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The Grad Activist

Going digital.

March 22, 2020
 
 

When I pitched another post about my work with March for Science to the "GradHacker" editors in late January, the most uncertainty I felt around the upcoming March for Science Day of Action in NYC was about whether or not it would rain again. Of course, that reality seems far away now, eight days into quarantine, just four days after my PI shut down our lab, and when Americans have been instructed to stay home (where, reader, I hope you are, so that we can flatten the curve). I’m fortunate to have had family nearby in New Jersey to stay with during this uncertain and terrifying time, but it’s also stirred up fear about what to expect; right now, all of the systemic issues plaguing this country are being put under a magnifying glass by COVID-19.

Without a doubt, the world must pause to tackle the pandemic we’re facing, but the reality of the climate crisis looms as well. The timer for effective climate action is still running; scientists have warned us that we have less than a decade to act. On Earth Day, climate justice organizers worldwide, myself included, hoped to take to the streets for massive demonstrations centered around education and justice to call for rapid, global action that we’ve seen is possible in the response to COVID-19. That’s why climate activists worldwide have adjusted their plans, calling for digital strikes.

March for Science NYC has decided to re-envision our event to a virtual day of action. With our partner Earth Day Initiative, we are going to host our Earth Day 50 Virtual Kickoff with a livestream and online expo that will be our best recreation of our planned in-person event that we can have. The online broadcast will feature a lineup of artists, scientists, activists and entertainers discussing the urgency of climate action. We’re pairing the livestream with an online platform where participants can engage with the speakers, exhibitors and organizers even after the stream ends. As far as we know, the livestream will be the first event of this type under current circumstances.

Misinformation in the digital age is rampant. The Trump administration has shown time and time again its disregard for science. In our own daily lives, misleading and sometimes completely fake articles have found ways into our news feeds and conversations (in the past week, everyone has had their sister’s boyfriend’s roommate’s cousin’s uncle’s neighbor warn them about an impending nationwide lockdown). I’ve had friends post images to social media of pseudo-scientific advice about how to treat COVID-19 and how it spreads. Doctors and scientists have been reporting from the front lines about how COVID-19 has impacted their work and lives.

At this time, I can’t understate the importance of science communication. Without scientific literacy, we can’t rely on the public to act as science citizens. The public’s confidence in scientists has only increased since 2016, and it’s our responsibility to engage effectively with society. We must let experts lead conversations about issues in their field. Social media can and has already played a role in this, and we must continue to grow platforms for scientists and science communicators to share their science. Issues as large as pandemics and the climate crisis require teamwork from all fronts; it’s an interdisciplinary problem that impacts not just the environment, but our lives.

Ahead of the MFS livestream, which airs April 19, here are some ongoing virtual events and campaigns that everyone can participate in. If you’re organizing and transitioning an in-person event to a digital one, our GradHacker Alyssa has just published an article on things to consider.

Digital Climate Strikes

As I mentioned above, the youth climate movement has to digital strikes in place of their in-person strikes taking place every Friday. Climate activists around the world have posted photos of themselves on social media and hosted parties on Zoom This past Friday, March 20, Polluters Out held a global social media campaign to call for world leaders to reject fossil fuel funding for COP26. Ahead of the campaign, they released a media packet instructing participants about how they could participate; simple changes to social media accounts like profile pictures show solidarity with a movement, and only takes a few seconds to do (by Friday morning, I couldn’t recognize a large number of my followers on Instagram). The campaign was tied to a petition that brought awareness to the youth activist group that formed earlier this year.

Donation of CPU Power to COVID-19 Researchers

500 Women Scientists has created a team to donate computer processing power and time to researchers running simulations to understand the spread of COVID-19 and help identify a vaccine. If you sign up to donate power and time, your computer will be networked with others to create supercomputers for the researchers to use. If you have a computer with a high-powered graphics card, this would be very helpful to the researchers!

NYU’s Webinar on Science Policy and Diplomacy

If you’re interested in pursuing a career in science policy or want to learn about the intersection of science and policy with fields including health care, immigration and environmental health, NYU has turned our course into a webinar series that lasts through April 30. Each week on Zoom, professionals working in these fields give a talk and take questions, and the class is given time to workshop a policy memo that can be turned in for certification at the end of the series. The class gives perspective not just on careers in these fields, but also gives students an online space to talk about organizing and advocacy tied to fields they are interested in. (Disclaimer: I’m one of the course organizers.)

Caveat’s Programming Livestream

Caveat is a bar in NYC that “makes entertainment smarter.” Their programming spans science, politics and pop culture -- and it’s always fun. In lieu of live events, they’ve started streaming their programming five nights a week.

COVID-19 has disrupted daily life worldwide; it’s forced us to rethink the way we work, the way we learn and the way we interact. The climate crisis, unfortunately, might even make times like these the norm, but as we navigate uncertain times, let’s take the opportunity to ensure we don’t lose connection and momentum for organizing the changes we want to see in the world.

Have you turned to any digital advocacy or volunteering during this time? Leave us suggestions in the comments or tweet us @GradHacker!

Ingrid J. Paredes is a Ph.D. candidate in chemical engineering at New York University. You can find her on Twitter @ingridjoylyn.​

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