May 16, 2017
This has been a very weird semester. As a fourth year PhD student, I have found myself running between class and my research on campus and the Capitol building 3 days a week for an internship in Senator Watson’s office, while almost accidentally falling into an organizational role for Austin Chapter of 314 Action. 314 Action is a non-profit whose goals include advocating for real solutions to climate change and electing more STEM-trained candidates to public office. It is for this fledgling organization formed in January of this year that I found myself battening down hastily printed flyers and sign-up sheets on the morning of a damp, windy and historical Earth Day.
This year, unlike any other year I have been alive, I witnessed a new generation of scientists and environmentalists find their voice. And boy did they use it. It is estimated that as many as 10,000 people gathered on the south lawn of the great – and mildly radioactive – granite Capitol building downtown. It was a remarkably chilly day for April in Austin, with the sky threatening rain early in the morning when I arrived. At some point a quip was made about too many snowflakes in one place messing with the weather. Starting at 9am, the walkway to the Capitol entrance was lined with tables for activist groups, science organizations and mad science demonstrations. And for the entire morning strangers with a common love discussed problems, talked solutions and harnessed rotational inertia to the delight of 7 year olds. By noon, after a few uplifting speeches, everyone was ready to march! As I packed up our things, I watched as the jolliest mob of nerds I’ve ever seen marched off the Texas State Capitol grounds chanting about peer-review. It was a beautiful sight.
It takes a lot to get a geologist to work on a Saturday morning. The March for Science qualified as “a lot”. Rarely does such an opportunity exist for scientists to outwardly publicize their work to a willing audience (unwilling audiences are subject to it all the time). I am extremely proud to say that the new and exciting advocacy group, the “Geoscience Advocacy of Texas”, grabbed the opportunity by the Longhorns to introduce themselves to the greater Austin area, educate people on legislation currently under deliberation, and encourage people to get involved. The process was a whirlwind from start to finish, and most importantly, grew organically. It was the independent product of a large number of people, UT students and others, who had decided that action was necessary and that they’d do what they could to help fight for themselves and their livelihoods. Up until the night before the march, otherwise-independently-busy graduate students were furiously messaging back and forth about the best way to put down the lab goggles and picked up the pickets and posters for the march. We decided our best option was to present a table that introduced and described the political roundtables and direct legislative action we were taking, as well as allowed us to recruit new members. Geoscience Advocacy of Texas (GAT) is committed to forwarding science-based environmental policy in Texas, and its broad yet consistent message appealed to the hundreds of people that stopped by the booth that was generously offered to us by 314Action (thanks Kimmy McCormack!). We had a marvelous time talking to and learning from everyone who came by, and we hope that the march was a springboard for GAT to grow and affect more change. If you are interested in learning more about GAT, please email Mike O’Connor at email@example.com.
GAT on FB https://www.facebook.com/geoadvocacyTX/
Austin March for Science: https://www.facebook.com/ScienceMarchAustin/
Photos courtesy of Kimmy McCormack and Mike O’Connor. Cover photo by Rachel Bernard.