When the news that EPA funding had been frozen and EPA and gagged first broke I was irate. Like many others I wanted to do something meaningful to express how I was feeling. When I was added to the March for Science Facebook group I was excited. This was right down the alley of what I was thinking. I was also pleased to see so many scientists becoming engaged in the political discourse. About 5 seconds into my scroll down the group page I saw all some people, white and mostly men and a few women, discussing how the goal of the march should be free of identity politics and to resist being hijacked by those movements. To say that I was annoyed is an understatement. I’m not sure why, but it never fails to amaze me that people’s gut reactions to anything is to make sure that marginalized people have no voice. Fortunately, D N Lee made sure to explain why this was unwelcoming for marginalized group and a huge comment thread began as a result. About 10 minutes later I saw a poll for making the march for science and against religion. I just stared at my screen screaming internally and decided that this march clearly wasn’t going to be for folks like me (Female, Black, Christian) or anyone else that isn’t cis, straight, White and male. Within minutes the poll was taken down and the organizers of the group made it clear that diversity was important to them and that they would publish a diversity statement in the coming days. I told myself not to be too discouraged by other people’s comments and wait to see what the diversity statement and other evidence of inclusion say before making any decisions.
The statement titled as “Unity Principles” is as follows:
The March for Science strongly supports diversity, inclusion and equality in science.
American and global citizens are best served when we build and sustain an inclusive scientific community. We advocate for equal access to science education and scientific careers. When evidence-based science and policy are ignored, marginalized communities are differentially and disproportionately impacted.
Scientists and people who care about science are an intersectional group, embodying a diverse range of race, sexual orientation, (a)gender identity, ability, religion, socioeconomic and immigration statuses. We, the march organizers, come from and stand in solidarity with historically underrepresented scientists and science advocates.
This statement is great! The statements of the organizers after the statement was released not so much. In a New York Times article, Jonathan Berman, co-chair of the March for Science national committee, was quoted as saying “Yes, this is a protest, but it’s not a political protest.” Additionally, sister marches in other locations have described themselves a neutral as opposed to focusing on “liberal social issues” on Twitter.
What does it mean when a co-chair of the national committee and those in charge of sister marches want to be apolitical and neutral but also strongly support diversity, inclusion and equality? To me, it means they don’t get it. Whether we like it or not the 45th president and his administration have made it clear that they do not value scientific input. These are politicians whose influence comes via policy. If science wasn’t political before, the act of deciding that scientific evidence is questionable by the POTUS makes the issue VERY political. But even before the 45th president took office, science has been political. The government has not only funded science but has used the data to create policy. The reason people research some things and not others? Political. Who does and does not get to ask the research questions? Political. Science has always been political! I really wish that my fellow scientists would stop pretending otherwise.
Being anything other than Cis, straight, white and male is political. Every other group has had to fight for their rights to be allowed to vote, counted as citizens, get married, use bathrooms and/or not live in separate and unequal conditions and be treated with basic human decency. Much of that had to be amended into the constitution in order to have legal implications for not doing so. A lot of it has shaped the current political landscape. Having a marginalized identity and existing in this country AND science is an inherent political. To say that you are apolitical and support diversity feels like a spit in the face of the people you claim to support.
As the 45th president rolls out new executive orders strengthening police protections, the war on drugs and creating task forces on reducing crime, all I hear is enhanced danger for people of color. What I experience in the world outside of laboratory effects my science. When my husband gets called a Ni**er by a drunk acquaintance that affects my focus; my ability to be one hundred percent in my science. When co-workers continually perpetuate mirco-aggressions against you, it effects your science. When women encounter sexual harassment in lab and field work spaces, it effects their science. When a scientist has to worry about whether they will make it back into the country after and international conference, it affects their science and the dissemination of their knowledge. When a trans scientist is continually misgendered, it effects their science. You cannot say you support these people and be apolitical. It is not possible. Science is not performed in a vacuum and to continue to pretend that it is puts scientists on the wrong side of history right along with the 45th president.
In order for me to be convinced to participate in the March for science, I need the organizers to stop saying they aren’t political or that they are neutral on social issues. I also need those folks asking for the march not to be “hijacked” have a stadium full of seats. I don’t need any fake allies or obstructionists in this fight for equality. I need people who are willing to face their own biases, look for the truth and be willing to fight alongside me and be political because that’s the only way there will be any progress.