All posts by Pax Ahimsa Gethen

Pride and protest

[Image: Marching with the Resistance contingent of the San Francisco Pride Parade.]

On Friday I attended the San Francisco Trans March for the fourth consecutive year. As usual, I concentrated on photographing the stage performances at Dolores Park rather than the audience or the march itself. An assortment of singers, dancers, and speakers were featured.

Trans March dancer[Image: A performer in a colorful, revealing costume dances at the Trans March.]

GoodMob at Trans March[Image: The hip-hop duo GoodMob performs at the Trans March.]

Singing Bois at Trans March[Image: The Singing Bois perform at the Trans March.]

Mya Byrne at Trans March[Image: Mya Byrne performs at the Trans March.]

The highlight of the show for me was singer-songwriter Mya Byrne, who I’d enjoyed watching twice previously.

Ashley Love at Trans March[Image: Ashley Love speaks while holding a “Justice for Kayla Moore” poster.]

As in recent years, the march ended at Taylor and Turk in the Tenderloin, near the site of the Compton’s Cafeteria Riot. Several people spoke, including Ashley Love, who wanted to bring attention to the fate of Kayla Moore, a mentally ill black trans woman who died in the custody of the Berkeley police. San Francisco Supervisor Jane Kim announced that the city had proclaimed the area a Transgender Cultural District. (No elected officials were invited to speak on the Dolores Park stage after last year’s uproar.)

Alex U. Inn at Trans March[Image: Alex U. Inn speaks at the Trans March.]

Cecilia Chung and actors at the Trans March[Image: Cecilia Chung stands with When We Rise actors Ivory Aquino (who portrayed her in that miniseries) and Emily Skeggs.]

Other speakers included Alex U. Inn, activist, drag king, and community grand marshal of Sunday’s Pride Parade; professor and gender theorist Susan Stryker; and two actors from the miniseries When We Rise, who were introduced by activist Cecilia Chung, one of the trans people portrayed in that series.

I had not planned to attend the main Pride Parade on Sunday, but when I read that Alex U. Inn was leading a Resistance contingent, I decided to join in. We had a good turnout from a number of different organizations, as well as people not affiliated with any particular group (like myself) who were more interested in protesting oppression than supporting the corporate pinkwashed version of Pride.

Protest signs at SF Pride[Image: Marchers hold signs reading “Community over Corporations”, “We the People Resist”, and “Black Lives Matter”.]

Protest signs at SF Pride[Image: Marchers hold various signs supporting trans, black and brown folks, and immigrants.]

Alex U. Inn and Resistance contingent[Image: Alex U. Inn addresses the Resistance contingent at the end of the Pride Parade.]

At the end of the parade, our contingent was blocked and diverted from entering the celebration area at Civic Center. Alex was livid, denouncing the Pride committee for betraying and kettling us in this fashion. They said that we should go back in and demand to be heard. I was too tired to stick around long enough to see if any further action took place. But I did hear that one group in our contingent, the Degenderettes,  had earlier stopped the parade for a short period of time, lying on the ground covered with (fake) blood, forcing every marcher thereafter (we were near the beginning of the parade) to walk over the body outlines of trans people. A powerful performance, which Mya Byrne also participated in (while holding a “Trans Dykes are Good and Pure” sign).

My full sets of photos from the Trans March and the Pride Parade are available on Flickr. Some are also on Wikimedia Commons, alongside photos from other contributors. Please credit me as Pax Ahimsa Gethen if you use any of my photos, thanks!

Presenting with pride at Wikipedia

[Image: Pax speaks at a podium on a stage. Photo by Wayne Calhoon.]

This coming Tuesday, June 27 at 1:30 p.m. (PDT), I will be presenting the inaugural talk for the LGBTQ+ Speaker Series hosted by the Wikimedia Foundation QueERG, an employee resource group for members of the LGBTQ+ community and allies. The talk will be livestreamed on YouTube and archived for later viewing. Discussion will be available in the #wikimedia-office channel on IRC.

The title of my talk is Living Persons, subtitle Trans lives and Wikipedia: Representation and impact. This title is a reference to the English Wikipedia’s Biographies of Living Persons policy, as well as to the living trans and non-binary people who are affected, as readers and editors, by how trans folks are represented and discussed on the encyclopedia. I’ve discussed these subjects in previous talks at the Bay Area WikiSalon and at WikiConference North America. I plan to provide more current examples of trans issues on Wikipedia and in society, and talk about my own gender history and experiences as well.

