This is not my first march, nor will it be my last, but it was clear from the quiet, polite way people were walking (on the sidewalks not in the streets!) that they weren't sure how to be the kind of people who hold signs. Were we supposed to chant? Were we supposed to sing? Were we supposed to stop traffic? How were we supposed to become the protestors we desperately were trying to be? This makes sense: Fresno is not the type of place where sign holding happens. But this is the new normal, right? Where people who usually go about their business are suddenly waking up to the understanding that this post-Obama world has become very very frightening indeed.
In any case, we did our part. For a few hours, we held that corner as cars sped past, some honking, some waving, most trying to avoid looking us in the eye as they waited for their various lights to turn green. It was a warm day, and the fumes made a good handful of people cough. At one point, my wife went to the Walgreens and purchased face masks, which she handed out to those within the protest (and others who were simply sitting at the bus stop looking to go home) - the masks served an important health purpose, but they also made a statement: The way we live on this planet makes it difficult for us to breath.
The person who stood out the most to me was a man driving a Prius. As he drove through the intersection, he rolled down his window, stuck out a hand, and gave the us a giant thumbs down signal, his gesture a strange incongruity with his fuel efficient vehicle. He didn't yell "Boo!" but we felt it in the deliberate way his closed fist rose and fell with fierce deliberation. Those of us who saw him stared at each other in disbelief - who would "boo" science? And why would you drive a Prius while you did it?
The irony of all of this, of course, is that he and everyone else driving through that Fresno intersection are breathing some of the most contaminated air. A recent report showed that of the TOP 6 most polluted places IN THE COUNTRY, three of them were in California's Central Valley. Visalia, Bakersfield, and Fresno were in the top 3, with Merced, my own hometown, falling at number 6. Let's pause for a minute to think about what that means: It means that these small central valley towns were MORE POLLUTED than many of our biggest cities - more polluted than Chicago or New York or Atlanta or Washington DC or Dallas or Pheonix or any other metropolis that is home to millions of people. This place is also home to much of the food the rest of the people in this country consume. Which means that the food we are consuming is COMING FROM the most polluted part of the state. Clearly, something is very very wrong with this picture. Politics aside, shouldn't everyone be marching with us? Why aren't the rest of the Valley residents saying enough is enough?
These were the questions we contemplated as we held our signs and stood awkwardly on the corners. The only answer we could come to is this: people simply aren't paying attention. Or they are simply too good at accepting bad situations.
And so, why this March for science. What is this about? Because, I admit, even being IN the march, it often felt so dumb, for why do we need to argue that science matters? And why do I need to shout this to a man in a Prius? Of course science matters. But this is the bizarre world where science, along with what feels like everything else, is under attack.
For those not paying attention, we are currenty living with an administration that keeps ignoring the advice of scientists. For example, the current EPA just approved a pesticide (chlorpyrifos) that is known to damage children's brains (the previous EPA deemed it dangerous, but Scott Pruitt pushed it through anyway). This means that yes, THAT pesticide is now allowed to be in your food. And yes, places like Merced, where I live, and the surrounding farming areas will become even more toxic.
So when you say that there is no attack on science, think again - there IS an attack. Anytime you ignore sound, life-saving advice, you are saying science does not matter (and usually choosing money instead), and we are going to be the ones who pay for it....literally - our communities, our pocketbooks, our terrible health insurance, our bodies, our lungs, our planet, will all pay for this stupidity. The health problems in these areas are tremendous. The pollution has been linked to lung disease, cancer, asthma, and other major diseases. This is not okay.
And don't even get me started on the protection of national parks...