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March for Science is this weekend in nation’s capital; more protests are to follow

UPDATED: Fri., April 21, 2017, 8:22 a.m.

Protesters gather at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection offices in Washington on March 7 to oppose a travel ban by President Trump. (Astrid Riecken / For the Washington Post)
Protesters gather at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection offices in Washington on March 7 to oppose a travel ban by President Trump. (Astrid Riecken / For the Washington Post)

Activists and scientists are expected to descend on the nation’s capital Saturday to rally for environmental causes and government policies rooted in scientific research as part of the Earth Day and March for Science rallies. The demonstration comes a week after the Tax March and a week before the People’s Climate March.

Protests are standard on the National Mall, and from the 1963 March on Washington to the recent Women’s March, history has been made there time and time again. But, compared with recent years, the Trump era has seen a marked increase in demonstrations on the city’s federal land.

The protests are often fueled by those with left-leaning political views who were surprised by Trump’s victory but have not been quelled by his policies and actions since taking office.

“I still wake up with palpitations,” said Michele Hooper, a 62-year-old physician from California who attended the Women’s March and Tax March. She plans to attend the science rally this weekend.

The National Park Service, which oversees the Mall, has fielded 33 percent more requests this year for permits to protest on Washington’s federal land than it had at this time last year, said Mike Litterst, a spokesman for the agency. The Park Service had received 197 permit requests for demonstrations as of Wednesday, compared with 148 at the same time in 2016.

That number does not include unpermitted protests and others that have spontaneously unfolded in front of buildings, such as the U.S. Capitol and Environmental Protection Agency headquarters.

This month, three high-profile protests – the Tax March, Earth Day and Science March, and Climate March – are planned on consecutive weekends. Litterst said several more are scheduled into the summer, with large immigrant and LGBT rallies planned for May and June.

He said the increased interest in permits has added to the Park Service staff workload but wrote in an email that the agency has “been able to meet the growing demand while ensuring the preservation of park resources and the safety of event participants and National Mall visitors.”

Permits for the Earth Day and Science March indicate organizers expect more than 50,000 people to attend, which would make it the largest rally in Washington since the Women’s March in January.

The Earth Day Network, the organization that spearheads the annual Earth Day rally and affiliated events worldwide, began planning Saturday’s rally long before Election Day. This year, scientists who say the Trump administration has disregarded or devalued scientific research are joining the effort – a rare position for the typically apolitical field of science.

The rally is set for 10 a.m. at the Washington Monument and will feature dozens of short speeches and videos, said Kathleen Rogers, president of the Earth Day Network. At about 2 p.m., attendees will march toward the U.S. Capitol.

The theme of this year’s event is environmental and climate literacy. Celebrity scientist Bill Nye is among the speakers.

“Hell hath no fury like a scientist scorned, and that’s essentially where we are,” Rogers said. “People will be marching because their integrity and honesty has been called into question. This is a new and energized constituency – they just happen to be wearing lab coats.”

Protesters at recent marches say they have channeled their discontent with the new administration’s policies into the demonstrations.

At the Tax March last weekend, attendees said the protests were effective, crediting demonstrations throughout the country with thwarting Trump’s travel ban plans and stymieing the Republicans’ proposed health-care plan.

“I feel this keeps me sane,” said Susie Sinclair-Smith, a Bethesda, Md., resident who attended the Women’s March and Tax March and plans to attend the rally this weekend. “I’m hoping I get more energized by coming here.”