Editing Wikipedia articles and contributing photos to Wikimedia Commons has given me a sense of pride and purpose. This is especially valuable during Pride Month. I’ve contributed several new articles and a number of photos to the annual Wiki Loves Pride campaign, and plan to submit more before the month is out. Today I’ll be attending the Trans March for the fourth year in a row, so I hope to get good photos of the stage performances and speakers. I look forward to continuing to boost the visibility of my fellow trans and non-binary folks.

ETA June 27: The video, slides, and PDF of my talk are all now available online.

Bigoted vegans piss on Pride month

[Image: Pax pets Shiva, a steer at PreetiRang Sanctuary. Photo by Ziggy.]

This week, Mercy for Animals featured me in their article, 13 LGBTQ Vegans You Need to Follow. I had already found and shared the article to my Facebook page before MFA posted it on Facebook themselves. Very shortly afterward, the negative comments came flooding in.

We had your garden-variety bigotry:

[Image: Screenshot of a comment reading “Animal rights have nothing to do with the filth and immorality that is homosexuality, this ends my association with you.”]

"Sick people"[Image: Screenshot of a comment reading “Vegans not have connection with sick people (LGBTQ etc.)”]

"Degeneracy"[Image: Screenshot of a comment reading “Leftists glorify promiscuity, abortion, radical feminism, and welfare. Pair-bonded monogamy became edgy when leftists normalised degeneracy.”]

"Against the gay pride"[Image: Screenshot of a comment reading “I am totally for mercy for animals! But against the gay pride!”]

And we had your bigotry using  religion as a rationale :

"Be fruitful and multiply"[Image: Screenshot of a comment reading “Ummm No I will decide who I follow- not this- agenda- very disappointed – I run a biblical page and share your info- will NOT share this- you need to propagate your species – the first positive command, be fruitful and multiply !”]

"Jesus Christ"[Image: Screenshot of a comment reading “No thank you. I follow Jesus Christ!”]

And we had the predictable questioning why marginalized humans should get any attention on a page devoted to animal rights:

"Gay agenda"[Image: Screenshot of a comment reading “You know, it’s really a shame when animal groups get political. The only ones that suffer are the animals. Because of this, I am now unfriending your face book page. This message has nothing to do with animals. Also, I don’t agree with the gay agenda.”]

"Lost focus"[Image: Screenshot of a comment reading “Lost focus! This page should not raise politics, religion …! One should only comment on such a scandal if it involves animal welfare! This way there will be disagreements! The focus here are the animals! Try to use love and respect for animals to raise other flags is wrong it’s just the animals that will lose!”]

"Sexual preference"[Image: Screenshot of a comment reading “Why does sexual preference always get mixed into everything these days? Doesn’t this takes away from the sole purpose of this facebook cause and mission? Im fine with what ever a person’s preference is but let’s put the focus back where it needs to be. Please, let’s work together to save the ones without a voice.”]

"Irrelevant"[Image: Screenshot of a comment reading “Being gay or straight is irrelevant to having an interest in animal welfare.”]

"Ruined the main purpose"[Image: Screenshot of a comment reading “By this post you’ve just ruined the main purpose of the group, why so many people were following you. You better be fair now and rename the group to something like “LGBT VEGANS”, so all can understand what exactly they deal with.”]

"WTF"[Image: Screenshot of a comment reading “Wtf does this have to do with mercy for animals???”]

Note that roughly half of the comments above were made within 45 minutes of the article’s posting, overwhelming any positive feedback. The moderators later removed the worst of them.

This kind of pushback is sadly familiar to those of us who are working against human oppression in the animal rights community. I’ve already addressed many of the common excuses for this behavior, including the expected replies that the above commenters aren’t “real” vegans or aren’t typical of all animal rights activists or of activists from a particular organization. This bigotry and oppression exists, period, and it’s one reason I’ve significantly decreased my involvement in animal rights and vegan activism lately. Activists who would shame me, or others, for taking care of myself need to read this response as well.

My friend Aph Ko has faced similar backlash for her work to promote black vegans, which she talks about in her new book, Aphro-ism. Helping Aph out with Black Vegans Rock is about the extent of my vegan/AR work currently. I’ve prioritized transgender advocacy and documenting the resistance to the Trump administration. Speciesism is still very bothersome to me, but fighting it is not my primary focus right now.

