I attended both March for Science (MFS) rallies in 2017 and 2018. This year’s March was conducted on April 14th, sunny Saturday, perfect to be in outdoors. The organizers invited more than 18 speakers while young scientists show exhibitions before the rally.
The first march, as many other rallies conducted in 2017, was energized by the election results and was one of the many Anti- Trump rallies in the US. The idea of the march was started by a discussion on Reddit social media platform, organizers then opened a Facebook page asking for participants to voice their support for science, the response was overwhelming. As a result when the first March for Science was conducted more than 1 million protesters took part in more than 600 satellites all over the world. When asked about the 2017 rally, “it was just a call asking for people to show their support for science” said Caroline Weinberg one of the founders of the march.
A lot has changed this year. Starting from date choice to goal of the rallies, from numbers to diversity of the protesters and speakers, the rally transformed from ad hoc anger protest to organized grassroots movement with a clear objective.
The number of participants on the first March for Science was much larger than the recent one. That can be attributed to “rally fatigue” and also to the specific nature of the rally topic. Most protesters on the first march went out to streets to show their opposition to the new president and policymakers that they thought might ignore scientific findings related to climate change when they make policy actions. This year the organizers knew to sustain the march, they need more mobilization effort and clarified goals. The also understood that the number of participants would minimize because science is not a topic that can easily organize everyone. Hence, this year they have added different events on the date which includes science fair and exhibition before the rally. This year more than 200 satellite marches were organized while a quarter of it outside of the United States.
In the last one year, the movement worked on to clarify its objective, the website of the movement explains the mission as “champion for robustly funded and publicly communicated science”. It added that it advocates for evidence-based policy for the interest of the public. This is a significant change from last year were the movement was about climate change and Anti- Trump voices.
Currently, MFS has close to 200 grassroots chapters that advocate for informed policy decision in their localities. When the march was being conducted in many cities on April 14, 2018, some chapters decided to replace or add activities based on the need in their community, some organized town hall events, while others conducted science exhibitions. For example, the Virginia chapter decided to conduct its own rally on the eve of the April 14th march. This shows that MFS is now rooted within a community and is responding the situations at the local level.
The form of the organization is not only changed at the grassroots level. March for Science is now changed to an international organization with 10 paid staff and hundreds of volunteers all over the United States with strong ties and partnerships in communities in Europe. Though started as an informal call for protest, within a year the organizing body is more focused on direct advocacy. It sends an update to its 230,000 mailing list about most important actions and science-related an issue that needs public action and attention.
Organizers have also recently announced that they will conduct nationwide training in May for MFS volunteers which will be followed by the first round of community grants that they plan to give the local organizations. According to their website and announcements, they expect the trained community volunteers to go back to their community and mobilize local projects that can compete for funding. MFS evolvement into disseminated grassroots chapters which operated throughout the year in different forms shows that the resistance is going to be stronger and not going to vanish anytime soon.
On April 14th March; I have noticed that participants of the rally were disappointed by the significant decrease in the turnout, but those who informally chatted with me were all energetic. “Even though the number is lower, it is fine, we have been doing this whole year people sometimes get tired,” said a woman on her 50s who was walking next to me.