Thomas R. O'Donnell

Weather chills March for Science Iowa turnout but can’t freeze plans to hold politicians accountable

In Government, STEM on April 19, 2018 at 7:35 am
60 marchers line up for a photo on the Iowa Capitol steps before embarking on the second March for Science Iowa. Credit: Shari Hrdina, Bold Iowa.

Most of the hardy folks at the second March for Science Iowa at the Capitol. Credit: Shari Hrdina, Bold Iowa.

By Thursday of last week, it was becoming clear that the 2018 version of the March for Science Iowa would suffer from the state’s bizarre spring weather. Over the previous few days, the forecasts sank from 60 degrees and sunny to the low 40s and rainy.

Organizers (including your correspondent) hung onto hope that the situation would change, but by Saturday morning it appeared almost certain to be a miserable day.

It wasn’t the best outcome, yet march leaders had already decided that the event’s purpose would endure past a single annual event. They’re determined to give voters the information they might have gotten had the event gone as planned.

When Saturday dawned cold, damp and windy, with forecasts for more of the same all day (including gusts exceeding 40 miles per hour), organizers gathered online and via conference call to discuss scaling back march plans. Some candidates for governor would be returning from an event in northwest Iowa, precisely where heavy snow was expected, making their return to Des Moines difficult. A damp and shivering audience would be less able to engage in beneficial dialogue at forums with candidates for secretaries of agriculture and state and the Third Congressional District. And with howling wind and rain, keeping audio equipment dry would have been nearly impossible.

So we cancelled the audio, food trucks and portable toilets. We called candidates and told them to take the day off. (Ha!) We focused solely on a rally to support publicly funded research, science education and evidence-based policy. President Kaitlin Higgins and vice-president Jordan Shaw announced the changes via social media.

In the end, the weather wasn’t as bad as feared, with little rain but strong winds and cold. Nonetheless, until the march started at 1 p.m., we weren’t sure anyone would show up. To our relief, around 60 hardy souls took on the weather – from entire families to researchers to high school students to retired and nearly retired teachers.

There were few enough of us that we posed for a group photo on the Capitol steps. We invited attendees to tell their story – how research and evidence benefitted them or what concerned them about the future of science and education.

Volunteer Ruth Henderson, a science teacher, and her colleague, Phyllis Goodman, a retired science teacher, told about the criticism they received when they showed the Al Gore climate change documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” to their classes. Shaw related how a close relative died because she chose an unproven health treatment for her cancer. Others discussed their work in research and science.

Then we headed out, going west rather than circling the Capitol, as we did last year, to get more exposure to passing traffic.

The whole thing took around an hour. What was perhaps best and most enjoyable was that many of the participants remained, talking in small groups, long after the march ended. The camaraderie and conversation were delightful.

Many participants also took advantage of a notebook Higgins had set out to suggest science policy questions they want candidates to answer.

This is part of the path forward for the March for Science Iowa. In the next couple of weeks, we’ll distribute questionnaires to candidates for statewide office and for Congress. We’ll publish their answers, unedited, so voters can weigh their views. (If you have a science policy question for candidates, post it to the MFSI Facebook page. You also can volunteer there. We can use the help.)

After the primary elections, we’ll turn to getting general election candidates on record regarding science policy. The group wants to join other nonpartisan organizations to hold candidate forums or debates that include science-related questions. Plans for this phase of are still emerging, but fundraising has given us resources we can apply to this goal.

(Thanks to the Gartner Family Foundation, Hatch Development, Alluvial Brewing and Mark and Winifred Gleason for their generous donations. Raygun, the Des Moines screen-printing giant, also is donating a share of proceeds from sales of MFSI T-shirts.)

The mission: Make the March for Science Iowa a year-round force to support science.

We’re no longer about just one day a year.

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