Allies can help by amplifying the voices of vegans in the LGBT+ community; there are many more besides those in the MFA post. Note that I have not shared my interview that was linked in that post because of concerns that some others featured on that “Queer Vegans” site are not actually vegan. I’m not splitting hairs here; the researcher intentionally included ex-vegans and ex-vegetarians in her interviews, but the title and intro do not state this explicitly. (Update, June 19: The researcher, Leah Kirts, has edited her Queer Vegans site in response to my feedback.)

Regardless, people in the LGBT+ community need help whether they’re vegan or not. Pride month should be a time to recognize and celebrate sexual and gender diversity, not just with rainbow icons and profile frames on Facebook (which are fine), but with specific acts of allyship, and financial contributions for those who have the means. Many queer writers (including me) have links to PayPal accounts, Patreon pages, or other ways you can do more than just show appreciation, but actually help us survive. Helping marginalized humans does not take away from the animals; it helps make more allies for them in the fight against all oppression.

One year on, the pulse continues

[Image: A crowd in the Castro attends the HonorThemWithAction vigil.]

On Monday I attended a gathering in the Castro to honor the victims of the Pulse nightclub massacre, which occurred one year ago in Orlando. This San Francisco event was part of a nationwide “HonorThemWithAction” campaign. It was organized by Day of Decision San Francisco, a group that has organized a number of rallies related to marriage equality and other LGBT+ issues, so I recognized a number of people there.

HonorThemWithAction vigil in the Castro[Image: Ruben Martinez gives opening remarks, while Sister Merry Peter watches.]

Unlike last year’s vigil on the night of the shooting, the street was not closed, so we crowded on the sidewalk at the corner of 18th and Castro. I was concerned that it would be a white-dominated event, but then Ruben Martinez gave opening remarks in Spanish and English. (ASL interpretation was also provided).

Pastor Megan Rohrer[Image: Pastor Megan Rohrer speaks at the vigil.]

Pastor Megan Rohrer then gave a blessing and other remarks, which included shouting into the microphone, “Out of the bars and into the streets!”  I recognized Megan from marriage equality events, but didn’t realize that they are also openly transgender and non-binary. Their inclusive ministry is one example of why I am willing to work with (some) religious officials and organizations, despite being a long-time atheist.

Sister Merry Peter[Image: Sister Merry Peter speaks at the vigil.]

Sister Merry Peter of the Sisters for Perpetual Indulgence then lead  a reading of the names of the 49 killed at Pulse, also putting in a mention for victims of the Ghost Ship fire in Oakland, and for the many transgender people (overwhelmingly women of color) murdered this year. As a microphone was passed around, I read out three of the names myself, calling on my limited knowledge of Spanish to pronounce the names  correctly (as most of the victims were Latinx).

Children at the vigil[Image: Young children draw with markers at the vigil.]

The mic was then opened to whoever wanted to speak. After listening to several others, I decided to take a turn. Here is what I said, to the best of my recollection:

Hey y’all, I’m Pax, it stands for peace (*flashes peace sign*). I’m usually behind the camera, so I think this is the first time I’ve taken the mic at one of these things.

I wanted to give a shout-out to all my fellow transgender and non-binary people. I’m actually agender, but I’ve transitioned from female to male for legal purposes, because non-binary gender identities are not seen as legitimate by 99.44% of the human population. I hope to change that.

Your genders are legitimate. Your names are legitimate. Your pronouns are legitimate. Your choice of which restroom to use is legitimate. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Don’t allow yourself to be erased. Thank you.

A few more people spoke, including San Francisco Supervisor Jeff Sheehy (who I believe was not an invited speaker, just another attendee). Then Sister Merry took the mic again, and sprinkled the crowd with “fairy dust” (ashes from burnt offerings). Extra dust was provided in little bags for people to take with them.

HonorThemWithAction whiteboard[Image: A person attaches a note to a whiteboard reading “How will you pledge to #HonorThemWithAction?]

A whiteboard was provided for people to post notes of how they would take action to honor the victims. I wrote on my note, “Honoring authentic identities with words and pictures,” which is what I’m doing with this blog post. A couple of people also thanked me for my words after the event, so I was glad I spoke out.

My full set of photos from the event is available on Flickr. Some of my photos are also on Wikimedia Commons (alongside photos from other contributors). Please credit me as Pax Ahimsa Gethen if you use any of my photos, thanks.

Marching for Truth

[Image: Participants in the Indivisible SF “Flashmob for Truth” stand with Russian dolls resembling Donald Trump, Mike Pence, and Jared Kushner.]

On Saturday I attended yet another anti-Trump rally in San Francisco, organized by Indivisible SF as part of the nationwide March for Truth. While rebranded as a “flashmob” since the organizers weren’t able to get a permit to march on the street, we did have a “sidewalk procession” from the Powell Street cable car turnaround to Justin Herman Plaza.

