Despite rain, thousands of people attended the March for Science on the National Mall Saturday, urging elected officials to support and fund scientific freedom to make future breakthroughs possible.
"We didn't choose to be in this battle, but it has come to the point where we have to fight because the stakes are too great,'' said climate scientist Michael Mann, who regularly clashes with politicians.
Standing on the National Mall soaked by rain, Mann said that like other scientists, he would rather be in his lab, the field or teaching students. But driving his advocacy are officials who deny his research that shows rising global temperatures.
Demonstrators carried signs that said carried signs that said "Make America think again," "Act now or swim later," "Denial is not a policy" and "I'm with her," with an arrow pointing to a drawing of planet Earth.
Organizers portrayed the march as political but not partisan, promoting the understanding of science as well as defending it from various attacks, including proposed U.S. government budget cuts under President Donald Trump, such as a 20 percent slice of the National Institute of Health.
Speakers noted that Trump was in the White House nearby, having cancelled a weekend in New Jersey.
The sign that 9-year-old Sam Klimas held was red, handmade and personal: "Science saved my life." He had a form of brain cancer and has been healthy for eight years now. His mother, grandmother and brother traveled with him from Parkersburg, West Virginia. "I have to do everything I can to oppose the policies of this administration,'' said his grandmother, Susan Sharp.
The rallies set for more than 500 cities worldwide were putting scientists, who generally shy away from advocacy and whose work depends on objective experimentation, into a more public position.
Scientists said they were anxious about political and public rejection of established science such as climate change and the safety of vaccine immunizations.
"Scientists find it appalling that evidence has been crowded out by ideological assertions," said Rush Holt, a former physicist and Democratic congressman who runs the American Association for the Advancement of Science. "It is not just about Donald Trump, but there is also no question that marchers are saying "when the shoe fits."
Judy Twigg, a public health professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, was aiming one of her signs at the president. The sign showed the periodic table of chemical elements and said: "You're out of your element Donny." For Twigg, who was wearing a T-shirt that said "Science is not a liberal conspiracy," research is a matter of life and death on issues such as polio and child mortality.
Despite saying the march was not partisan, Holt acknowledged it was only dreamed up at the Women's March on Washington, a day after Trump's Jan. 20 inauguration.
"It's not about the current administration. The truth is we should have been marching for science 30 years ago, 20 years, 10 years ago," said co-organizer and public health researcher Caroline Weinberg. "The current (political) situation took us from kind of ignoring science to blatantly attacking it. And that seems to be galvanizing people in a way it never has before. ... It's just sort of relentless attacks on science."
"The scientific method was developed to be nonpartisan and objective,'' Weinberg said. "It should be embraced by both parties."
More than a thousand people stretched for miles through the streets of Gainesville, Florida. It was a peaceful demonstration, said Pati Vitt, a plant scientist at the Chicago Botanic Garden in town for work at the university.
"We're scientists, so we're orderly," she said with a laugh. "We let the signs do the talking."
She said her favorite featured a drawing of DNA, with the note "checks itself before it wrecks itself."
And she hopes the crowds at hundreds of cities across the country draw attention to the perils of ignoring science funding.
In Nashville, Tennessee, hundreds of people faced pouring rain as they marched through city streets, chanting, "science, not silence."
Lawyer Jatin Shah brought his young sons: a 5-year-old who wants to be a dentist when he grows up and a 6-year-old who plans to be a doctor.
Shah said he worries about his sons' futures if science spending is cut.
DC-Area Road Closures
Drivers should expect road closures near the National Mall.
D.C. police and the D.C. Department of Transportation said these streets will be closed from about 6 a.m. to 3 p.m.
- Constitution Avenue, NW, from 18th Street to 14th Street, NW
- 17th Street, NW, between Independence and New York Ave, NW
- 15th Street, NW, between Independence and Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
- Madison Drive, NW, from14th Street to 15th Street, NW
- Jefferson Drive, NW, from 14th Street to 15th Street, NW
- Raul Wallenberg Place, NW, from Maine Avenue to Independence Avenue, NW
Drivers should expect rolling street closures from 2 to 3 p.m. on Constitution Avenue NW from 18th Street NW to 3rd Street NW.
Officials warned drivers to be mindful of heavy pedestrian traffic. Road closures may change depending on conditions.