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Saturday, September 22, 2018

September 22-23, 2018: Mass Protest Studying: The Boston March for Science

[On September 17th, 2011 the Occupy Wall Street protests began in lower Manhattan. So this week I’ve AmericanStudied that event and four other mass protests, leading up to this special weekend post on lessons from an inspiring mass protest in the age of Trump.]
Thanks to the Scholars Strategy Network (for which I’m a Boston Chapter co-leader) and their connection to Boston March for Science organizer Ashley Ciulla, I was able to record a video for the March’s participants, speak at an SSN event the night before, and attend the March itself on April 22nd, 2017 at Boston Common. Here are three takeaways from that inspiring and important protest:
1)      Science and Activism: In the initial stages of conversation about the national (Washington) March for Science, of which the Boston March was an off-shoot, a number of scientists expressed concerns about being perceived or defined in any way as partisan activists. I understand those concerns, but as I argued in my recorded video, the truth is that American naturalists and scientists have pursued concurrent and interconnected public activisms throughout our history. Moreover, those activisms have never been, and I would argue are not now, partisan or political in any narrow sense; instead, these are public arguments for the roles that knowledge and investigation can play in support of the common good. While I don’t believe all scientists have to link their research to such collective arguments, I think each and every one has the right to do so, and that the more who do, the stronger our society will be. I felt that strength at the March for Science to be sure.
2)      Scientific Community: I also felt there the perhaps underrated importance of science as a communal endeavor. That is, our narratives of science sometimes portray it—as I wrote in this post on our images of individual inventors—as the solitary pursuit of iconoclastic geniuses. Such individuals certainly have always played a role, but, as I argued in that post, any lasting and meaningful scientific invention or innovation takes a village to complete and sustain. The Boston March for Science featured a number of interesting speakers who shared a wide variety of perspectives and experiences, but a central thread across all of the speeches that I had the chance to hear was the importance of the scientific and social communities in which these individuals had pursued their work. And the March itself, of course, embodied another such inspirational scientific and social community, one only temporarily gathered in the same physical space but committed to a more enduring sense of solidarity among all the participants and their respective institutions and cohorts.
3)      Supporting Science: That communal spirit certainly offers one important way in which we can all support scientists and their work. But equally vital, and a significant part of the motivation for holding a March for Science in 2017, is public, governmental support for the sciences. I don’t imagine I need to tell any readers of this blog about the deep, distressing cuts to scientific funding in President Trump’s first budget—most of them just proposed at this point, making it all the more important to highlight and challenge them. But it’s also important that we confront the gradually eroding public consensus on the value (and unfortunately even the most basic truths) of scientific inquiry and knowledge, a long-term trend that predates Donald Trump and can’t be addressed simply by resisting those proposed budget cuts. The March for Science participants were, of course, a self-selected group of those who do believe in and support the sciences; finding ways to broaden and deepen those attitudes as we move forward must be a vital goal for all of us.
Next series starts Monday,
PS. What do you think?

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