March for Truth SF[Image: Protesters gather at Powell and Market, holding signs.]

The original purpose of the March for Truth was to protest the lack of transparency regarding alleged Russian interference in the presidential election and Trump’s tax returns. But Trump’s recent stated intention to withdraw from the Paris Agreement was also criticized. A few signs also referenced the silly “Covfefe” tweet.

March for Truth SF[Image: A protester holds a sign reading “Truth Not ‘Covfefe'”.]

Organizers led the crowd in a singalong of John Lennon’s “Gimme Some Truth” (played through a woefully inadequate speaker, but they did pass the bucket for donations to get better equipment). This was repeated midway through the march as well as at the end. St. Gabriel’s Celestial Brass Band provided excellent music for the event.

Sax player at March for Truth SF[Image: A member of St. Gabriel’s Celestial Brass Band plays a soprano saxophone.]

Upon reaching Justin Herman Plaza, organizers dressed like FBI agents unveiled a set of Russian dolls, representing Trump, Mike Pence, Jared Kushner, Carter Page, Michael Flynn, and Vladimir Putin. Each was given a “Department of Corrections” name and number, in hopes of their impending arrest. As I posted on Facebook today, I’m not a fan of the prison-industrial complex. But if Trump is ultimately found guilty of high crimes, I think a suitable punishment for him would be house arrest and revocation of all Internet access.

March for Truth SF[Image: Protesters dressed like FBI agents stand with a Russian doll resembling Trump.]

March for Truth SF[Image: A protester lifts a Russian doll resembling Vladimir Putin out of a Russian doll resembling Michael Flynn.]

While I enjoyed the creativity of the costumes and Russian dolls, I couldn’t help feeling depressed during the march itself. I’ve lost count of the number of these protests I’ve attended, and I’m honestly not sure they’re making any real difference. After all, we’re in an era where a politician can flat-out assault a reporter, with multiple witnesses, and still be elected to Congress the next day (yes, I know there were absentee ballots involved, but that doesn’t account for all of the votes). And meanwhile the bigot-in-chief merrily tweets away, using the tragic death of others to appease his base and advance his own agenda.

For now, I’m just going to continue documenting the resistance, but I think real civil disobedience will be necessary to put a stop to this administration. As always, I cannot and will not condone violence, but safe, polite marches in liberal cities are not going to be enough. (When our mostly-white marchers waved at tourist buses passing by, I raised my fist in a power salute. For whatever that’s worth.)

My photos from the event are available on Flickr. Most are also on Wikimedia Commons (alongside photos from other contributors). Please credit me as Pax Ahimsa Gethen if you use any of my photos, thanks!

On restrooms and allyship

[Image: lauren Ornelas, Pax, and Aph Ko at the Food Empowerment Project 10th anniversary party, April 2017. Photo by Deborah Svoboda.]

Yesterday my friend lauren Ornelas, founder and executive director of the Food Empowerment Project (a vegan food justice organization), posted a blog entry about a simple but important act of allyship; please read her post before continuing. I want to express my gratitude and explain the significance of this action, especially in an era of trans-antagonistic “bathroom bills”.

As a transgender person of color who attended the Food Empowerment Project 10th anniversary celebration, I wanted to highlight the importance of labeling the restrooms as gender-neutral. I last visited the Mission Cultural Center in April 2014, when I was performing there with the Lesbian/Gay Chorus of San Francisco. At that time I had only been on hormone therapy for a short time, and was very frequently misgendered as female. (While I identify as agender, I have transitioned from female to male for legal and medical purposes.) This caused me a great deal of stress whenever I needed to use a restroom.

Once I began my hormonal transition, I decided to use mens restrooms exclusively in places where no gender-neutral facilities were available, such as the Mission Cultural Center. So I stood outside the mens room there, literally shaking with nervousness, waiting until no one was coming in or out before entering. I stood there for a good ten minutes before finally working up the nerve to enter that restroom. I finished my business without incident, fortunately.

To this day, three years later, I am still nervous when using a gendered restroom, especially in an unfamiliar place, even in San Francisco, where people are legally entitled to use restrooms matching their gender identities. (As of March 2017, California law mandates that all single-occupancy restrooms be gender-neutral, but this venue had only multiple-stall restrooms available to the public.) So I was delighted when I attended the F.E.P. party to see the gender-neutral signs on both restrooms. I still used the one that was ordinarily designated for men, but I felt safer knowing that whichever one I chose, I belonged there.

