No Planet B: Greensboro’s March for Science

(Last Updated On: April 26, 2017)


Nearly 1,000 people gathered at Governmental Plaza on Greene Street this past Saturday to take part in the global March for Science. The Greensboro march was one of over 600 sister marches held around the world.

Earth Day was a perfect date for marches to support, among other things, climate change awareness and alternative energy. In Greensboro, it was a perfect day all around. The rain that doused the original March for Science in Washington, D.C. hadn’t yet reached North Carolina. The sun shone as participants toted their best homemade signs into the plaza. Marchers ranged widely in age and background, but all were passionate about the role of science in shaping the modern world, and protecting scientific progress in the future.

“This was something I felt I had to do. There was no way around it,” said march organizer Joseph L. Graves Jr., who holds a doctorate in Evolutionary, Environmental, and Systematic Biology. He is a professor and associate dean for research at Greensboro’s Joint School for Nanoscience and Nanoengineering.

Graves had first planned to attend the Washington, D.C. march, but when his schedule made that impossible, turned his efforts to the local event. He joined a team of concerned locals from all branches of science to promote and organize the march. Graves brought to the group his reputation as a scientific researcher, as well as decades of experience fighting for progress that began with the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

“I’m the first African American to ever earn a Ph.D. in my field of science. And so I’ve dealt with Jim Crow, racism, and resistance to me being a scientist all my life,” said Graves. “I’ve been doing this since King.”

The march kicked off at 10 a.m. with a performance by Greensboro’s Disaster Recovery Band and a marching song performed by young children. Then speakers from the local scientific community outlined the challenges facing scientific progress in modern America, including budget cuts to scientific organizations, unequal access to science education, and political resistance to things like climate change and vaccinations. All of these problems have plagued the U.S. before, but many see a growing tide of anti-science sentiment in recent government policy.

Graves called it “A dangerous acceleration of this historical trend of basically not listening to the results of scientific research, particularly results that can have catastrophic impacts on the well-being of American citizens and the world. This has always been true, but this administration has really pushed the envelope in terms of its insensitivity to crucial scientific results.”

Those crucial results may soon be harder to come by based on the Trump administration’s budget cuts to scientific research. The current budget is expected to cut funding to the Environmental Protection Agency by 30 percent and the Department of Agriculture by 29 percent, and the National Institutes of Health by 18 percent.

The march followed a circular route past the Civil Rights Museum, to chants of “Science not silence,” and “The ocean is rising and so are we.” The drivers of several passing cars honked and waved in support.

Marchers then returned to Governmental Plaza for donuts and a performance by the band Viva la Muerte and tours of the NanoBus, a rolling laboratory from which students at the Joint School of Nanoscience and Nanoengineering performed scientific demonstrations. The mood was light and optimistic, but participants had no illusions about the seriousness of the march’s message.

“We’re scared,” said Jeff Regester, who came to the march with his wife and son. “Scared for a future where basic facts don’t matter, where people lie and get away with it.”

If turnout is any indication, plenty of people feel the same fear. The Greensboro march had 900-plus participants; the march in Washington had 40,000. Marches were held as far away as Hong Kong and Sydney. All were born from the same flurry of social media organizing that created the Women’s Marches in January.

Personally, Graves doesn’t believe that the March for Science will change any minds at the top. Rather, he wants to inspire those at the bottom to stand up for change that will benefit themselves and the planet.

“I call for much more fundamental transformation,” said Graves. “So, a society that actually cares about its citizens instead of the interests of large corporations, which seem to have an orientation of their profits over anyone’s wellbeing.”

The multiple marches can only help the cause, as they call more attention to the problems.

“Having one big march in one place gets attention, but again, the change really has to come from the grassroots,” Graves said. “Having these 500 or so local marches is a tremendous asset to this movement.”

Mia Osborn is a Greensboro-based freelance writer who hails from Birmingham, Alabama.