More than 1,000 people joined in solidarity in the Sioux Falls March for Science, including USD students from the biology, sustainability and chemistry clubs on campus.
Jessica Romero, president of the biology club, said several concerns prompted her to march.
“I’m marching for truth from the government, especially in the modern political climate,” Romero said. “There’s a lot of denial on things like climate change, and so many budget cuts for food safety and public health, and for what I’m interested in, which is ecology and conservation.”
Romero, a junior majoring in conservation biology and sustainability, said she was upset to see that the EPA is at risk for budget cuts and that the National Park Service (NPS) is being censored.
“When NPS is being censored, what does that mean for us? It’s upsetting to see all these cuts to my future,” Romero said. “Funding is really important. I think we are all feeling (the budget cuts), especially people our age who are needing resources for our futures to make change in the world and in our country.”
Associate biology professor Jake Kerby organized the trip for students to join in the march. He said this is the first march of its kind.
“This is very new. In the past, science has been respected, not questioned,” Kerby said. “This is the first time I’ve ever known of a science club marching for anything.”
Kerby said this is a new era of activism in science.
“I feel like in my own career, I’ve been very discouraged about being an activist. As a scientist, up until recently, we’re very much trained to be the objective commenters,” Kerby said. “Part of the privilege of being a scientist is taking taxpayer money and doing work, and part of the responsibility is then communicating those results back to the public.”
Audra Van Ekeren, a junior majoring in conservation biology and a member of sustainability club, marched because of the unique connection she has with science.
“I was an in vitro fertilization baby, so I literally only exist because of science,” Van Ekeren said.
She marched with a sign that read “made for science because of science; in vitro baby to biologist.”
Van Ekeren marched in the Vermillion women’s march before joining in the Sioux Falls March for Science, and she said she could see connections between the two causes.
“(I marched for) women in science,” she said. “I’m not going to say I’m a minority in science, but we’re sort of underprivileged compared to men. I’m also marching to raise awareness that our work is important and it’s not partisan.”
March organizer Kylie Kiesner considers herself an advocate for science. She addressed the group of marchers that met at Carnegie Town Hall and gave them instructions on where to march on their way to Falls Park.
“Science is not partisan,” Kiesner said. “Whether you’re a Republican, Democrat, Independent, from Sioux Falls, Vermillion, it doesn’t matter – we all stand for science. I’m not a scientist, but I just really care about listening to our scientists, listening to our researchers and creating legislation based on science.”
At Falls Park, professors from Augustana University and SDSU spoke about the importance of science and activism before Kiesner introduced her father, Sioux Falls Mayor Mike Huether, to the crowd.
Huether then declared April 22, 2017 as Earth Day in Sioux Falls and encouraged citizens, businesses and institutions to use the day to celebrate Earth.
“Earth Day is a reminder of the constant need for activism,” Huether said.
Mark Winegar, political chair and lobbyist for the Sierra Club, said he marched for clean air and clean energy.
“We really need to make decisions that are grounded in solid, peer-reviewed science,” Winegar said. “The attack on the EPA is terrible. Just about any direction you look at with this new administration, you’ve got problems.”
Winegar said participating in the march made his day.
“For a thousand people to show up, that is just too cool,” Winegar said. “Trump is an environmental disaster. I can’t think of one thing that’s happened in the past 93 days (in the White House) that has been able to put a smile on my face. Today, this puts a smile on my face.”