Fellow Story

I Never Thought I'd be Marching for Science

Editor's note: The following post by Fellow Ayana Johnson first appeared on the Scientific American guest blog.

I am black. I am a woman. I am a marine biologist. I am from Brooklyn. I am the daughter of civil rights activists, of a first and a second generation immigrant.

I have marched against police brutality and mass incarceration, and for black lives. I have marched against pipelines and for sane climate policy. I have marched for women, for a living wage, and for immigrants and refugees. But I had never helped organize a march. And of all the causes, I never, ever thought my first would be science.

After the U.S. presidential election, everything seemed urgent. I thought about abandoning ocean conservation work to fight for social justice full time. I hosted a series of dinner parties to build and strengthen community networks. I donated more money than I could afford to organizations protecting civil liberties and marginalized peoples.

After some grappling, I redoubled my focus on ocean conservation, because, at its core, it’s a social justice issue. Overfishing, sea level rise, pollution, and coastal development endanger the food security, economies, health, and cultures of poor and minority coastal communities. I have spent the last decade working on science-based, community-driven ocean policy. Instead of abandoning that, I refocused my efforts toward shining a light on the need for ocean justice.

And then I read these articles:

I lost an entire night of sleep after learning that people were rushing to archive government datasets before the inauguration. Tears streamed down my face. It had never occurred to me that a presidential administration would simply eliminate the datasets that are the foundation of evidence-based policymaking.

For people attempting to deny climate change, eliminating all climate data conveniently erases the foundation for climate policy. Without species data, conveniently there’s no foundation for endangered species protections. The Environmental Protection Agency saw this coming and built a mirror website of EPA.gov from January 19th, so changes and deletions can be tracked. To me, these hackers, bureaucrats, and archivists are heroes.

I had steeled myself for the onslaught of civil rights violations, but I did not expect my entire professional field to be threatened. The anti-science stance of the current administration—silencing scientists, removing data from government websites, proposing drastic funding cuts—hits my core. Because, let me admit something to you, I have a crush on the scientific method. It is elegant and reliable. It enables us to answer questions about how the world around us works, how we humans are changing it, and what the outcomes of various policies might be. It is the lens of rationality through which I see and understand the world.

Hurtling forward guided by nothing but opinions and feelings is dangerous. We need facts. Facts deduced scientifically, over time, through observation, experimentation, and replication. Our health, economies, security, and cultures depend on it.

At the end of January, I had the honor of spending a weekend with many of the core organizers of the Women’s March. I was deeply inspired by their stories of how they built a broad coalition, managed to center social justice, motivated millions of people to hit the streets, and have kept millions politically engaged since.  

And now here I am, volunteering as national co-director of partnerships and a member of the diversity committee for the March for Science. I have been floored by the outpouring of support from scientific societies, museums, aquariums, universities, NGOs, and companies—we have almost 200 partner organizations, and counting. My heart has been warmed by how generously my colleagues are donating their time to build this grassroots movement in support of science, scientists, and evidence-based policymaking. There will bearound 500 official satellite marches all over the world.  

In addition to the broad coalition that is emerging, the March for Science is also inspiring important conversations around the value of science to society, the need to make science more diverse and inclusive, and the role of science in policymaking. Painful issues are surfacing around sexism, racism, xenophobia, ableism, and privilege—the scientific community is but a microcosm. This pulling back of the veil is a chance have hard but necessary discussions, and to do better, individually and collectively.

So, science advocates, science educators, scientists, and concerned citizens, join us and help spread the word. And know that you are not just joining a march, but a movement. April 22nd is just the beginning.