Locals march for science
National movement takes on local flavor
April 25, 2017
Like its sister events across the world, the March for Science in Park City Saturday offered a generous number of signs supporting science: Leave the Fantasy & Fiction to the Artists, Future Paleontologist, Science Finds Truth; Faith Pushes Propaganda, We're rising to fight climate change!
Because the march also fell on Earth Day, many of the signs focused on the environment, conservation and land/wilderness preservation.
The official estimate of the crowd, the majority marchers and few onlookers, was 350 according to the Park City Police Department, who measured the crowd with special software on a drone flyover.
The whole event came through in a relatively short timeframe, approximately nine weeks from the time Josh Hobson approached the Summit County Democratic Executive Meeting with the idea. He teamed up with local resident Ginger Tolman and together they decided to join the national March for Science movement with an independent committee.
Hobson admitted that among the organizers and volunteers, predictions about how many demonstrators would participate a week after both resorts closed ranged wildly. "We had one person who was pessimistic and another who was wildly optimistic – me," he said. "But realistically, given the timing of it, I think we expected maybe 500 people.
"I'm pleased with how many people showed up for this."
In the context of the other marches, Park City's population is a study in opposites, Tolman pointed out.
The Women's March, held Jan. 24, fell on the first Saturday of the Sundance Film Festival, perhaps the busiest day of the year for the town. In addition, the Presidential Inauguration had just happened two days before, and many people were infused with energy and concern from that.
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April 22, the day of the March for Science, on the other hand, came one week after both ski resorts closed for the season. "That day might be the actual polar opposite in population for the town," Tolman said.
"I'm thrilled with the turnout," she added.
Hobson knew early on that the people showing up Saturday to participate in the March for Science believed in the idea that funding and embracing science was important. His goal: motivate those present to advocate for science. "I wanted to persuade them to talk to the people who weren't there," he said.
Another goal was to "get scientists out in front of people. I know most people don't have access to scientists in their daily lives," he said.
And so, Park City's event added a panel of speakers afterwards. The Park City March for Science joined six other cities in Utah, as well as hundreds of cities around the world, in organized marches.
Forum speakers included Dr. Chris Johnson, distinguished professor of computer science and founding director of the Scientific Computing and Imaging Institute; Dr. Rob McLeod, co-founder/associate director of the Scientific Computing and Imaging Institute; Dr. Katharine Coles, past Utah poet laureate; Dr. Miriah Meyer, astrophysicist and USTAR rockstar; Dr. Rob Davies, physicist at Utah State University, and State Coordinator at Utah Climate Center, and Dr. Brian Moench president of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment. And while some of the talks covered the full effect of climate change, others brought a more hopeful note with ways science was tackling these problems.
"It was really incredible to hear all these people speak and the amazing work they're doing in Utah," Tolman said.
Marching for Science
The march route went downhill on Main Street, turned right at the Franz the Bear statue and circled back uphill to the rally in the parking lot.
Hobson didn't expect any violence from demonstrators in the march, and was doubtful counter-protesters would be present. Still, he credited some of the peaceful nature of the march to the fact that police were visible. Park City Police, SWAT and city employees were among the public safety officials that headquartered in the parking lot next to the Main Street Post Office.
In addition to wanting scientists to get in front of the public, Hobson also invited City Council Member Nann Worel to speak at the rally afterwards. She, in turn, invited the entire Park City council and Mayor Jack Thomas to attend. All were present, minus Becca Gerber, who was out of the country Saturday and was marching in the area she was visiting.
"It was important to me that people realized how important these issues are to me and the City Council," Worel said about attending. "It was important we had solidarity to show."
She spoke with Park City residents and also heard stories from protestors who traveled from Midway and as far as Rory, Utah. "I talked to one man who lived in Midway and works in the construction industry in Park City. He works on huge vacation homes that are used two weeks out the year. And he was concerned that even when they're empty, they're still using resources: heated during cold months, landscaping, heated driveways."
One of the largest cheers came after a participant yelled out, "Ban plastic bags!" and Worel responded that the council was already considering that initiative. The crowd burst into huge applause.
"It was really exciting to share what the city was doing and watch the reaction of the people when they heard it," Worel said. "They energized me and the rest of the council."
March organizers held an essay writing contest and Park City High School student Kyle Haas read his winning essay at the rally. (See Viewpoints, page A17, for the full text.)
Each speaker spoke from the mobile stage of the Solar Saucer, so it was fitting that Scott Whitaker, a.k.a. Scotty Soltronic, completed the rally with a rousing speech about conservation.
Although the parade and rally were planned as a single event, Hobson is hoping to keep the momentum going. He mentioned plans to work with organizations throughout the area to keep science woven into different experiences, whether organizing another march to promote water science or providing science-based kid activities at popular family events. Hobson's gears are turning.
Activity has continued since Saturday, especially on social media. One of its most visible avnues is the group's Facebook page: March for Science Park City. Organizers posted a week of action steps supporting science, provided by the national organization.
"These are days of action, and they are not going away, and they are not lessening," Tolman said.