On Nov. 9, Annie Reed woke up and felt the need to take action. The USC sophomore engineering student spent the day after the presidential election compiling a spreadsheet of names and contact info for every climate change denier in the U.S. Senate and Congress, which she then posted publicly on Facebook.
"I was in shock and didn't know what to do. I felt upset and had to channel my emotions into something," Reed said. "The Facebook post with the list got a crazy amount of shares, so then I wanted to do more."
This motivated Reed to create a closed Facebook group called "Climate Change is Not a Partisan Issue." The group has over 400 members, who use it to share tips on organizing in today's political climate.
That was a big step for someone who before the election "tried to stay away from political discussion because I didn't like to argue with people."
Many scientists who previously stayed away from political activism are taking action now that they feel their values — especially their strong commitment to facts — are under attack. Combined with the Trump administration's looming threat of funding cuts to research, this has motivated scientists to increase their level of activism through both physical protest marches and more subtle actions, like increasing visibility online and utilizing digital organizing.
The upcoming March for Science, scheduled for April 22, hopes to mobilize these new activist scientists. The main Washington D.C. march has over 20,000 people interested and nearly 9,000 planning to attend on its Facebook page, while the Los Angeles sister march has double the interest on Facebook. According to the official event description, the march will allow scientists to "walk out of the lab and into the streets" for what will be — for some at least — the first time.
Alex Bradley, a student in the Biochemistry, Molecular and Structural Biology graduate program at UCLA, is one of the main organizers of the Los Angeles March for Science. Previously, he had little experience with activism or organizing.
"Prior to taking this action, I really didn't do a whole lot and that's what was frustrating me so much. I was tired of caring so much, but doing so little," he said.
Bradley believes that scientists around the nation decided to take action now not out of dislike for Donald Trump or the Republican Party, but because facts are at stake.
"The scientific community realized [science] was at risk of no longer being transparent and reported in an unbiased manner, and that's something that scientists hold very dear. We're all about facts," he said.
The Trump administration has banned social media use and the release of "public-facing documents" for several federal agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Agriculture. The ban resulted in the rise of alternative Twitter accounts, supposedly created by scientists and used to spread climate change facts.
Because a large amount of science research is funded by taxpayers, Bradley said, "it is a grave injustice if our employers [the people of the U.S.] are refused access to our findings, that they are actually funding. … We believe that transparency and communication is really key to the relationship between us scientists and the non-scientists supporting our work, and our research findings should really be disseminated to the public."
For Kenneth Nealson, an environmental science professor at USC, reducing communication between the science community and the public is unacceptable.
"[USDA scientists] are the people who know when there's spoiled meat, that know things about our food," Nealson said, "and they were embargoed to not say anything to anybody about anything. What good is an agency if they're not able to report?"
Nealson wants scientists to take their newfound activism a step further and run for office. He said he would run himself if he were about ten years younger — he's 73 years old.
A self-professed "nerd" without the requisite charisma to get elected, Nealson never thought he'd be stirred to that level of activism. He hopes other, younger scientists will step into political positions, but he acknowledged that it would be difficult for many to put their passion for science on hold for a full-time position in politics.
"I believe that if the Senate and the House had a good cadre of scientists among them, it would be fantastic. The only thing is —and the same reason I haven't gone into administration is — that I like doing science. If you take a job like that, you must give up your science career," Nealson said.
Victoria Petryshyn, a new faculty member with the USC Dornsife Environmental Studies Program with a background in geobiology, has found other ways to increase her involvement without actually running for office, noting that she also wouldn't want to give up science.
Like many scientists, Petryshyn tried to avoid taking a public political stance before this year, describing herself as an "armchair activist" after graduate school, although she was more involved when she was younger. She said she had always heard that scientists shouldn't seek public acclaim or discuss research with the media but instead should focus on discussing their research with other scientists. However, this changed for her after the election.
"I always wanted to keep science completely separate from that as a different issue.. But it has become increasingly obvious that whatever scientists are doing, it is not working," she said. "I don't care which political party does something about climate change — Republicans, Democrats, I don't care. But I just need someone to do something about it. We all do."
Now Petryshyn is taking several steps to increase her involvement, including meeting with a high-ranking member of Congress to discuss climate communications and updating her public presence on social media by tweeting more often.
However, like Bradley, Petryshyn maintains that these actions aren't political but instead in defense of scientific facts.
"We are pro-science, and pro-fact, and this is not a Republican vs. Democrat issue. This is an issue of wanting fact-based policy," she said.
For Reed, the engineering student, the next step to activism means attending the March for Science. She hopes that the march "raises awareness and gets people motivated not to be against the Republican Party necessarily, but so we can continue to support scientists, because they are so important to our society and our world as a whole."
And for Alex Bradley, organizer of the Los Angeles march, the fact that scientists are taking any steps towards activism at all is a statement in itself.
"I think most scientists, just by the nature of most of us being introverts, as well our aversion to involve ourselves in politics, we stay silent through these things," said Bradley.
"That is a testament to how important this movement is. When you have a lot of introverted, non-partisan, apolitical scientists getting out, picking up signs, and yelling about how frustrated they are, there's probably a problem that's systemic and needs to be addressed."