Erich Jarvis called for both political parties to continue their support for scientific research. “Science has always received bipartisan Congessional support, and I’m an example where that support made a difference,” he said. As an African-American, raised in a poor neighborhood of New York City, he benefited from government-funded programs designed to support diversity. “That gave me the opportunity to be a scientist and contribute to this society. If 4 more years go by without this funding, we’ll miss a critical period to train the scientists of tomorrow. We’ll not get a second chance.”
In recent months, diversity has become a sore topic for the March for Science, whose organizers have been variously accused of doing too little or too much to encourage it. Internal infighting had reached a fever point the week before the event, leading to the resignation of half the march’s Diversity and Inclusion committee. But diversity was evident on the day itself—both within the crowd and on the stage.
Caroline Solomon from Gallaudet University, who lost her hearing after a bout of meningitis, spoke about the contributions that deaf scientists have made, from studying birdsong to pioneering the Internet. Robin Wall Kimmerer from the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry asked the audience to appreciate varying approaches to science including indigenous perspectives in ecology, astronomy, botany, and other fields. “Let’s march not just for science, but for sciences,” she said. Jessica Ware, an entomologist at Rutgers University and a “black female punk-rocker with an LGBTQ family,” said that “insects don’t see borders and they cross walls.” And 13-year-old Taylor Richardson, who raised thousands to send other girls to see Hidden Figures, said, “I’m not just a black girl who’s interested in STEM; I’m a black girl who rocks STEM.” Quoting Muhammad Ali, she added, “You better get used to me.”
But while many figures on stage were scientists or leaders of scientific organizations, most of the people I talked to in the crowd were science enthusiasts, teachers, and parents of sci-curious children. Jeannette Villabon from New Jersey described herself as a “very concerned mom” who had come to “raise awareness of the fact that the climate is changing and the oceans are rising,” she told me, from within a dinosaur costume that she had originally bought to scare her son Nikko. He was there too, sans costume, but with ambitions to study biochemical engineering at college.
Climate change and its denial was a recurring theme for the marchers. Deb Perryman, a science teacher from Elgin High School in Illinois was motivated to march after a school board member tried to discredit her for assigning a project on climate change to her class. “She challenged me to a debate with a climate denier, and did a press release to a local right-wing conservative newspaper,” she says. “When that happened, I thought: I’m going to D.C.” Lillian Shipman, a nurse from Ithaca, had a sign that said “Not a tardigrade? Then you need science,” referencing the nigh-indestructible animals that can survive in almost any environment. “Climate change won’t hurt them,” she told me. “I want to show my son how important science is, and bring to light that issues like climate change aren’t optional.”