What's next for the March for Science
Editor's note: The following article first appeared in The Los Angeles Times.
The March for Science has come and gone, but the team that sparked the movement still hasn't taken a breather.
“We were crazy before the march, and we’ve been crazy after it,” said Caroline Weinberg, a public health educator, writer and advocate in New York who was one of the primary organizers of the main march in Washington. “It’s been pretty non-stop since April 22.”
She’s not kidding.
The day after the march, which drew 40,000 people and inspired satellite marches in more than 600 cities around the world, Weinberg and her co-leaders began planning their next steps. They met with representatives from some of the march’s more than 300 partner organizations — including the American Assn. for the Advancement of Science, the Nature Conservancy and the Firefighters United for Safety, Ethics and Ecology — at Washington’s Carnegie Institution for Science to discuss ways to channel the pro-science momentum they had collectively created.
“I thought that after the march I would get back to my day job, but that’s not what happened,” said Ayana Johnson, a marine biologist and ocean conservation consultant also based in New York who served as co-director of partnerships for the event. “We don’t want to squander the interest and goodwill that came out of the march.”
Johnson, Weinberg and their compatriots hope that the vast network of scientists and science supporters that came together for the march will become a force for assuring the role of science in public policy and society. But they still need to figure out what that will look like.
Weinberg and Johnson talked with The Times about how they plan to determine what’s next for the March for Science.
What have you been doing since the march? Did you take a break?
Weinberg: Going into the march, the party line was that the march is the start of a larger movement. So there wasn’t a break afterward — we kind of hit the ground running.
There were hundreds of satellite marches around the world and more than 300 organizations that signed on as partners. That's a pretty big network.
Weinberg: We hit on this untapped resource of people who were just waiting to be mobilized to defend science and its role in society and policy.
Of the individuals who registered to attend the March for Science, 30.6% self-reported as scientists or science teachers. That means almost 70% were just science supporters or in a field that involves science, but aren’t scientists. That's an amazing statistic.
How will you reach out to the people and groups that supported the march now that it's over?
Weinberg: We have a mailing list and nearly 1 million social media followers on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram combined. That is a huge reach. But the point of the march going forward has to be engaging communities, and to do that we can't just send emails and tweets.
We have to find a way to make communities invested in what we are doing. That is something we are going to have to figure out.
Do you have any specific next steps in mind?
Johnson: We have this overarching mission of championing science for the common good, and there are four themes under that — policy, outreach, education and diversity.
This week we’re having listening sessions with our partners around each of those key areas to figure what is the unique thing that March for Science can bring to the table. How do we use this platform for something that is not already happening?
Are you going to become a nonprofit?
Weinberg: One of the first things we did when we set up the march was start putting together the paperwork. That was filed in February, but there doesn’t seem to be a firm timeline anyone can offer us for how long that will take.
Until that time, Science Debate generously offered to be our fiscal sponsor. Basically, that means tax-deductible donations to the march go through them, and then they pass the money on to us. We function independently as an organization.
Do you have the money to continue to move forward?
Johnson: Yes, which we are very excited about! So the question is how to use the remaining funds — after paying for the march — to transition into a lasting and effective organization.
What kind of infrastructure do you have now? Is anyone doing this as their full-time job?
Weinberg: Nobody was paid for the entire three months before the march. It was entirely a volunteer operation. There were about 70 people working closely with us and thousands of people around the world working on the satellite marches. Everyone just did it for the love of science, so to speak.
But it is not practical to permanently ask people to work as a volunteer. We are putting together advisors to help us determine how to structure the organization in the future, and the best way to move forward with it.
What kind of relationship do you hope to maintain with the satellite groups?
Weinberg: This is a global movement, and the strength of it is going to rely on our relationship with the satellites. Some of them plan on becoming their own organizations that we are really excited to partner and work with however we can. Some of them plan on coming on with us as part of the March for Science organization.
Final question: How do you turn a march into a movement?
Weinberg: With a lot of help.
Johnson: At that first meeting the day after the march, the partners came to us and said, “Yesterday was amazing, and now we have work to do.”
That made me think this was something that was going to last.