The March for Science is a global movement focused on promoting science and its role in society and policy. That movement can be traced back to January 24, where in a five hour period @sciencemarchdc went from a few dozen followers to tens of thousands, growing exponentially in the following weeks. The idea for a March for Science went viral before any plan was in place, passionate supporters ready to act when all we had was the name. As we look to learn from the experience of the march — the triumphs and the struggles — it's worth discussing how MFS and future movements can harness the incredible, unexpected passion for a cause into a lasting movement.
Caroline Weinberg — one of the co-chairs and organizers of 2017's March for Science — discusses two broad questions: How is the Internet involved in the planning of large scale, high visibility political demonstrations? And, how can we harness the potential of demonstrations to build into movements?
The internet was fundamental to the success of the March for Science. The event first went viral on Twitter and continued to expand with an increasing number of Facebook followers. For Weinberg, using social media was a “remarkable way to be able to build a community of advocates around the world” and find out issues that are important to them. One of the biggest benefits of using social media in this way was the availability of immediate feedback and critique. Weinberg describe these critiques as being especially valuable in starting conversations about diversity and inclusion within the march itself, as well as within the broader scientific community. However, relying so heavily on social media for communication also had some downfalls. Specifically, Weinberg described how in addition to bringing important issues to their attention, the constant critique made organizers feel defensive and stated that social media, “invites snap judgements that are hard to reverse.” She also pointed out that it was difficult to keep up with the public’s desire for immediate information about the details of the march, because the behind the scenes planning was complex.
To help facilitate the march’s transition into a movement, Weinberg had two suggestions. First, she emphasized that scientists and science advocates must be able to communicate their evidence-based research effectively to the public. She suggested that scientists should be formally educated about public communication in undergraduate and graduate education, and that it should be part of national conferences. Second, Weinberg stated that we should continue to utilize the affordances of digital advocacy, such as letter writing campaigns, petitions, and making it easy for people to locate and contact their representatives.
Weinberg described the day of the march as “powerful,” but observed that afterwards, there was a transition period in which several questions arose that now need to be addressed. In her conclusion, Weinberg shared these questions with the audience: How can we sustain motivation from a single day into something people want to advocate for continuously in digital space? How can we encourage people to act, not only during crisis, but every day? How can we fight complacency?
Notes by Donica O'Malley
Caroline Weinberg, MD, MPH, is a public health researcher and educator, with a focus on social determinants of health and increased health literacy as a means of improving health outcomes in under-served communities. Since 2002, she has also worked as a health educator with an emphasis on reproductive health and healthy relationships in adolescents.
In 2017, her frustration with the persistent and pervasive anti-science policies that jeopardize our present and future led to her involvement in the March for Science, a global movement focused on promoting the role of science in society and policy. She served as the National Co-Chair for the March for Science, culminating in the largest science event in history and uniting more than one million people in 600 locations worldwide. She currently serves as a director of the March for Science organization, working with a dynamic team of science advocates around the globe to transition from a powerful moment to a lasting movement.