This spring, my friend sent me a photo of the Jefferson Memorial, which we visited long before the ascension of Donald Trump and his Republican Congress. The image triggered this thought: were he here today, Thomas Jefferson ― scientist, engineer, inventor, botanist, author of the Declaration of Independence, third president of the United States and founder of the University of Virginia (the first to open a school of engineering and applied sciences,) would be leading the March for Science on April 22.
Throngs of scientists and science-minded citizens like me are marching in resistance to the president’s draconian appointments and policies that disavow established science, quell critical thinking, abrogate fact-based knowledge and threaten to roll back advancements in scientific research and education.
Thomas Jefferson would not be pleased; and his immortal words, engraved on the porticos of his memorial, sum up the reasons why my STEM colleagues, the Union of Concerned Scientists and I will march on Washington DC this spring.
First, we march for science education and research that is free from government restraint.
The administration’s efforts to ban targeted nationalities from U.S. travel are having a chilling effect on U.S. institutions of higher education as foreign-born faculty and students stay away for fear their country may be next. The so-called ‘Muslim ban’ contravenes Jefferson’s admonishment on the Northwest Portico that “…all men shall be free to profess and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion.” Says Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, one of hundreds of business leaders opposing the travel ban, “[w]e’re a nation of immigrants whose diverse backgrounds, ideas, and points of view have helped us build and invent as a nation for over 240 years…It’s a distinctive competitive advantage for our country – one we should not weaken.”
Second, we march for safeguarding the sustainability of life on our fragile planet.
Jefferson’s words on the Southeast Portico caution the nation that “[As] new discoveries are made, new truths discovered …, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as a civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors."
The Earth’s water is degraded and its natural resources are finite; its air has no borders (just think: a significant percentage of California’s air pollution originates in China.) The New York Times reports that the White House has all but eliminated the Office of Science and Technology Policy, and the president is proposing budget cuts and deregulation polices to dismantle the Clean Power Plan and cripple EPA, NASA and the NOAA. Although some may applaud ameliorating bureaucratic drag, make no mistake about it: the administration’s all-out warfare on science and assault on truth chills innovation of future technologies and threatens international stability.
The decimation doesn’t end here, which is why we also march for STE(Art)M. Support for National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (PBS) is also on the chopping block, striking fear into the hearts of all who have experienced the ramifications of stifling individual expression by oppressive governments.
Third – we march for future generations.
The Northeast Portico is inscribed with Jefferson’s most deeply held belief: "Establish the law for educating the common people. This it is the business of the state to effect and on a general plan." An educated, informed electorate is the heart of Jeffersonian Ideals - and an anathema to President Trump and many in the Republican Congress.
Despite photo-ops suggesting she advocates STEM learning, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is charged with decimating our public schools, leaving millions of underserved youngsters uninformed and unprepared for the future. The president has proposed $9.2 billion cuts to the DOE to reduce or eliminate grants for teacher training, after-school programs and aid to low-income and first-generation college students and shifting another $1.4 billion toward expanding charter schools, private-school vouchers and other alternatives to public schools.
This is deeply disturbing to organizations such as Broadcom Foundation that strive to promote equitable access to STEM learning as in Tulsa, Oklahoma where my colleagues at at TIES and Schusterman Foundation helped teachers and students of Tulsa Public and Union School Districts fulfill their STEM potential. Broadcom Foundation also develops fact-based STEM curricula and teacher training, and supports project-based out of school programs and student competitions in order to expand, not stratify, the nation’s talent pool of scientists, engineers and innovators.
In addition to this long list of alarms that are causing self-contained scientists and engineers to take to the streets, we march to insure our children will be critical thinkers who, in the spirit of their founding father, are equipped to actively shoulder their responsibilities as citizens of a free republic.
“Freedom (is) the first-born daughter of science,” Jefferson wrote, and this is why all science-minded citizens must step up to preserve a nation grounded on principles that make it a beacon of hope to the rest of the world. As our standard-bearer of science, engineering and liberty, Thomas Jefferson calls upon us all to get out of our comfort zones and let our voices be heard.
In these disquieting times, we march with Jefferson’s life-creed in our hearts. On the Rotunda that surrounds his massive statue is this vow: "I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.”