago." This last sign was a reference to the fact that Trump's often-visited golf resort in Palm Beach, Florida, will experience flooding if sea levels rise two to six feet between now and 2100, as modeled by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Debates among participants about whether the march was actually "nonpartisan" or "non-political" were reflected in various speakers' comments. Early in the program, Dr. Jonathan Foley, executive director of the California Academy of Sciences, said, "Some people are going to say we are politicizing science, but we are not: we are defending it."

Later on, however, program co-emcee Derek Muller said, "Some people say science shouldn't be politicized. But let me tell you something: science is inherently political." This statement left many in the audience a little stunned, except for a few cheers here and there.

But Muller went on, saying, "Because when science uncovers toxins in drinking water, policy must be made to fix it." As Muller went through a few more example of needed policy fixes, the crowd warmed to the theme and began to cheer more loudly.

It also has to be acknowledged that the threat to the environment began well before Trump. The Obama administration not only failed to deliver on his promise of a "Green New Deal," but instead increased fossil fuel extraction and the construction of pipelines.

Many speakers called for greater citizen participation in politics and movements. Public health researcher Kellan Baker challenged the audience and fellow scientists:

The poet Dante wrote that the hottest places in hell are reserved for those who remain neutral in times of moral crisis. We cannot pretend we are above the fray. Science is objective, but it is not neutral. As scientists, as human beings, our mandate is clear: it's for each of us to stand up for what we know to be true. And to stand together when working to shape a future in which we can all thrive.

Washington, D.C., has seen a great number of protests since November, and a growing number of people are finding ways to oppose Trump and form the networks we'll need to build a strong, sustained resistance. Many of the science marchers were wearing their pink hats from the Women's March, but for others, the March for Science was their first step into activism.

Given the breadth of Trump's attacks and the energetic response from these many new activists, whether around science or at airports, the front line is truly everywhere. The April 29 People's Climate Marches and May Day actions for immigrant rights are the next opportunities to show our solidarity in the streets, and join up with other people who are looking to build resistance to Trump's attacks.

THE SPIRIT of Washington's March for Science was replicated in cities across the country on April 22, in protests large and small.

In Chicago, more than 40,000 people came out for the March for Science, a much larger turnout than anyone had anticipated, with waves of people coming off the train and streaming onto Columbus Drive.

It was likely a first or second protest for many people. The signs ranged from the amusing--"No Science = No Beer"--to the defiant--"More equations, less invasions." Many marchers also carried signs in support of "controversial" scientific research, such as "Stem cells saved my life."

Some made direct connections with Trump's immigration policies, listing the names and pictures of immigrant scientists such as Einstein and Nikola Tesla. One young protester carried a sign that read, "All my favorite scientists are socialists."

After rallying, people marched for an hour down the street in an atmosphere of celebration of science and protest against the destructive policies of the Trump administration. The march arrived at the city's "museum campus" southeast of downtown, where activists, nonprofit groups, university science departments and organizations that promote public involvement in science set up tables to discuss ideas and conduct demonstrations.

In New York City, thousands of people took the streets to march for science, their procession stretching for 10 blocks along Central Park West.

Medical students joined doctors, scientists and others who work in the science field to protest. Whole families turned out, including many people who had never been to a protest before.

"We want to get across the message that Americans really care about science, and we care about this world, and that we really need science to help us thrive," scientist Dawn Cohen told CBS New York.

Some protesters chanted, "Money for science and education, not for bombs and deportations," "Hey Trump, we know you, you can't pass a peer review," and "Hey, Trump, have you heard? You can't silence every nerd."

More than 20,000 people marched in Seattle through downtown from Capitol Hill to Seattle Center to defend science. People of all ages, including many families with children, came out.

Besides the general focus in defense of science, many marchers were there to protest all of Trump's policies, with thousands of homemade signs such as "Resist Trump: Green Jobs," " Got Smallpox? Me Neither," "I was born with a broken heart. Science saved me" and "Dump Trump."

In San Diego, some 15,000 people marched from the Civic Center to City Hall. Speakers included climatologist Ralph Keeling, who called the rising global temperatures a national security issue. Some protesters emphasized the Trump administration's attack on all of us, chanting "Stop the ban, stop the hate, immigrants make science great."

