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    On a dreary Saturday afternoon, the day’s persistent drizzle let up long enough for a group of concerned Louisvillians to assemble in front of Metro Hall and make their voices heard. The second annual Louisville March for Science on April 15 brought together activists, academics and ordinary citizens who want national and local governments to implement science-based policy.

    At last year’s inaugural march, demonstrators gathered to advocate for increased congressional funding of the sciences at the dawn of the Trump administration. They saw that goal realized at the federal level despite a GOP majority often indifferent to the significance of science funding. Still, marchers remain wary of EPA head Scott Pruitt and his defenders, including governor Matt Bevin, whose deregulatory agenda favors business interests at the expense of environmental protection.

    This year, speakers focused on education in their addresses. As thousands of Kentucky teachers converged on Frankfort to fight for their pensions and funding for their schools, marchers saw a threat to the foundations of public science literacy.

    The event featured speakers from Rubbertown Emergency ACTion, a grassroots organization made up of residents of Louisville neighborhoods adjacent to chemical plants, as well as an educational community initiative called the West Louisville Math and Science Project, the Waterfront Botanical Gardens, the University of Kentucky, Northern Kentucky University and science advocacy organization 314 Action. High school senior Chris Mulligan stepped up to give a speech criticizing the way schools teach science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. “We aren’t taught to think about the information in front of us,” he said. “Scantron is king.”

    Although the modest crowd numbered far fewer than the 1,200 who turned out to last year’s event, it was no less energized. Pop-up tents flanked the stone stairs of the building, sheltering hands-on science demonstrations and voter registration for Kentucky residents. Folk musicians jammed on their guitars while the demonstrators circulated around the booths. “We just decided a chord and went with it,” one of them explained into a microphone. “It’s called experimentation.”

    Besides encouraging the public to advocate for science, the march also aims to get scientists directly involved in the process. “We need scientists to communicate better with activists, and to become activists themselves,” said organizer Ashley Best. “When experts and authorities in their fields get involved in advocacy, it makes the message more powerful and more meaningful.”

    Just as the rain threatened to recommence, NKU geology professor and 314 Action state director Trent Garrison stepped up to the mic. After challenging the demonstrators to take 30 seconds to introduce themselves to a stranger, he spoke about his organization’s goal of getting more STEM professionals elected to legislatures nationwide. With only two such candidates running in Kentucky, he made an appeal to any civic-minded scientists in the crowd to consider running themselves before leading demonstrators in the same cheer he had previously raised in Frankfort: “One, 2, 3…”

    “Vote for science!”

     

    Cover photo by Eric Matthews

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