Ally is a verb, as lauren and her staff at F.E.P. demonstrated at this event. I am grateful for their act of allyship.

I sing out, authentically

[Image: The Lesbian/Gay Chorus of San Francisco performs at MCCSF. Photo by Ziggy. More photos are available on Flickr.]

This month I sang in a concert with the Lesbian/Gay Chorus of San Francisco for the first time in three years. I was pleased to be selected to lead off our performance with a short solo on “I Sing Out” by Mark Hayes. The title of this concert was “Here I Am: Living Authentically”, and short, original pieces on that theme were read in between the songs. I was not a part of the chorus when these readings were solicited, but if I had been, I would have submitted this:

How many folks can say they’ve sung in three different sections of the same chorus? I have that rare honor and privilege thanks to a supportive environment that helped me ease me into male puberty in middle age. Confused? Let me back up and explain.

I entered the chorus as an alto in 2012, at the age of 42. Having grown up in a musical family, I’d sung and played instruments for my entire life, but most recently had performed mostly rock music. And I realized that although I was living as a woman, almost every song I’d chosen to sing was written for a man, and I felt most comfortable in musical groups consisting mostly of men—gay and bi men, preferably.

Now, I was in a chorus with plenty of gay and bisexual people, but almost everyone in my section was a woman. These were women of all kinds, to be sure, from femme to butch to everything in between and none of the above. And yet, I felt out of place.

Our director, Billy, was great about addressing the chorus with gender-neutral terms, even changing gendered lyrics in our songs as appropriate. But sitting in the alto section, I still felt the growing sense that “I am not one of you”. I wasn’t sure that I was a man, exactly, just that I was not a woman.

These feelings didn’t start with the chorus, but crystallized there. When they grew too loud and large to ignore, I decided to do something about it. On August 23, 2013, I announced to the world my new name and non-binary gender identity.

I e-mailed Billy that I was planning to start on testosterone therapy in January, and would likely not be able to stay in the chorus as my voice would drop. He replied that I should stay and switch to the tenor section. This was wonderful news; not only could I keep singing, but I would now get the melody line occasionally!

I sang happily as a tenor for several months, before dropping out for awhile. I am now back, three years later, singing as a baritone in our bass section. I miss singing as a tenor, but what’s important is that I have taken steps to live a more authentic life. I am grateful to the chorus for giving me the space for this realization.

May Day, May Day!

[Image: Protesters stand in the street, fists raised and chanting, holding a banner reading “Unite Here – All races – All religions – All immigrants.”]

The phrase “May Day” has a number of meanings. It is associated with spring festivals, the pagan Beltane holiday, and International Workers’ Day. When uttered three times in a row, “Mayday” signals an emergency situation.

An emergency situation is exactly how I’ve come to see the presidency of Donald Trump. My ire and disgust at the tens of millions of US-Americans who voted for this man has turned into real fear that this incompetent bigot will not only set back civil rights by several decades, but actually start a world war.  Thus, despite my flagging energy, I continue to attend protests and document the resistance.

May Day SF protest[Image: Protesters holding large signs stand in an intersection, blocking traffic.]

On Monday, I attended two demonstrations in San Francisco, out of many protests, rallies, and marches that occurred throughout the country. The first was outside the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) building. When I arrived about twenty minutes before the 8 a.m. scheduled start time, only a handful of people were milling around. But that quickly changed, and soon all of the streets around the building were filled with sign-carrying activists.

May Day SF protest[Image: Protesters sit on the sidewalk with arms linked in front of the ICE driveway.]

May Day SF protest[Image: Activists sit in front of the ICE driveway, holding a large banner reading “No ban no raids no wall”.]

Some of the protesters sat on the sidewalk with arms linked, blocking the driveways to the ICE buildings so that buses carrying immigrants about to be deported could not leave. There was no violence and no arrests, though police (and police observers) were definitely present and watching.

May Day SF protest[Image: Protesters paint a large circle with the word “Resist” in the middle of the intersection.]

May Day SF protest[Image: Protesters paint a large circle with the words “Resist” and “No Wall” in the middle of the intersection.]

A number of those present, including several children, helped paint a large circle in the middle of the intersection, with the word “Resist” in the middle and “No Ban No Wall” around the outside.

May Day SF protest[Image: The Aztec ceremonial dance group Danza Xitlalli‎ performs at the demonstration.]

The Aztec ceremonial dance group Danza Xitlalli‎, who I’ve seen at many local events, performed during the demonstration.

