Numbers are integral to science. But to the marchers who will descend on the District this weekend for the second annual March for Science, the numbers will be almost beside the point.
Organizers of the rally — a demonstration that will include presentations from scientists, technologists and researchers — are not trying to replicate the feverish feel of last year’s protest. They can’t.
Instead, organizers said, they’re focused on keeping science and research top of mind for local and federal policymakers and showing the world that people still care — even if they don’t make the trek to Washington.
“The conversation around these marches is so often about the optics,” said Caroline Weinberg, interim director of the March for Science. “People wanting to know, ‘Is the crowd as big as last year?’ When the truth is it doesn’t have to be the same. It can’t be all about D.C., and it can’t be all about Election Day or march day. A huge part of our focus is making sure people continue to be empowered to create change throughout the year and all around the country.”
As a result, the group has downplayed the importance of the D.C. rally and put greater effort into regional marches that will emphasize local issues and policies. Nearly 250 rallies have been planned this year in cities throughout the country and the world.
The March for Science began as an idea that germinated online following the first Women’s March on Washington, held the day after President Trump’s inauguration. It caught on fast, with several mainstream science groups jumping on board and promising a nonpartisan event.
As thousands of people convened in Washington on April 22, 2017, other marches emerged in more than 600 cities across six continents. A handful of scientists on the seventh, Antarctica, participated from afar through social media.
They were moved by fears that facts, science and research were in jeopardy in public policy and because of proposed sweeping funding cuts in state and federal budgets.
Though the issues have remained largely unchanged, Weinberg said, turnout this year is expected to be much smaller. About 5,000 people are expected to attend the D.C. march on Saturday, according to a permit issued this week by the National Park Service.
Organizers hope the march’s mood and attendance will be bolstered by a sunny and warm weekend, the likes of which they didn’t see last time around. Weinberg said that the march will remain nonpartisan and that participants will hold members of both political parties to task for their positions on science-related issues.
“People are definitely still motivated, but it’s coming across differently. Their behavior has been adjusting,” Weinberg said. “What we’ve seen is a huge uptick in people taking action in other ways — signing petitions, making calls, sending letters.”
Saturday’s event, on 15th Street near the Washington Monument, will begin about 9 a.m.
Though the rally itself may not be as crowded as last year’s, the streets will likely be packed. Soon after March for Science activities kick off, the National Cherry Blossom Festival Parade will begin to head down Constitution Avenue. The parade, which will include colorful floats and helium balloons, will also include TV personalities and performances by musical acts.
Later that afternoon, the District’s Emancipation Day celebrations will begin with a parade from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. along Pennsylvania Avenue, between 10th and 14th streets NW, followed by a concert and fireworks.
At the March for Science, organizers will set up photo booths and tents around the Washington Monument to allow scientists and researchers to give interactive presentations on a variety of subjects that organizers are calling “teach-ins.” The events are free, but tent-goers are asked to reserve a spot, as each can hold about 75 people.
The main rally will convene about 12:30 p.m. Speakers include scholars, scientists and technocrats, including Vinton Cerf, who has been called the father of the Internet and Google’s chief Internet evangelist, and Rush D. Holt, a scientist and former Democratic congressman representing New Jersey.
The finale is reserved for 10-year-old Amariyanna “Mari” Copeny, known as “Little Miss Flint” for a pageant she won years ago and her subsequent activism around her home town’s water crisis, including her encouragement of President Barack Obama to visit Flint, Mich., in 2016.
The main stage will be set up near 17th Street and Independence Avenue. Then, at 3:30 p.m., they march.
Part of the March for Science’s evolution over the past year has included transforming from a group assembled to put on an event into a registered nonprofit with a broader scope and mission: to support science and research policy through campaigns, outreach and, yes, marches.
The group also helps circulate petitions and instruct members in how to contact their elected representatives.
While satellite events have been planned this year to carry the message of the March for Science beyond Washington, they’re not all going to be marches.
Some cities are planning lectures by prominent local scientists. Others will hold letter-writing campaigns on science-related issues.
Several, including Saturday events planned in Mobile, Ala., and San Diego, will feature something less like a protest than a science fair, with nonprofits, universities and local businesses in the science and tech fields showing off their work.
“Last year, everyone was scrambling. There was all this energy that needed to get out, so we put on an event that was relatively organized and let people be heard, and that was good enough,” said Navid Zohoury, who is helping to lead the March for Science San Diego. “Attendance this year will be smaller, and we’re okay with that. The success will be in putting on an event that people feel is relevant and important. It’s more about sustaining and evolving a movement.”