March for Science took place last month, the main event being in D.C. with sister marches happening around the country. Overall, the march has been considered to be wildly successful. You can even find images of dogs participating in the event. However, not all people were represented during the events, and we can all guess what got left out. Yep, it’s accessibility. Following in the footsteps of the Women’s March, which was so inaccessible women with disabilities created an alternative virtual march to participate in, the March for Science made very little effort by way of any type of diversity, let alone accessibility.
Jesse Shanahan, the former Diversity and Inclusion Lead on the March for Science team, got involved with the movement in a less than linear fashion. When the March was first announced she stepped up to volunteer her skills and experience as an organizer to assist with accessibility inclusion. Unfortunately, the people at the top felt that accessibility was not something that needed to be considered straight away—a trap many able-bodied activists fall into. It is an attitude that leads to so many demonstrations being inaccessible to so many people. “Ramps, ASL interpreters… that's the kind of stuff well-meaning non-disabled people think of.” Shanahan said remorsefully, “That's why you try to involve people like me who do this for a living.”
By the time she was finally brought on board the team, it was already March. Working together with one of her co-chairs Caroline Weinberg, they tackled the problem of making the D.C. and satellite marches as accessible as they could be with such a late start. Jumping in, however, turned out to also be a tough road. “I walked into a mess. People were fighting, they were rude, and were treating each other terribly.” Shanahan said, remembering her first days working with the march, “No one was tracking what needed to be done, or what deadlines were coming.” Undeterred, she put her head down, put pen to a list, and started ploughing through the debris.
But even while investing time at an organization supposedly intended to be working for the greater good, “There were some marginalized people in the group who were being harassed.” This stemmed from the pervasive negative culture that tends to permeate through the science and technology industries, that unfortunately seeped into the March for Science as well. “It required more voices being supportive.” Shanahan explained, “I'm not saying I made a difference, helping to shut those voices down, but I tried.”
Eventually Shanahan took up the mantel of being Coordinator of Diversity and Inclusion after she was approached by a higher up in recognition of her contributions. But instead of doing the job of the coordinator, she ended up doing the tasks normally assigned to the Team Lead who had drifted away from the project after the flare up of drama. It took some push-back to get Shanahan officially recognized as the new Team Lead.
The Inclusion and Diversity team’s primary mission was to go through the accessibility guide that the D.C. March was publishing which would later be distributed to the smaller marches. “It wasn’t as complete as it needed to be, but it existed.” Her role was to make sure nothing was left out of the documents. Even here, though, there was massive oversight. “I thought when we sent out documents that they were being implemented by our satellite marches.” She divulged, “We had a whole communication team for satellite marches. None of them worked with the diversity team well, and there wasn't enough team work, or organization.”
As a result, when the day of the March for Science arrived, Shanahan found that people at the different satellite marches around the country were Tweeting about how inaccessible things were. “I was horrified.” Shanahan stated, “We sent that out. I think that looking back, so much that the diversity team did, were for projects that were there to keep us busy. But nothing was enforced or followed up on.”
The failures of the March for Science, wasn’t a single giant one, but rather a bunch of micro fissures. The creators not having experience managing such a massive event, was a huge contributing factor. However, “A large part was willful ignorance. They recruited all these diversity and accessibility folk and then ignored them.” Many people on staff didn’t believe that they needed an inclusion and diversity team at all because it was catering to people obsessed with political correctness.
“If we're talking about climate change, we can be as ridiculous as possible— but if we're talking about our society? That's SJW stuff.” Shanahan laughed dryly, using the shorthand for social justice warrior, “I think that bigotry and bias was a big problem. There is a chunk that was willful. People pretending that diversity wasn't an issue is what upset me more.”
The failures of the March for Science were an unfortunate reflection of science, and led to the ultimate resignation of Shanahan from her post. The community most certainly did not put its best foot forward at proving science is for everyone, but instead continued the myth that only certain people are permitted within its ivory towers. They created a diversity and inclusion division in the same way many university departments across the country use their token ‘diverse’ students to prove how much diversity they have. The community wants politicians to change their minds and pay more attention to climate change—but science has yet to look inward and put policies in place to protect itself from its own insidious climate.