The celebration of science, education and the environment had local as well as global relevance. The San Diego Unified School District just announced a new round of layoffs, which will include dozens of library technicians and mental health clinicians. Meanwhile, aging facilities and defective water fountains have led to multiple schools throughout the county testing positive for lead contamination in the last year.

In Austin, Texas, residents of the state capital and surrounding communities came out in full force at the Capitol building to voice overwhelming support for science, with police estimating close to 10,000.

A teach-in at various stations started the day at 9 a.m., followed by a rally at 11. The crowd's support for science led to some of the most creative signs ever: "There is no Planet B," "I Came for the π" and "All Lives Are Matter." At Noon, the crowd marched the long route to Huston-Tillotson University to join the festivities of the annual Earth Day celebration.

In Rochester, New York, more than 1,500 people marched for science, not only opposing Trump but celebrating Earth Day and their love of science and diversity. Signs included slogans like "Make Earth Cool Again" and "Science Is Not Alternative Facts."

"Science is something everybody should have access to," said a biochemistry student at Rochester Institute of Technology.

One participant saw the connection between Trump's threats to science and his broader attacks on immigrants. "When you block out other cultures, you ignore science," she said. "We need the big picture."

A middle school science teacher expressed worry for her students and science education in general. Trump's denial of climate change science is "making it harder for students to access science-backed knowledge," she commented.

The rally ended with a march to the Rochester Science Expo, which organizers put together as a post-rally event to highlight scientific research and inquiry. Speakers from local universities and research facilities gave talks on their work, and booths geared toward the younger crowd exhibited science fun facts and interactive demonstrations.

In Olympia, Washington, some 5,000 people rallied for science at the Capitol and then marched to Heritage Park, led by a loose band of musicians known as the "Olympia Arkestry" who were dressed in white lab coats for the occasion.

Sharon Versteeg said she participated in several demonstrations against the Vietnam War during the 1960s and was inspired to start protesting again after November's election. "Everything that's happening right now is diminishing what we've worked on for years and years," said Versteeg, "and I would like to right now keep the energy going so that in these next four years we don't loose too much."

Jhana Chinamasta spoke of hope for the future. "I do have a lot of hope that other citizens who are helpless and hopeless can stop feeling that way," she said. "We have nothing to lose. You might as well be positive and get out there and do something because it ignites, it's contagious. Hope creates hope."

In Columbus, Ohio, some 4,000 people gathered at the statehouse for a rally and march on April 22. Large sections of university departments at Ohio State University and neighboring colleges and universities organized to attend.

The substantial turnout for the event--one of the largest in Columbus since the protests against Gov. John Kasich's anti-union legislation in 2011--continues a trend since Trump's election, in which increasingly large numbers of people who are not yet activists are mobilizing to join the resistance to the administration's agenda.

The attendees of the march embraced a broad range of political ideas, including some speakers who said they wanted to avoid politics as well as protesters that lead chants of "Climate change is a war. Of the rich upon the poor!" and "O-H-I-O! Scott Pruitt has got to go!"

About 1,000 people turned out for the March for Science at the University of California-Berkeley, gathering at Sproul Hall. Mario Savio's 1964 speech, "Bodies upon the gears," was played through a loudspeaker.

Protesters then walked through campus to Civic Center Park, which just a week ago had been occupied by white nationalists with a "Pro-USA, Proud, Strong & Unafraid in Berkeley" sign.

Speakers tied this fight to others, including graduate students campaigning to unionize. Popular chants included "Fund science not war!" Signs included "Critical thinking is critical," "Fund science not walls" and "Support science and refugees."

In Amherst, Massachusetts, about 1,000 people marched in the morning to the Amherst Town Commons, where an Earth Day-themed fair had been organized. The fair turned out some 4,000 people throughout the day and included a teach-in called "The Capitalist Ecological Crisis and How to Fight It."

Timothy Adams, Brian Bean, Cindy Beringer, JC Boyle, Brian Huseby, Steve Leigh, Kate Nadel, Luke Pickrell, Zakary Skinner, Laura Snedeker and Natalia Tylim contributed to this article.

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