The recent March for Science did not help public support for science. That is what the majority of Americans told a recent Pew Research Center survey and what certain news outlets are quick to put in their headlines. My response: Who cares? If my years of organizing for LGBTQ rights taught me anything, it’s that the success of the march should not be measured by the day, but by the movement it creates.
I am a scientist by academic background. However, I spent more time organizing protests and rallies in support of LGBTQ rights than I ever did on my physics homework (and I have the grades to prove it). At one point, I even joined the board of a newly formed local grassroots LGBTQ rights organization. The group had a few very energetic members who were always looking for the next reason to hold a protest in downtown Boston, one of the most LGBTQ-friendly places in New England.
Events like these were incredibly important, but we were not able to single-handedly change the hearts and minds of the country on issues like marriage equality through the cunning use of protest signs. Despite the beautiful artwork and creative slogans, the only people who really saw them were people who agreed with us. Even worse, after spending some time looking at the communication of climate science, I’m fairly certain that our signs would only harden the opposition in their worldview.
Knowing that these protests would be a total waste of time unless it led to direct political action, I organized a volunteer team to go through the crowd at every rally armed with clipboards. Their instructions were to get the contact information for as many people who attended the rally as possible. We then recruited people from those lists to be volunteers on future actions that were focused on political impact.
In the months that followed, we put them to work making phone calls and knocking on doors all over New England. The goal of this effort was to identify registered voters from neighboring states who supported marriage equality and ask them to directly lobby their state representatives. It was part of a broad campaign to win marriage equality throughout all of New England and, five years later, we succeeded.
This amazing feat was not the direct result of any one of our marches or rallies. Those events were simply a catalyst used to build momentum for our cause. The real impact came from the hard work our rallied-up supporters took on in the years that followed.
With this perspective, I think it’s fair to declare the March for Science a huge success. Tens of thousands of people braved the weather to show up to a sopping National Mall in Washington DC, stand in a downpour for four hours, and then march through the rain to Capitol Hill. There were also more than 600 satellite marches across the world. Thousands of people showed up in places like Boston, Los Angeles, New York and as far away as Sydney.
Whether or not the March will have impact on public support for science is now left up to what we do with the energy of the crowds we turned out. To be successful we will need to get people involved in every aspect of the movement. We will need scientists to speak out in their local communities to explain the importance of their research. We will need supporters to attend local school board meetings and ensure the next generation receives a science-based education. We will need everyone to go to their local, state, and national legislators and demand evidence-based policy. Some of us may even need to leave the lab and run for office.
Luckily, we are not starting from scratch in this endeavor. I am hopeful that long standing science advocacy organizations, like the Union of Concerned Scientists and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, will be able to team up with newly forming organizations, like the March for Science and 314 Action. Together we can take this momentum forward and make real change. However, it will take time and it will take a sustained effort.
In the meantime, if you’re able to make it to a Pride event this month make sure to sign a petition or two. If an organizer follows up with you, don’t be afraid to take the next step and become a volunteer. Your involvement will not only be good for the cause; it will teach you a bit about political organizing. And, if we’re going to turn the massive crowds at the March for Science into a movement, we’re going to need as many organizers as possible.
Dr. Dan Pomeroy received his Ph.D. in physics from Brandeis University in 2012 studying high energy physics as part of the ATLAS experiment at CERN. He then served as a post-doctoral fellow, at the National Academy of Sciences and as a AAAS Science and Technology Policy fellow in the office of Senator Edward J. Markey. He also has extensive experience in grassroots political organizing, running LGBT rights campaigns as well as field offices during the 2008 elections.
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