When I March for Science, I March for Workers

On April 22nd, I will be Marching for Science in Seattle. Several weeks ago, I bought ‘March for Science’ hoodies for my partner and I as part of a fundraising campaign. He wears his frequently around Seattle.

Last week he took his car to a repair shop in South Tacoma near the old rail service yards which used to be a thriving working class neighborhood. When he came home, he said,

“I felt awkward wearing the Science March sweatshirt there. The neighborhood used to have good union jobs from the rail yard, but those evaporated and I don’t think I could make a case that investing in science would help them.”

I was surprised. My partner lived part of his childhood in a trailer, was raised by a teamster, and sought refuge from an early age in reading books on science and tinkering with electronics. We both pursued careers in science and technology.

Nonetheless, the question was important: What benefits does science bring to the millions of Americans struggling to pay the bills? Are quality education and access to scientific inquiry privileges reserved for the affluent, or should they be available to anyone driven to put in the hard work to attain them?

When I was taking math and physics classes at Tacoma Community College in my path to a doctoral program in atmospheric sciences, I earned a “Scholarship for Upward Mobility” from the National Science Foundation. The scholarship allowed me to cut back on my paid hourly work as a math tutor and study more. That NSF award was available to me because the dedicated science educators at Tacoma Community College applied for it — they wanted to ensure that talented students with financial need could complete their degrees in the sciences. The Scholarship for Upward Mobility is one of many programs funded by the National Science Foundation that strive to make science more inclusive and accessible.

Now I am a scientist and trustee of my labor union, UAW 4121, which represents academic student employees at the University of Washington. Last spring the King County Labor Council formed a climate caucus because union members from many trades wanted a space where we could talk about how climate change will impact workers here in the Northwest. Electricians, writers, grocery store workers, painters, machinists, scientists, and other skilled laborers meet regularly to discuss the implications of both climate change and the transition to a clean energy economy — and we use science to inform our conversations.

A scientific understanding of the world and the problem-solving skills that flow from it are important for everyone, not just those with advanced degrees. In fact, many of the problems facing low-income and working class communities need scientific solutions. Air and water pollution and spills of toxic industrial waste affect these communities at shockingly higher rates than affluent communities. These problems are fleshed out by scientists, require evidence-based solutions, and the communities most impacted should be armed with science to solve them.

When I march for science, I march for a vision of society that embraces our hard-earned knowledge about the physical world, that promotes a diverse body of scientists, science educators, and science communicators, and that demands that our lawmakers put evidence above ego when making decisions that affect ordinary Americans.