Science march has political edge

Sussex County group joins call for facts, and for votes

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  • People and placards tell the story at the second annual New Jersey March for Science Photos by Derek Boen

  • Activists from across the state demonstrated in Trenton last Saturday

  • Environmentalist math

  • Demands

  • Advice

  • Relationship

By Meghan Byers

— Hundreds of activists from all over New Jersey, including NJ 11th for Change, arrived in Trenton this past Saturday for the second annual New Jersey March for Science. The event was organized in conjunction with the national march taking place in Washington D.C., and was one of many marches happening around the world on Saturday.

According to the guiding statement of the National March for Science, the event was meant to “call for science that upholds the common good, and for political leaders and policymakers to enact evidence-based policies in the public interest."

New Jersey marchers carried signs with messages addressing a wide range of science and environmental-related issues, from local concerns about clean water to national policy issues regarding climate change.

“We’ve worked really hard to put together an event that is educational, uplifting, and motivational,” Matthew Buckley, co-organizer of the march and astrophysics research assistant professor at Rutgers University, said in his opening remarks on Saturday.

The event began at 10 AM on the steps of the Trenton War Memorial, with a line up of speakers including Congressman Frank Pallone (D-NJ6) and NJ Health Commissioner Dr. Shereef Elnaha. Following the speeches, participants marched to the NJ Statehouse Annex Plaza for a “science festival” including activities for children, live music, and panel discussions on issues such as climate change and gun violence research.

“Enough is enough,” Congressman Pallone told the crowd. “I’m so tired of the science deniers...We have to believe in science, we have to believe in facts, we have to believe in transparency – particularly on the part of government.”

Pallone, a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, went on to stress his belief that government support for science would lead to an increase in jobs and economic growth. He also emphasized the threat of proposed budget cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency, and stated that President Trump and Republicans in Congress “want to continue to move on an anti-environmental agenda that I have never seen in my entire lifetime.”

Pallone was not the only speaker to level pointed criticism at the current administration.

“Our leaders no longer even make the pretense of listening to experts before making decisions,” said Buckley early on in the speakers program.

“We are concerned that the Trump administration does not value truth,” said Marilyn Ryan of the NJ Education Association in her own speech. “Actively suppressing scientists who work for the government and repressing their data is dangerous to the future of our nation.”

Jeff Tittel, Director of the NJ Chapter of the Sierra Club added that he was committed to holding Governor Murphy accountable for campaign promises regarding environmental issues such as transitioning to renewable energy.

“We’re sending a message not just down to Washington but here to the statehouse,” said Tittel. “We’re here to tell Governor Murphy that we’re going to hold you accountable to your rhetoric.”

“When we’re putting science deniers in office...that endangers public health,” said Hopatcong resident Christine Clarke in an interview following the march. Clarke is the Environmental Director of Action Together NJ, a grassroots activist group which was one of the co-sponsors of Saturday’s event.

“It’s not just a matter of partisan politics; it’s a matter of safety and security,” she added. “If sea levels rise, New Jersey would be impacted terribly.”

Despite environmental challenges faced by New Jersey and the nation at large, Clarke said that she felt there was reason for optimism, particularly when it comes to clean energy. “I’m encouraged by reports that we have four times our nation’s energy needs in wind energy potential off US coasts,” said Clarke. “I don’t think that [the president] can stop the global movement toward wind.”

As November creeps closer, progressive activist and advocacy groups have placed increased emphasis on voting and voter registration. The NJ March for Science’s slogan this year was “Study. Educate. Vote,” and Action Together NJ provided a voter registration table at the event. The march was co-sponsored by a variety of additional organizations, including the District 11 activist group NJ 11th for Change, the New Jersey State Nurses Association, the New Jersey Education Association, Princeton Citizen Scientists, and the New Jersey chapter of the Sierra Club.

“This election is the most important election we’ve seen in a generation,” said Tittel. “When you deny science and you deny climate change, you’re denying our future.”

“Our greatest challenge may be education, and getting environmental voters out to the polls,” said Clarke. “We’re working hard on providing free public education, and access to politicians.”

To that end, Action Together NJ has arranged for a live, environmental question and answer session with NJ Senator Bob Menendez on April 26 at 6:45 PM. The session will be livestreamed on Facebook, and questions can be submitted either during the event or through a form on the Action Together NJ Facebook page.

Clarke added that she felt Saturday’s event was successful in raising awareness and buoying support for science. “These events renew advocates’ energy as well,” she said. “We’ve been thinking in terms of ‘before the march’ and ‘after the march.’ We’re collaborating on what comes after the march now.”

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