March for Science San Francisco

[Image: March for Science San Francisco attendees hold up a large banner for the event.]

On Saturday, I attended the March for Science San Francisco, one of many March for Science rallies held on Earth Day throughout the world. Unlike some recent political protests I’ve attended, this event appeared to be very well-funded, with a professional sound system for once. Between the multiple speaker arrays, giant video screen, coordinated T-shirts, and laminated passes for the speakers and volunteers, it almost felt more like an industry trade show or rock concert than a rally.

Crowd at Justin Herman Plaza[Image: The crowd at the March for Science rally fills Justin Herman Plaza.]

Crowded plaza[Image: The crowd moves through Justin Herman Plaza for the start of the march.]

The pre-march rally was held at Justin Herman Plaza, which was already filled with people when I arrived half an hour before the 11 a.m. start time. By the end of the rally, the plaza was so packed that it took me 45 minutes to get from the far side of the stage out to Market Street for the actual march.

Kishore Hari and Adam Savage[Image: Rally emcee Kishore Hari shares a moment backstage with Adam Savage.]

Dr. Leticia Márquez-Magaña[Image: Dr. Leticia Márquez-Magaña speaks at the rally.]

Baratunde Thurston at March for Science[Image: Baratunde Thurston speaks at the rally.]

Science has no borders[Image: Two children hold a sign reading “Science has no borders”.]

The lineup of speakers was diverse, and support for immigrants was a recurring theme. ASL interpretation was provided, and a pre-recorded talk by a scientist paralyzed with ALS, Eric Valor, was shown . While I appreciated that scientists were in the spotlight, the speaker I was personally most excited to see was Adam Savage from Mythbusters, who billed himself as an inventor, not a scientist. I also enjoyed the talk by comedian and futurist Baratunde Thurston, who was a last-minute addition.

March for Science rally signs[Image: Rally attendees sit and stand on the steps, holding various signs and banners.]

While advertised as non-partisan, many considered this to be another anti-Trump rally, and brought signs accordingly. Speakers did not call out the current administration exclusively, however. Many emphasized the need for funding and for assertions based on evidence rather than opinion, needs which transcend political parties. The rallying cry, as seen on several signs, was “What do we want? Evidence-based science! When do we want it? After peer review!”

I’ll be the first to admit that science is not a strong area of aptitude or interest for me. Science and math were the subjects I had the most difficulty with in middle and high school, though I still took Advanced Placement courses (in order to look good on my college applications) and managed to get passing grades. I’ve done computer programming, but have little formal computer science training, and struggled greatly in this area even when employed as a full-time web developer.

Resist[Image: A rally attendee wears a jacket with the badges of various science and nature organizations, and the word RESIST.]

So my motivation for going to this rally was mostly to continue my documentation of the resistance. Resistance to willful ignorance is part of this effort, and ignorance comes from people of all political persuasions. While science and religion are not necessarily incompatible, science is absolutely not itself a religion, a claim I’ve heard made not only by fundamentalists, but also some very left-wing, “new age” people. (It’s ironic that just the night before the rally I’d attended a sing-along benefit showing of Jesus Christ Superstar, a movie I’ve always greatly enjoyed despite being an atheist.)

Regardless, ethics also plays a large role, especially from my stance as a vegan animal rights activist. I can’t simply ignore vivisection and animal testing, no matter how much these practices might benefit humans. Though I do look for products that are not tested on animals, my reliance on some medications and medical procedures is beyond my reasonable ability to control at this time.

Ethics applies to the hot-button issue of GMOs as well, concerns about which one of the rally speakers dismissed in the same breath as vaccines causing autism. While I agree that the latter has been thoroughly debunked, I am still not convinced GMOs are a great idea. This is not primarily because of concerns about the safety of the humans consuming them, but concerns about capitalism and patenting. I also believe that ending animal agriculture, not engineering more higher-yield or pest-resistant crops, is the ultimate solution to world hunger. But again, I am not a scientist.

Marching with cat[Image: A woman with long braided hair and glasses walks while holding a cat with jaguar-like markings.]

During the short time I was on the march, I encountered someone marching while holding a cat, an unusual sight. We spoke briefly, and she commented that the cat would not exist without science, because domestic cats have been specially bred. This raised another animal rights issue, but I didn’t want to get into that discussion at the time, so I just snapped photos, thanked her and moved on.

Folk singers at March for Science[Image: Musicians sing and play instruments alongside the march route.]

Shortly afterward, I saw some people on the sidewalk playing live music, so I headed over and joined in the singing. By the time we finished the song, the end of the march had caught up to us, and I was peopled-out, so I headed home. Science-related activities continued for the rest of the afternoon at Civic Center.

My full set of photos from the rally is available on Flickr. I’ve also uploaded the photos to Wikimedia Commons, alongside those from other contributors. Please credit me as Pax Ahimsa Gethen if you use any of my photos, thanks!