By Ivan Del Mar, Jack Gentempo and Ben Riggleman
Saturday, April 22, wasn’t a typical Earth Day; it was a day of impassioned activism for the sake of science. Rallies held under the name March for Science took place in Washington, D.C. and over 600 other towns and cities across six continents. While an international event, the March for Science began and gained traction in the United States, where the administration of President Donald Trump is seen by many as hostile toward science itself. A contingent from the Association of Cosmic Explorers (ACE), SMCC’s student astronomy club, traveled to Boston to join the March for Science there.
The group consisted of 10 students and one faculty advisor, physics professor Kevin Kimball. Eight of the students were members of ACE; the two others were a videographer and a reporter for The Beacon.
The group got up before dawn on the 22nd. Some of the greatest scientific discoveries have resulted from sleeping past noon, such as when a young René Descartes invented the Cartesian plane by laying in bed one morning and lazily tracking the coordinates of a fly via its position relative to the axes of two walls. However, there was no time to sleep in for ACE’s trip to Boston, as the Downeaster left at 6:30 sharp. (Train travel has a relatively small carbon footprint compared to travel by car or bus.)
The journey kicked off with a rendezvous at the Portland Transportation Center, where ACE Coordinator Nicholas Sebastien Moll gave an impassioned reading of a recent opinion piece in The Forecaster regarding the current tension between the public and science. According to the author, Gordon Street, the misconception that science itself is an entity with it’s own agenda has caused a large number of people to mistrust science. The article inspired the group to consider not only what they were marching for, but why.
They arrived in Boston at 9:15 a.m., leaving some time to kill before the demonstration began. A detour was made to the Skywalk Observatory in the Prudential Center, Boston’s second-tallest building. The Skywalk circles the top floor of the Prudential Center 749 feet above street level, offering a 360-degree glass vantage point on the city. It was overcast, cold and damp outside. The Common, Boston’s central park, was almost deserted, which might convince any would-be protestor that the weather would be too great a deterrent for the day’s march. However, perspectives shifted the moment the group’s feet hit the ground.
ACE and other marchers headed towards the Common from Copley Square, with a spring in their step despite the chill and moisture in the air. It soon began to rain, but nevertheless, upon approaching the Common, the group witnessed folks flooding in from all parts of Boston, holding their signs proudly in spite of the bleeding ink. Police watched on standby, directing traffic to slow down across the major intersections surrounding the park.
A brass ensemble playing upbeat music filled the Common with an invigorating sense of protest. Children were treated to a display of science experiments, and despite the wind and rain, a large group of protesters sat in solemn meditation. The band soon yielded the sound system to 15 high-profile advocates for science. These included Gina McCarthy, who served as head of the Environmental Protection Agency from 2013 to 2017; Dava Newman, former head of NASA; renowned Harvard geneticist George Church; and Steven Holtzman, president of hearing-enhancement biotechnology company Decibel Therapeutics.
Despite being an officially non-partisan rally, political concern was certainly present — and visible in many of the demonstrators’ signs: “Get your tiny hands off my planet,” “Save the Planet, Recycle Trump.”
Gina McCarthy gave a speech stressing the threat to scientific agencies in the U.S. “At a time when risks to health and well-being are growing incredibly complicated,” she said, “our leadership in
Washington is diminishing investments in the very institutions that deliver the science that we need to survive and to thrive.” She singled out the president’s proposed budget, which would cut the EPA’s personnel and spending by approximately third, and which, in her words, “makes little or no investment in scientific research, including climate-change research, mitigation and adaptation.” She pulled no punches: “Actions so far in Washington have made it clear that they are not only intent on denying inconvenient science — they’re out to stop doing science, period and full stop.”
Matter cannot be created or destroyed, it can only change forms. Today it is in the form of protest, but tomorrow it falls back into the hands of each of us. The ensemble of SMCC representatives that made the journey to Boston shows the unity and determination echoed by the march itself. Whether it was the videographers determined to capture the journey, the Beacon journalist intent on documenting the event, or the ACE members reaching for the stars with their Sharpie-stained poster board, every member came together in support of something they believed in.
On the drowsy train ride back to Portland, ACE’s vice president, Nicholas Sebastien Moll, gave his take on the experience: “The March for Science is more of a statement than anything else. This is a time that the scientific community is realizing that they cannot simply do science. They must become advocates. They must petition on their own behalf. They must run for office.”
And as for non-scientists, like the ACE crew? “The students from ACE went down to Boston to show solidarity and to reaffirm what it means to be interested in science in this political climate. All of the people around the world are now standing together to rise above and focus on the science!”
In this he was quoting a line from the television show Rick and Morty that had made its way to the sign of group leader Ivan Del Mar: “Rise above it. Focus on science.”
When Ivan was asked to evaluate the trip, he gave it four words: “Cold, damp — but inspiring.”