Marching for Science in the Deeply Red – Deep South

Chattanooga March for Science – April 22nd, 2017 – Courtesy of Shirley Zapf‎

On April 22nd, we watched as the world marched for science. Major media did a fine job covering demonstrations happening across the nation and around the world. However, most of what we saw on television and online focused on the largest events – which took place in big cities. Getting less attention, were hundreds of marches in smaller cities that brought people together in support of science.

With thunderstorms looming, residents of Chattanooga, Tennessee took to the streets to make their voices heard. Chattanooga is located in Hamilton County, where 56% of voters chose Donald Trump (39% chose Hillary Clinton) in November’s Presidential Election. Statewide, Trump topped Clinton 61% to 35%. With numbers like that, you’d think residents would be less inclined to participate in a political march targeting the policies of a person many of them helped elect.

The following is a Q&A with Sara Scott, one of the organizers of the Chattanooga March for Science. She defines herself as a feminist, leftist, and mother who has lived in Chattanooga for four years. I was interested in hearing her thoughts about organizing a pro-science event in the deep south.

Q: What motivated you to take an active role in organizing a satellite March for Science in Chattanooga, Tennessee?

Chattanooga March for Science – April 22nd, 2017 – Courtesy of Shirley Zapf‎

A:  I’m a member of the organizing team that produced the Women’s March on Chattanooga; we’re all active advocates, so we stay connected. We had all heard about the national plan to March for Science, which quickly evolved to include satellite marches. Science-enthusiast friend and pro vaccine advocate, Juniper Russo, having recently delivered a baby, posted on Facebook wondering if any friends were interested in collaborating with someone who may not be so available. Another friend had tagged me in the comments, and we were running. We held our first planning meeting the next week. The organizing group changed over time, eventually being 2/3 science professionals.

Q:  Do you have a science background or any formal connection to science?

A:  I do not have a formal background in science; I definitely count science as top interest. Particularly life sciences and human development. Both of my children have developmental deficits; I homeschool them because it’s the most effective way to meet their individual needs. The outdoors is often our classroom.

Q:  Much of the media attention was given to major cities, but the smaller cities like Chattanooga played a big role as well. How did things go here?

A: Times Free Press estimated 1,000. That is small compared to larger cities, but it’s a great turnout for Chattanooga. Stormy weather likely lowered our numbers.

Chattanooga March for Science – April 22nd, 2017 – Courtesy of Shirley Zapf‎

Many people had never visited Main Terrain Art Park, which features a lot of science in its design, nor TDEC’s Chattanooga field office (TN Dept of Environment and Conservation). Several speakers connected broad issues to local ones. These types of gatherings help to solidify a mission/cause, and energize people who agree on the issue, but had previously not taken action. Hopefully, those people went home and talked to their neighbors, and they posted pictures on Facebook which is like a message to their friends. People need to understand these are gravely serious times. Organizer Patricia Bazemore did an excellent job of driving that urgency home with her speech on the TDEC steps.

Q:  Were there any surprises with the Chattanooga event?

A: There was a bad surprise during the planning: I always presume (wrongly) the folks who are interested in progressive issues are progressive on all issues (they aren’t). Lead organizers were concerned with inclusivity and diversity early on; we felt it was necessary to keep the organizing group relatively small for efficiency. Another main goal was making sure we explicitly invited marginalized groups to the table; if you share an event in white circles, you’re not going to reach many people of color. The  feeling was not mirrored by a small portion of the planning group; they eventually broke off and held their own event downtown.

A good surprise has been the real span of ages present at events this year. I love seeing so many different people involved. Another good surprise was last minute addition, Dr. Danielle Mitchell who spoke about the urgent state of healthcare and what it’s like to practice in today’s world.

One thing that wasn’t a surprise was difficulty not being white/cisgender/heteronormative/able/middle class centered. We should always be talking about 3 things: anti-capitalism, anti-racism, and anti-sexism. Yes, everyone wants clean water, but let’s talk about the people of Standing Rock and Flint. Yes, everyone wants truly affordable healthcare, but let’s talk about the folks stuck in the income gap here in Tennessee, those who make too much for Medicaid (because our government elected not to expand) but too little for ACA.

I had hoped to find speakers to cover the lead study that was expanded here, as well as asthma. Both lead exposure and asthma are higher in impoverished communities, you can see this here in Chattanooga. It was hard to find folks willing and available to speak at a “political event”.

Chattanooga March for Science – April 22nd, 2017 – Courtesy of Shirley Zapf‎

Q:  Do you think having a science march in a deeply red state holds any additional significance?

A:  Yes, I do think marches in red states are especially important. Our representatives clearly represent their own needs and objectives rather than their constituents. We cannot let that pass quietly; our children’s futures are at stake.

Q:  What were your keys to success?

A:  Keys to our success were the power of social media. It’s the best way to get the word out. And always, Power of the People. We are stronger when we band together.

We have a Facebook page, March for Science Chattanooga; we hope to continue sharing information there.

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