22 February 2017

The March for Science, the AAS, and You

Kevin Marvel

Kevin Marvel American Astronomical Society (AAS)

Civically engaged scientists have developed a plan for a march in support of science on Saturday, 22 April 2017 (Earth Day). The March for Science (#marchforscience) will take place in Washington, DC, with hundreds of satellite marches occurring the same day across the United States and in numerous other countries.

Billed as a non-partisan event, the March for Science will stress the importance of science to humanity and the role science has to play in informing governmental policy. It is clear from the vast numbers of followers on social media that the event will provide an opportunity for those who support science to have a positive impact. More (perhaps many more) than a million people are expected to participate worldwide.

At a recent meeting of the Council of Engineering and Scientific Society Executives, one of the co-founders of the March for Science addressed the executive directors of about 100 science and engineering associations. He stressed the organizers’ fundamental goals of arranging a safe, non-violent, non-partisan event, one that promotes science and its important role in society but that steers clear of other, potentially distracting issues. Plans for the March are still developing, and more people and organizations are getting involved, so the goals may change; check MarchForScience.com for updates.

The AAS has built up its advocacy capability over several decades with the goal of promoting astronomy and related disciplines. Although we have dedicated staff to accomplish this goal, we have found that by supporting our members as they participate in policy activities we can have a substantially larger impact. This is demonstrated by our Congressional Visits Days, organized both for the Society and its Divisions, as well as by a variety of other advocacy activities.

Therefore, just as we do on every other day of the year, the AAS will support our members who wish to exercise their First Amendment right “to petition the Government for a redress of grievances” — most days by visiting policy makers’ offices, on 22 April by participating in the March for Science. Necessarily, we will focus our support on the main march taking place in Washington, DC, where the AAS Executive Office is located, but we will do all we can to help those participating in marches elsewhere too. If you plan to help organize or participate in a local march, please let us know so that we can coordinate with you and help if we can.

We have developed two new online forums to support our members who live in the DC area or who plan to visit to participate in the March:

  1. March for Science Roommate and Housing Search: This forum, similar to the one we operate for AAS meetings, has a dual purpose: (1) to match members wanting to share a hotel room in DC and (2) to connect members traveling to DC for the March with DC-area members willing to host one or more members in their home. The first message in this forum contains instructions on how to use both features.
  2. March for Science Carpool Search: This forum is designed to facilitate carpooling for AAS members who wish to drive (or ride) to DC. The first message in this forum contains instructions on how to use it.

In addition, on the morning of the march, we will open the AAS Executive Office to provide morning refreshments to AAS members, as space allows. As the date of the March approaches, we will share logistical and other information and ensure that any late-breaking developments are communicated to the entire membership.

As always, we have online resources for members to learn how to engage effectively with policy makers as well as a concise listing of the Society’s policy positions and advocacy priorities. As an organization, we rely on the National Academies’ Decadal Surveys to guide our advocacy efforts in general and on the AAS Committee on Astronomy and Public Policy and the AAS Council to guide our policy actions in detail.

If you're a federal employee or contractor and are wondering what you can and can't do with regard to advocacy and/or participation in the March, you should contact your agency's office of general counsel and consult the Office of Special Counsel on Hatch Act requirements. Since the March is non-partisan, I don't expect you to have a problem — but I'm an astronomer, not a lawyer.

The March for Science is a unique grassroots activity that has drawn a lot of attention from the scientific community, the media, and the federal government. As plans for the event develop and details become settled, we will share this information with you, our members. Our leadership participates weekly in information-sharing phone calls related to the March, and when we learn something new, we will be sure to share it with you.

If you need more information or have questions, don’t hesitate to contact me; our Deputy Executive Officer and Director of Public Policy, Joel Parriott; or our John N. Bahcall Public Policy Fellow, Heather Bloemhard. I plan to participate in the March myself, and I look forward to joining other like-minded members in a non-partisan show of support for science and its important role in our modern world.