Dozens gather locally to protest science funding cuts

The pause in Saturday’s rainfall came at a good time for the two-dozen marchers who descended upon Merchant’s Square that afternoon. 

For many adults, the March for Science was a protest of President Donald Trump’s proposed cuts to scientific study by departments within the government. For the younger generations, it was to proudly display a love for the discipline. 

The event, whose epicenter was Washington D.C., was prompted by scientists who felt their work was being threatened.

Erin Shields is one of those scientists.

A marine biologist at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, she brought her son, Wyatt. He said he came because he loves dinosaurs; hers was a more widespread reason.

The president’s proposed budget, released in March, cut funding within many science-focused agencies. Those include the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency, which would see a 31 percent reduction.

“I’m here to support science funding, I feel it’s definitely in the nation’s best interest to fund scientific research,” Shields said. “I’m concerned with the wide acceptance of alternative facts and science-denying.”

The pair marched down Duke of Gloucester Street — from Merchant’s Square to the Capitol building and back again — with fellow VIMS scientist Jen Stanhope and her daughter, Lexi. Lexi’s hand-made sign detailed things the earth may lose without science, naming gorillas, elephants and tigers.

“I’m here to protect science,” Lexi said, and her favorite part of the discipline is getting to “explode things.”

Saturday’s gathering was at least the third demonstration to proceed around Colonial Williamsburg this year. It followed the Women’s March Jan. 21 and a smaller tax day gathering on April 15. The tax day march is what inspired Ruth Kaiser, facilitator at the local advocacy group Democracy First, to sponsor Saturday’s event. 

Williamsburg resident Catherine Carey helped organize the day. She sent some emails inviting friends and it grew from there.

“It gives us a sense of accomplishment,” Kaiser said. “It’s almost a selfish thing because in a sense, this little march won’t change anything in the broad spectrum.”

Because it wasn’t planned in advance, the group didn’t have the necessary permit from Merchant’s Square to do a true march. Gatherings are maxed out at 20 so Carey sent separate groups of 15 or less toward the Capitol building.

She encouraged them to hold their signs proudly and draw passerby’s into the protest or just into conversation. There were few chants, the goal was not to disrupt, Kaiser said.

Kaiser was hoping for 50 to 100 people Saturday, but said it will benefit those who came.

“It has such a positive impact on those here and it ripples out. It encourages an atmosphere of activism,” Kaiser said. “And it’s OK, this is the revolutionary city after all.”

Carey said she’ll be attending another science-oriented protest in the historic capital next weekend, when the local chapter of the political nonprofit Indivisible hosts the People’s Climate March.

Williams can be reached by phone at 757-345-2341.

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