SALT LAKE CITY, Utah, April 22 (Gephardt Daily/UPI) — An estimated 3,000 people gathered in Salt Lake City on Saturday to March for Science.
The group in City Creek Park, along with others, in Utah, the nation and around the world, organized to meet on Earth Day to demonstrate their support for the sciences and for the national march, taking place in Washington, D.C.
The website for the main march describes the effort as “the first step of a global movement to defend the vital role science plays in our health, safety, economies, and governments.”
In Salt Lake City, supporters walked from City Creek Park to the Utah State Capitol. They carried signs with messages including “Protect Wild Utah,” “Make Science Great Again,” “There Is No Planet B,” “$cience = Jobs” and “Science Is Not Alternative Fact.”
Daniela Chavez said she joined the Salt Lake City march “to be a representative for science.” A graduate student at University of Utah, she said she studies sperm cell development using a small worm called C. elegans, which serves as a basic system for the study.
Asked why she thinks science is important, Chavez said, “The health innovations we enjoy are the result of scientists working for many years in the labs … developing therapies and developing drugs … it impacts all of our lives. It’s in the cars we drive, and all the technology we rely on.”
Another marcher, Justice Morath, told Gephardt Daily he came to the event because, “This is a national movement and we’re out celebrating and defending science and scientific inquiry, and science funding through the federal government, states and universities.”
“This march is not a partisan march by any means,” Morath said, “and it’s not in reaction to any specific political party or administration. It’s about making sure that we defend scientific inquiry and academic freedom across the board.”
He added that the discoveries that are made when questions are asked can help in our daily lives, from the medicines people need to the cell phones we carry in our pockets.
“And it also helps us find answers to the big, difficult questions, like global warming and what we can and should do about it,” he said.
Many of the Salt Lake marchers expressed their concern about global warming and the environment. Nalini Nadkarni said she came out to the march because she’s a biologist.
“I study trees, I love trees and I want to know all I can about them,” she said. “But most of all, I think science is something that belongs to everybody, so I want to join my voice with all the other people here who want to support and celebrate science.”
Nadkarni said, “So often, people don’t realize that science is an important part of their lives. They take an aspirin, they use a cell phone, and they don’t realize that it’s been years and years of research that has actually led us to the medicine, the technology and an understanding of our environment.”
Retiree Christine Helfrich said she started out in her education as a social worker, but ended up taking care of some children in the foster system who had medical issues. Helfrich then gravitated into the pharmaceutical industry for 22 years, and spent the last 10 years of her career in research at the Huntsman Cancer Institute.
“I have family members who’ve had cancer,” she said. “It is so important, the kind of research they’re doing at Huntsman.”
She added, “I’m also a great old broad for the wilderness. I feel passionate about climate change and getting a grip on what we’re doing to our environment, and trying to make some modifications before it’s too late.”
Caroline Gleich, of Salt Lake City, who was one of the speakers at the march, told Gephardt Daily, “Science is a force that touches every part of our daily lives.”
Gleich is a professional ski mountaineer and adventure athlete in addition to being an environmental activist.
“Science is the basis of almost everything we do,” she said. “And for me, personally, in my career, it affects ski technology, carbon fibers to make light-weight bikes, foam and rubber to make the shoes we use outside. And from what I’ve seen in my international travels, the glaciers are melting at an unprecedented rate, and it’s horrifying to see that. So I don’t want snow and ice to become a thing of the past.
“It’s incredibly important that science is a part of all decision-making processes,” she said.
At the Washington, D.C., protest, some organizers said they were motivated by U.S. President Donald Trump, who referred to climate change as a hoax during his presidential campaign and proposed a budget that cut funding for research throughout the federal government, according to a United Press International report.
“I think there has been a declining sense of what science means to progress. I think we take so much for granted,” March for Science honorary co-chair Lydia Villa-Komaroff said.
“It might have been ignited by Trump, but it’s not about Trump,” Villa-Komaroff said. “It’s about the importance of science in society and continuing the support for the science community in keeping our edge.”
Early protests in Australia and New Zealand saw demonstrators carrying signs and participating in chants such as “What do we want? Evidence-based science! When do we want it? After peer review!”
Back in Salt Lake City, the thousands of participants walked from City Creek Park northward to the Capitol for scheduled speeches by community leaders and scientists.
When speaker Denni Cawley stood at the microphone to address the crowd, she was greeted by cheers and applause. Cawley is the executive director of the nonprofit Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment.
“Science, not silence!” she said, as thousands of people chanted “science, not silence” in return.
After briefly introducing herself, she drew knowing smiles from the crowd by listing the things she wanted to be as she was growing up — scientist, astronaut, doctor, marine biologist, archaeologist (“Who didn’t love Indiana Jones?” she asked.)
Cawley told her audience, “We are part of around 600 marches — today we are not just people marching in SLC, but people marching in Logan, Moab, Park City and St. George. Go Utah!”
She finished by saying, “I’m so proud to be with you all today, and those who’ve spent hours, years and lifetimes in search of knowledge and truth — not for themselves, but for society.”
The crowd responded with sustained applause.