May Day SF protest[Image: Activists speak from atop a truck at the demonstration.]

Several people spoke from the truck that served as a stage. One was very emotional about her sister who had been detained by immigration authorities.

After an hour and a half or so at this rally, I headed over to nearby Justin Herman Plaza to take a break before the start of another rally and march. Danza Xitlalli‎ performed again, and then the group from the first rally marched into the plaza.

May Day SF protest[Image: Protesters march into Justin Herman Plaza, carrying large signs and a banner reading “Sanctuary for all”.]

The rally featured a number of speakers, including several members of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. As with the March for Science last month, the plaza was soon completely filled with people.

May Day SF protest[Image: A crowd of people fills Justin Herman Plaza.]

May Day SF protest[Image: May Day marchers head up Market Street from the Ferry Building.]

At noon we made our way out to Market Street for the march to Civic Center. I made it as far as Powell Street this time before bailing out due to fatigue and the unseasonable heat. Before heading home, I paused at the cable car turnaround to take some photos of the oncoming marchers. Upon spotting my camera, one of the marchers flipped their sign around and made sure that I saw it:

May Day SF protest[Image: A May Day marcher holds a sign reading “Impeach the racist, lying, abuser, terrorist occupying the White House.”]

I nodded in solidarity and agreement.

My full set of photos from the protest is available on Flickr. Some of the photos are also on Wikimedia Commons, alongside photos uploaded by others. Please credit me as Pax Ahimsa Gethen if you use any of my photos, thanks!

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!

Tax March San Francisco

[Image: A giant inflatable “Trump Chicken” looms in front of San Francisco City Hall.]

Yesterday I returned to San Francisco’s Civic Center for yet another anti-Trump demonstration, the Tax March. Like the Women’s March, the Tax March was held simultaneously in dozens of cities. I helped update the Wikipedia page on the event as well.

The purpose of this event was to protest Trump having not released his tax returns, despite promises during his campaign that he would do so. March organizers and participants didn’t necessarily think that these marches would pressure him into releasing them, but hoped to spotlight the lack of transparency in the Trump administration.

Speakers at the San Francisco event included Board of Supervisors member Jane Kim, House Minority leader Nancy Pelosi, and investigative journalist David Cay Johnston, who was mailed a page from Trump’s tax return and revealed it on the Rachel Maddow Show last month. As she did on Arts Advocacy Day, Kim said “I’m not afraid to call Donald Trump an enemy of this state.” Pelosi pointed out that Democrats have raised motions for Trump to release his taxes every week in Congress.

Jane Kim at the Tax March rally[Image: Jane Kim speaks at the rally.]

Nancy Pelosi shaking hands[Image: Nancy Pelosi greets rally attendees. I was nearly trampled by people seeking handshakes and selfies when they caught sight of her.]

David Cay Johnston at Tax March rally[Image: David Cay Johnston speaks at the rally.]

Also featured at the rally were three giant inflatable chickens. I watched the last and largest of them being inflated just before the start of the rally, to cheers from the crowd.

Deflated chicken[Image: A Trump Chicken lies in the street just before being inflated.]

Trump Chicken inflated[Image: The fully inflated Trump Chicken rises before the crowd.]

Thousands of people filled Civic Center for the rally and Market Street for the march, which ended at Justin Herman Plaza.

Tax March crowd at Civic Center[Image: A Tax March attendee at Civic Center holds a “Mein Trumpf” sign.]

Crowd at Tax March San Francisco[Image: The crowd leaves Civic Center and heads toward Market Street.]

Tax March on Market Street[Image: Tax Marchers head down Market Street.]

Tax marcher in pussyhat[Image: A Tax Marcher in a “pussyhat” has words for the President.]

While the march and rally were well-attended, there were sound and accessibility problems. The audio speakers were inadequate for the crowd size and had frequent, squealing feedback, and there was no sign language interpretation. At least two of the featured speakers had difficulty getting on and off of the flatbed truck that served as a stage, with one of them actually falling.

I hesitate to criticize logistics at events like this as I know volunteers are perpetually overworked and underfunded, but sound problems in particular have been a recurring theme at rallies I’ve attended this year. Messages voiced at these events are important and deserve to be heard by as many people as possible. Hopefully more funding can be raised to address these problems in the future.

My full set of photos from the rally and march is available on Flickr. Most of them are also on Wikimedia Commons, alongside those of other contributors. Please credit me as Pax Ahimsa Gethen if you use any of my photos, thanks!