Policy & Politics

Published on February 20th, 2017 | by Tina Casey

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Scientists Jump The Gun, Rally Against Trump In Boston In February (CT Exclusive Interview)

February 20th, 2017 by  

On April 22, scientists and their supporters all over the country will stage rallies and marches pushing back against the Trump Administration’s anti-science policies, but at least one group has decided to strike while the iron is hot. A big rally took place on Sunday in Boston’s Copley Square, where the American Association for the Advancement of Science happened to be staging its annual meeting.

Coincidentally, President Trump kicked off his 2020 campaign with a rally in Florida just one day earlier, on February 18.

Big Rally For Science And Against Trump

AAAS is no small potatoes. It’s an international organization with roots all the way back to the 1840s. AAAS is not particularly known as a hotbed for street action, but since Boston is full of AAAS members for the annual meeting it’s likely that they added their numbers to the numbers in Copley Square.

AAAS members had plenty of company. Rally co-organizer ClimateTruth.org has a rundown of the partner organizations supporting the rally. In addition to The Natural History Museum (which co-organized the event with Climate Truth) the list includes:

…Union of Concerned Scientists, 500 Women Scientists, 350 Mass for a Better Future, Alliance for Climate Education, 314 Action, Toxics Action Center, Greenpeace USA, Sierra Club Massachusetts Chapter, MIT Alumni for Climate Action Leadership, MIT Sloan Sustainability Initiative, UA Sustainability at MIT, Climate Justice Caucus (a student group at the Harvard Kennedy School), Divest Harvard, Divest BU, Fossil Free MIT.

Radius at MIT and UA Sustainability at MIT have also signed on.

Why A Science Rally?

In a press release, ClimateTruth.org described the rally as an action to “fight back against the attacks on climate science and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) mounted by elected officials and to stand up for the vital role science plays in society.”

Scientists cited by ClimateTruth.org have plenty of pity remarks on that score. Here’s a representative sample from Beka Economopoulos, director of The Natural History Museum:

“…The Trump administration’s attacks on science are attacks on our families, our communities, and our collective future.”

Kelly Fleming of 500 Women Scientists provides some insights into how the Trump Administration’s attacks on federal scientists dovetails with the Administration’s affinity for racism and bigotry:

“…Science is built on diversity of thought and collaboration – this means that the voices of women, people of color, minorities, LGBTQIA, and immigrants must be included and encouraged.”

Street action is just one part of a concerted effort by the scientific community to fight back. Other actions cited by ClimateTruth.org include the December 13 rally in San Francisco and more:

…thousands of scientists signed open letters, rogue Twitter accounts have sprung up on behalf of muzzled government science agencies, data scientists are working furiously to preserve scientific data they fear could disappear, and scientists are signing up to run for elected office.

When Scientists Become Activists

Did you catch that thing about scientists in office? CleanTechnica had the opportunity to interview one of the scientists scheduled to speak at the rally, molecular biologist Maryam Zaringhalam of Rockefeller University in New York City.

She made the point that scientists need to assert their voices in the legislative process, particularly at the state and local level:

I would really love to see more scientists running for state legislature. Redistricting is coming up in 2020. School boards, all of these local offices are important.

Her involvement in the rally illustrates how the Trump Administration has galvanized a profession that is not typically known for street action.

Zaringhalam, an American citizen with family roots in Iran, describes herself as a quiet person. Her first experience with street action was participating in several Black Lives Matter marches in New York.

During those events she saw herself in the role of an “observer and supporter.”

Her participation became more visceral when it became clear that the Trump Administration would affect her more directly. Here’s how she describes her experience at a rally in support of the Affordable Care Act:

“I’m a pretty quiet person, and suddenly I found myself screaming and yelling.”

In short order, this formerly “quiet person” found herself speaking on stage at a major rally in Boston. That seems like a huge leap, but Zaringhalam is almost matter-of-fact about the transition.

“The AGU (American Geophysical Union) protest inspired me with their message,” she explains, “So when I heard about the science rally in Boston I called the organizers to see how I could help.”

New Voices In The Conversation

Sometimes you hear people scoff at the effectiveness of rallies and marches, but Zaringhalam emphasizes that they are an important way to build support:

“Getting together in a big group is a way to inspire people who wouldn’t normally be involved.”

Followup is equally important. Zaringhalam’s next step is to set up a meeting with her Representative, where she hopes to talk about the importance of public funding for science, and provide some insights on the way science works.”

“There are a lot of different ways to get involved,” she explained. “More scientists are calling their representatives.”

If Trump and Republicans in Congress are not listening, clearly the message is getting across to the public.

The Copley Square rally is just a warmup for the April 22nd March for Science. In addition to the huge crowd expected for the March for Science in Washington, so far more that 150 sister marches are taking place in cities around the country.

As Zaringhalam explains, they all share the same message.

“Scientists are superheroes of sorts. They are trying to do good, and we should protect and preserve this endeavor. We must respect evidence based thinking, not cooked up data for political motives. And we must protect scientists with free communication, no gag orders.”

That message includes all scientists, Zaringhalam emphasizes — men and women, citizens and immigrants, people of all faiths, races and gender identities.

Update: Newsweek is all over the AAAS story like white on rice, under the headline “Fearful Scientists Urged to Get Political to Combat Trump.” Here’s their takeaway from a “dynamic session” at the Boston conference:

“…scientists must be more politically engaged. The days when they could afford to be otherwise are over…”

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Image: via ClimateTruth.org.





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About the Author

specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.



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