On April 22, scientists of all stripes will march in Washington, DC and at least 395 other cities in the United States and beyond to support “robustly funded and publicly communicated science.” Many of our W2O Group colleagues plan to take part, raising visibility and bringing attention to an extensive list of pro-science causes.
Those participating are looking to generate meaningful change. Ultimately, what makes a movement a movement is not gathering a single crowd in a single location at a single time, but rather a long-term commitment and extended attention to an issue. Passion may be a necessary element of social change, but scientists can go further to ensure that the magic of April 22—Earth Day—doesn’t fade once the port-a-potties are removed from the National Mall. In light of the recent proposed federal fiscal budget that outlines massive cuts to science-focused agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and National Institutes of Health (NIH), even more people may want to want to join the March and show their support.
As a communications firm, we at W2O Group wanted to share some recommendations for those participating to amp up their commitment through communications. Here are five ways to start:
- Jot down a quick “elevator speech” to explain why you’re marching. Everyone who takes part has a different reason for marching, and it is critical that you can define yours in a soundbite. It’s not that soundbites are important unto themselves. Rather, that boiling down your rationale into a specific, action-oriented 10-second summary will help you—and those around you—grasp the issues, the stakes, and—most importantly—what comes next.
- Alert your media. While the March for Science, like other such mass gatherings, will draw the national press, you undoubtedly have smaller media outlet that are important to you and may be able to tell your story with more fidelity. In some cases, this will be your local media (especially outside of Washington). For others, it will be trade publications that cover your industry or hobbies. Would USA Hockey Magazine be interested in a March story? It sure would, if you’re passionate about the science of concussions and can communicate that to them.
- Don’t just get social. Stay social. Much of the march organization is being done over social media: Twitter handles, Facebook pages and other tools. It’s critical that those resources be used not only to get people into the streets, but to organize them after the fact. If the Facebook group for a local march goes dormant on April 23, any nascent movements will die in their cradle. This is an opportunity not only to march, but to find and grow new relationships for the future. So talk to the march organizers, and ask them who will maintain the channels. If they don’t know: volunteer.
- Think local. While federal policy around science is incredibly important, the rubber meets the road in local communities. Define for your neighbors and your elected officials—especially those at the city level—how more science and more scientific literacy will your locality to a better future. That’s likely to have the biggest and most immediate impact – especially with your local media and within your social networks.
- Plan for the long term. It doesn’t matter if there are a million marchers on April 22. It doesn’t matter if there are 10 million marchers. The way we view and value science isn’t going to change in a day. So we need to do the things that will change public perception of science for generations. The best place to start: your local public school. Regardless of whether you’re a professional scientist, volunteer your scientific know-how for an hour a week. Make sure that the generation to come is the most scientifically literate, the most evidence-based, the most skeptical and rigorous group of citizen’s we’ve produced.
None of these steps are easy. Some require deeper thought. Some require a time commitment that will far outstrip anything you may invest on the day of the March for Science itself. Showing commitment, creating the perfect sign and marching on April 22 will be important to raising awareness of the issues facing science today. But, ultimately, whether the March meets its long-term goals will have less to do with how witty our signs are than how dedicated we are to continuing our commitment to the goals of the march day after day, month after month, year after year.