News - April 26, 2017

Message from the US: March for Science

Liza van Kapel

WUR student Liza van Kapel is staying at the prestigious Cornell University in the USA until the summer. Last weekend, she joined the March for Science in Washington D.C. and wrote this piece for Resource.

Photo: Liza van Kapel

Thousands of excited people, bag checks at the entrance, loud rock music and a muddy grass field: at first glance, the March for Science in Washington looks very like your average pop music festival. But the crowds that are gathering here have a very specific aim: to convince the world of the importance of science.

A lot of the participants find their way to the main stage, where various people are making speeches. You can feel and hear the public’s enthusiasm. Those who don’t feel inclined to hang around the stage brush up their knowledge at the so-called teach ins. And for most people, simply keeping warm seems to be the main concern.

After a lot of shivering, the crowd eventually starts to move. Accompanied by lively jazz music, the site gradually empties. At first, the procession keeps stopping and starting for no apparent reason. Some people have recent memories of the womens' march, which was so packed that marching was virtually impossible. But things soon get moving.

The group is very diverse. In addition to scientists, a lot of children have joined. There’s a sea of umbrellas and signs of every shape and size. From climate slogans to anti-Trump statements.

The texts 'I’m with her' (featuring a picture of planet Earth) and 'Science no silence' are very popular, as are slogans written in chemical elements,. The march is both exuberant and demure. Everyone is clearly keen and yet the mood is peaceable. Having said that, you hear more and more cheers passing through the crowd like waves. The chanting also increases: from 'Science saves lives', to 'There is no planet B' and the favourite: 'What do we want? Evidence based science!' 'When do we want it? After peer review.'

Applause and booing
Cheering and applause can be clearly heard as the crowd passes the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) building. In contrast, there’s a lot of booing when an anti-abortion campaigner at the side of the road calls for a stop to scientific progress. This is the only negative voice to be heard: most of the people who stop to watch the march shout encouragement, often holding up their own signs.

As the procession reaches the Capitol, the seat of the US Congress, the crowd disperses quite quickly. This is because a final speech hasn’t been planned. A group of people want to finish the march by walking right up to the Capitol itself, but are stopped halfway by a policeman: 'No signs past the stairs'. They politely put down their signs, but the ban that has been issued is soon turned into a chant: 'No science past the stairs'. A fellow-police officer is seen trying not to laugh.

The streets are re-opened one by one, after the last protesters arrive. A group of fanatic anti-Trump supporters are still making speeches, but most people are too cold to hang around any longer.