I’m a scientist by trade. Unsurprisingly, I’m also an introvert. I love sitting at home with my cat, drinking tea and listening to the birds outside. But in moving to Chestertown, I’ve placed myself in the proximity of Washington, DC, which means my home is now a perfect stop-over for friends on their way to political marches. This is very good for me, because I love seeing my friends—but also because it gets me off my behind. When your friend emails you to discuss her plans for staying at your house to go to a march, it’s not really an option to stay back!
This past weekend, many introverts like me left their quiet offices and humming labs to march on our nation’s capital. And as a former researcher and high school biology teacher, I was glad to be counted among them.
The winding path that got me to the Science March begins back in January, when my friend Laura came down from upstate New York and bravely led me into the crackling, crowded Women’s March. At the time, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. It turned out that I was getting myself into one of the most positive, uplifting political experiences I’ve ever had.
But even that positive experience didn’t stop me from worrying. Would the trip, the hassle, be worth it? Would I be prepared? But mainly, why was I even going?
I knew I felt dissatisfied with our current government’s treatment of science, both in its proposed policies and its dismissive, distrustful language. But it took me days to distill those feelings into thoughts that could be verbally expressed, into ideas that were strong enough to march behind.
Mainly, I wanted two things: I wanted people to trust science again, not as the ultimate authority but as a tool for finding the truth. And I wanted people to come together and recognize each other’s value in our increasingly divided society.
The Friday before the march, my friend Laura, her husband, and one of her coworkers swung through Chestertown to pick me up, and we drove into DC. As usual, I had a blast taking the newbies across the Bay Bridge. My aunt and uncle have an apartment within walking distance of the Mall, and they’d agreed to let us crash with them the night before the march. In their basement at midnight, we wrote our signs. Protest signs, I realized, are the original tweets: use as few letters as possible to say as much as you can.
We are all CONNECTED: To each other, BIOLOGICALLY. To the earth, CHEMICALLY. To the universe, ATOMICALLY. – Neil deGrasse Tyson
SCIENTISTS SEEK TRUTH, even when we don’t like the answer
DON’T DRAIN SWAMS: RESTORE WETLANDS
VOTE 2018! Don’t forget!
THE OCEANS ARE RISING AND SO ARE WE
The morning of the march was cloudy, and the rain started as soon as we headed towards the Mall. I had refused my Aunt’s offer for an umbrella multiple times that morning, fearing that with my short stature, I was bound to take out someone’s eye in the crowd. But as we got off the subway along with hundreds of other sing-wielding marchers, I began to wonder if she had been the wiser of us. My raincoat was doing its job, but it couldn’t protect my sign, which was starting to bleed; or my glasses, which quickly became spattered; or my phone, which I had been intending to take pictures with. The phone stayed safely in my leather purse. Though my raincoat didn’t protect that, either.
Soon we were standing by the Washington Monument, listening as Bill Nye gave a two-minute speech of inspiration. My toes were damp and my fingers soon turned into frozen, sign-pinching claws. But I still felt encouraged as I looked over the umbrella-mosaicked crowd. Marches, I’ve learned, are not only about making a statement. They are about coming together. When we sit at home in front of our screens and read the news, there is little to feel but loneliness and despair. Even when we seek out our friends, politeness often dictates we steer away from political discourse. But at a march, you hold your views high, and people smile, take pictures, and gather closely around. (Though not too closely, at a march for introverts!) Even in the driving rain, the energy warmed us.
Coming together around a cause does not mean agreeing on everything. The signs at the Science March, like the signs at the Women’s March, reflected a variety of concerns. As I watched the crowds, the one thing that saddened me was knowing that the march had been slow to open its arms to those championing the cause of minority and female scientists. I was glad to see, despite the mixed messages the march organizers had sent, that there were still people on the ground supporting diversity in our field. While we were all marching under a theme, there are many variations on that theme. At a march like this, there is plenty of room for all of us.
As we took a break for lunch, my hands clutched around a warm mocha, my aunt and uncle and I discussed sexual assault and how the perpetrators should be held accountable. This wasn’t part of the march’s platform at all, but marches tend to be catalysts for all kinds of conversations people might not otherwise have. Because when else do introverts talk about controversial things, in person, face to face, without fear that the topic is inappropriate?
Back out into the cold and rain we went. We caught up with the front of the march at Constitution and 10th street and folded our way into the crowd. Chants would start: “Science is real, despite what you feel!” “Fund us all, not the wall!” But they always stopped after three or four repetitions, as introverts don’t love yelling. Nearby, a lorax marched, speaking for the trees. There were little children, cozy and dry in their strollers, and dogs, too, including one in a trash bag coat with a hole for its tail. As we turned down 3rd street and passed in front of the capitol, someone knelt down and proposed to his girlfriend. The march organizer got on the microphone and shouted, “Somebody just got engaged!” We all cheered.
Later, on Facebook, I saw that several of my friends from my teaching program and my lab had also come to DC, but of course I’d missed them in the crowd. I’d also missed a spontaneous dance party and a polar bear costume, apparently. But I had seen propeller bird garden statues, and the Trump Hotel across the street from the EPA, and lots of great science puns. I had gotten my feet wet, literally. And I left feeling hopeful about our country’s future for the first time since… well, the last time I’d marched.
Maybe introverts can enjoy being activists after all.
Marita Wilson is a former high school biology teacher, lab researcher, and an aspiring fiction writer. She lives in Kingstown.