On Organizing the March for Science In My City
May 6, 2017
Someone asked me to put up a transcript of the speech I gave on organizing a satellite March for Science. Here it is.
You Don’t Need To Be Someone Grand To Do Something Grand
Like many of us science fans, I grew up thinking that I needed to be a genius to do things. Someone like Einstein, or Larry Page, or lately Elon Musk. As much as I wished, I didn’t grow up to be that.
I have a friend who’s a contender to be the best mathematician of my generation. You know, a “real” genius. He told me that he also used to think that becoming a genius was the path to effect change, but that lately, he thought that another, and perhaps more effective way of shaping the world, meant participating in politics.
Politics is a bottleneck that you need to push through to allow for things to happen in human society. We scientists have neglected that for too long, including me.
I want to share the story of this march with you. Perhaps on hearing it, you will change your mind about how good you think you need to be in order to effect change. Because the truth as I learned is that, you don’t need to be currently living up to your ideals to do something grand. You don’t need to be someone grand to do something grand.
Two months ago, I was new to Waterloo, horrified by the Trump presidency, and had never taken any political initiative in my life. Never. I wanted to do something - something just small enough so that I could still know what I was doing. Starting a march was out of question. It was too ambitious. I wouldn’t know what I was doing.
I looked around for a cause to contribute to - as a follower - and luckily found one. Someone started March for Science Kitchener-Waterloo, and from their description of event really seemed to know what they were talking about. It turns out I really needed that catalyst. That way, I didn’t have to think about the scope of the project until much later.
I soon learned that the original organizer was in high school, and had copied the description of the event from the official March for Science website. In short, he didn’t have the answers either.
It was too late for either of to run, because a day later, someone from a Real Non-Profit had legitimized us and put us to work. The person I thought I needed to be would have jumped in and been brave. But that’s not happened. We did nothing for a while, until a third person joined the group. Lisa was the anchor and I needed her as much as I needed our catalyst.
Someone named Debbie reached out to promote the event. Mistaking her for was a peer, I pathetically confessed to her all our troubles. In response, she helped push the event to completion. I later found out she was a Professor of Quantum Computing. The person I thought I needed to be would have looked her up right away, and acted much more dignified. But that’s not what happened.
Right after we launched our online fundraising campaign, an older woman asked me if she could write us a check instead. I obliged, giving her my personal address. Again, this is sort of unglamorous and imperfect. You’re not supposed to give your personal address for these things! But that’s what happened.
That older woman turned out to be Barbara, a University Medical Director and a fantastic person to boot. She gave us a very generous contribution and she also found us our first speaker, Neil Arya.
At the time of writing, the March is in a couple days. My co-organizers, who I didn’t know before, turned out to be great people.
I managed the cut the budget from 500$ to 150$ by persistent communication with a non-profit and city officials, making our fundraising campaign exceed its goal. I didn’t do that by inspiring this big donation amount, but by meticulously slashing budget. Unglamorous, non-grand stuff.
You, the scientific community, the science enthusiasts, the students and the press are all gathered here today, supporting this important movement.
I respect you all too much to tell you that the moral of the story is that you should believe in yourself. Believing in yourself is fantastic, but I didn’t. I got to do this by pure ignorance, tons of help from strangers and working hard so I don’t embarrass myself.
Trust me. You really don’t need to be someone grand to do something grand.
What you need to do to rally people to a cause you care where there is lot of demand. Because you’ll take the initiative, you will become the centre for which a lot of resources will be given to you. Through all these resources, you will actually become the person you need to be.
This has very little to do with your worth, or current skills as a person. You will become worthwhile and skilled and great if you set up the situation to try and live up to that.
So, what are some of the things that you support but don’t know how to contribute to? What are the expectations of yourself that you can let go of in order to do these things?
Do you really need to be the person you think you need to be in order to effect change in the world?