It’s not just climate change.
Thousands of area participants in the March for Science on Saturday arrived at Washington Square Park with handmade placards addressing the array of issues that galvanized the crowd.
“Save the bees,” one youngster’s sign read. “#SOLAR,” said another.
“Got Polio? Me Neither. Thanks Science!”
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Seven-year-old Ellery Ridenour held high a sign colored on one side with her message, “Science Rocks, and I Like Rocks.” Flip to the back side and it reads, “I Lava Science,” with volcano art sketched by her little brother, Andrew.
One of more than 100 Earth Day rallies and marches across the nation, the Kansas City demonstration included speeches from local physicians, a stem-cell researcher, educators and other science advocates out to raise awareness of — and government funding for — scientific disciplines of all kinds.
Dennis Ridenour, father of Ellery and Andrew, held in his arms his third child, 2-year-old Theo.
“He had open-heart surgery at 10 days old. Twenty years ago he would’ve died,” Dennis Ridenour said of Theo. “He’s a great example of why science is so vital.”
A Facebook event page for the Kansas City march indicated 3,700 person interested in attending, but police at the park estimated a crowd closer to 5,000.
Despite organizers’ efforts to put politics on a low burner, the rally had the flavor of a protest against Trump administration actions that participants think threaten scientific research.
Near the top of the speakers’ list was Roy Jensen, director of the University of Kansas Cancer Center. He objected to Trump’s reported plan to cut $5.8 billion in funding for the National Institutes of Health, almost a 20 percent reduction.
“That would be absolutely devastating to biomedical research,” Jensen told The Star before the event.
Having never spoken before at a politically charged rally, Jensen said that threats to life-saving research justified his involvement.
“Some folks in the sciences have reservations about upsetting the powers that be,” he said “They’re concerned that there could be some repudiation in terms of funding. They don’t want to rock the boat.”
Many at the rally had no problem with that. Anti-Trump signs were plentiful, and a voter registration booth was set up beneath a tree. Seizing an opportunity to collect signatures, labor representatives pitched a petition to put to a public referendum right-to-work legislation recently passed in Missouri.
Much of the activism present “probably started as a response to (Trump) being elected president,” said Ridenour, who is chief executive of BioKansas, a nonprofit group that representing biotechnology companies, academic institutions and other related organizations.
“But in the end, this has to be a bipartisan movement,” he added.
Speakers included Kansas Sen. Barbara Bollier, a Mission Hills Republican and retired physician, and Democratic state Rep. Brett Parker, an Olathe school teacher elected in November over a Republican incumbent.
“Most of science is not the stuff that gets your name in the paper,” Parker said. “Most of science is done day in and day out by researchers, professors, graduate students and medical professionals...We need to make sure we have elected leaders who value those things.”
Amid the variety of science-related concerns given voice, climate change and its possible causes were not overlooked. Many of those activists, including Elizabeth Uppman-Marquez of Overland Park, carried placards that read, “There’s No Plan-et B.”