March for Science stands up for science-backed policy, funding for research

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Photo Credit: Courtesy of Ricardo Venegas and Robert Santos | Daily Texan Staff

At the 2017 March for Science, Austin police estimate that over 10,000 people marched to support science. This year, Liz Hostetler, co-organizer of the March, hopes the event will draw an even bigger crowd.

Hostetler said the motivation to start the March for Science came from the Women’s March in January of 2017.

“The mantra from the Women’s March was ‘If not now, when? And if not you, who?’ So I told myself, why not now, and why not me?” said Hostetler, who attended the Women’s March.

The Women’s March came in response to the new Trump presidency, which those in the movement saw as harmful toward women. Similarly, scientists organized the March for Science in response to the silencing of federal agencies that research and communicate science, Hostetler said.

“That was when there started to be some pushback in regards to policy and science,” Hostetler said. “In particular, organizations such as the (Environmental Protection Agency) and the National Park Service were being challenged and silenced.”

Frustration with the silencing plus motivation from the Women’s March prompted Hostetler to start a Facebook group that rallied around science-backed policy and championed science advocacy.

“I really care about our city, and I’m specifically passionate about science,” Hostetler said. “The Women’s March was the match that lit the fire. I created a Facebook group, and combined forces with my now co-organizer Krista Noland.”

Getting the march off the ground, from a Facebook group to a crowd of 10,000 strong, relied entirely on collective, grassroots contributions from the community, according to Hostetler.

“We depended on the kindness of our community,” she said. “Our top-selling T-shirt design came from a woman in our Facebook group who gave it to us. ‘Here’s a website domain, here’s a logo.’ People reached out and gave these things to us for free.”

The March also encourages other grassroots efforts, such as inviting supporters to host their own events.

For example, chemistry freshman Lexie Martin organized a coffee shop pop-up at Caffe Medici’s earlier this year to draw support for the March and get people talking about science.

“March for Science is all about supporting science in everyday life,” Martin said. “In order to do that, you have to talk about science. Hosting events like this allows us to give people information that they wouldn’t otherwise have known.”

Martin invited Ruth Shear,  UT chemistry senior lecturer, to speak at her pop-up. She said she believes Ruth is a great voice for science.

Shear spoke about the communication of science to a classroom-sized audience, her focus mainly on the importance of communicating science to politicians and the general public.

“We need politicians who understand science and its benefits, and we need the public to understand the benefits and vote for those politicians so that science gets funded,” Shear said.

Hostetler invited Shear to speak at this year’s March for Science, where she will address the crowd with similar topics.

Chris Sullivan, UT associate professor, attended the March for Science in 2017 and said it inspired him to see so many rallying around an issue they care about.

“To see so many people in Austin speaking up for scientific literacy was really exciting,” Sullivan said.

His reasons for marching highlighted the event’s goal to champion science-backed policies and decouple science as a partisan issue.

“To me, it’s a shame when the science becomes politicized,” Sullivan said. “Science is not perfect, but it is our best way to make informed decisions. A lot of the money that funds science comes from taxpayers. It is our job (as scientists) to justify our existence to them, (and) the March for Science is one way we can do this.”

This year’s Austin’s March for Science will take place on April 21. This date coincides with the Austin Earth Day Festival, which features interactive events open to the public.

The exact time and location of the March is to be determined and will be announced on the Austin’s March for Science Facebook page and their website.