Scientists and their supporters took to the streets of downtown Raleigh on Earth Day to fight for science in conjunction with the March for Science — a global event taking place on six continents.
There were reports that scientists in Antarctica were cheering on the marchers who gathered in the North Carolina capital, the nation’s capital and other cities across the country and world.
In Raleigh, marchers assembled Saturday morning at Shaw University and set off on a winding path through downtown to Moore Square, where there was a science fair and rally.
The march came at a time when science, its conclusions and its funding have been thrust into the news with political debate about climate change, vaccinations and environmental regulations. The event was organized to be nonpartisan but politics were on the minds of many of the marchers.
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They held up subtle and not-so-subtle signs.
“The nerds are angry,” one said.
“There is no Planet-B,” another said.
Tamara Tal, a scientist and one of the speakers in Raleigh, said society faces “complex and dangerous issues” that benefit from strong science research. As she looked out among the 500 or so people lingering in Moore Square as the rally broke up, she added: “These are not just scientists. They are supporters of science.”
The rally in Raleigh and elsewhere drew crowds as scientists are becoming increasingly troubled by policies and budget priorities put forward by the Trump administration. Organizers and marchers said they were motivated, in part, by President Donald Trump, who as a candidate described climate change as a hoax, raised questions about vaccines and their safety, then proposed a budget that would cut federal funding for research.
They have been further motivated, they said, by the president’s cabinet appointments, such as installing a non-scientist who regularly sued the Environmental Protection Agency to lead it.
Phil Travisano, a chemist from Chapel Hill, and Teri Travisano, a pediatric physical therapist, dressed up in lab coats and Muppet outfits to add some fun to their serious message. They held signs with a quote from Jim Henson, the Muppet creator: “My hope is to still leave the world a bit better than when I got here,” and another that said “Muppet Labs: Where the future is being made today. Because of science.”
Keilah Davis, a sophomore at N.C. State University from Durham who is studying physics with the hopes of becoming an astronomer, went to the rally for two reasons, she said – “to support science” and to advocate for more diversity in a field whose focus more recently has been to bring in more women and African-Americans like her.
With messages about the science that has helped ward off or treat many diseases — such as polio, cancer and infections that might once have killed — marchers tried to highlight the benefits of research.
“Science Makes America Great Again” was a common slogan.
Some of the scientists at the rally said political settings can be uncomfortable for people whose comfort zones are in labs where data and facts, not politics, drive the conversation. March organizers across the country tried to convey the message that the events were nonpartisan in an attempt to stave off political attacks on their funding and policies. Nonetheless, many in the crowd had targeted political messages.
The current White House occupant was the target of some of the signs:
“Science: Where would his hair be without it?” one man’s sign stated.
Others poked fun at the stereotype that science and the many people who work in the multipronged field are stodgy.
“Meteorologists do it with models,” stated a woman’s poster board.
A woman in a pink T-shirt and straw hat with pink fringe stood on the outskirts of Moore Square with a cardboard sign: “Talk Nerdy To Me Baby!”
Speakers at the rally urged supporters to talk — whether it was nerdy or not — about the sciences long after the march was over. They urged the marchers to broadcast on social media and in community forums why science matters.