Scientists sometimes get caricatured as white-coated elitists, but at the recent March for Science in Washington, D.C., I was reminded of the scientific community’s inclusivity and the importance of their work to environmental and social justice. Thousands of science advocates gathered in the rain-soaked capital and 600 other cities on six continents waving signs that read “Science Is for Everyone” and “So Bad Even the Introverts Are Out.”
As scientists and their supporters marched down Constitution Avenue toward Capitol Hill, between chants of, “ho ho, hey hey, don’t defund the EPA,” I was able to chat with fellow protestors about why they were marching and staying engaged after nearly 100 days of an administration that values corporate interests over scientific facts.
Talia Shirazi, a biological anthropology student at Penn State University who is Persian-American, told me about her fears of losing grant funding halfway through her Ph.D. program. She shared that as a recipient of a National Science Foundation graduate research fellowship, “I’m worried that cuts to the foundation’s budget will directly affect the funding for my Ph.D., and that the budget cuts will impair my team’s ability to conduct the sorts of studies necessary to better understand and treat endocrine [hormonal] conditions.”
As we continued through the intermittent rain, I felt both lucky to live in a country where people from diverse backgrounds are able to engage in this kind of open protest, and disillusioned that in 2017 we have to march for science at all. Research that helps protect clean air and water, cure diseases and ensure our food is safe to eat should not be something we have to fight for. People like Shirazi should be able to focus on advancing medical science, not figuring out how to pay their tuition.
For me, as a person of color and an Earthjustice employee, the march offered both hope and sobering reminders of the long way our society still has to go to realize full equality and inclusion. Environmental justice advocate Rev. Lennox Yearwood Jr. was racially profiled and assaulted on his way to the march. But I was heartened to see people from all backgrounds—including Bill Nye, Christiana Figueres, Mustafa Santiago Ali and Shirazi—come together for the demonstration. And I’m hopeful that communities and organizations like Earthjustice can keep working to make the world a more equitable place with the help of solid science and policy. Perhaps Nye said it best when he told the D.C. crowd, “We are marching today to remind people everywhere—our lawmakers especially—of the significance of science for our health and prosperity.”
Scientific research provides the data critical to the fight for clean air and clean water for every local community, regardless of belief system, socioeconomic status or race. It allows regulators and advocates to do things like measure fenceline air quality, calculate lead levels in drinking water and create solutions to mitigate climate change to protect future generations. Defunding agencies like the EPA and devaluing the contributions to science made by people from all walks of life will disproportionately affect low-income communities and communities of color that already live with the majority of pollution and adverse health effects caused by industry.
At Earthjustice, we will continue to fight alongside these communities and achieve major victories for environmental justice. Together, we pushed the EPA to update lax Worker Protection Standard for farmworkers, helped convince Oakland, California, to ban coal trains that would have impacted communities of color and are suing to stop a crude-by-rail operation in Albany, New York, that is putting a low-income African-American community in danger.
Many people have asked me what more they could do to help advocate for science and the environment after the March for Science. Our voices are stronger together. Please join with us and our partners in taking action against political attacks on the clean air, clean water and healthy food we all depend on.