Margaret Breslau is no stranger to political action—and she knows that sustaining momentum is vital. The organizer of the Blacksburg, Virginia, March for Science has campaigned for minimum wage earners, Black Lives Matter, the Occupy movement, and even a group that successfully banned Wal-Mart from setting up shop in her city in 2009. She’s already worried that the window for action opened by the past weekend’s global science rally has begun to close.
Breslau says the March for Science was different from her previous activism. “I didn’t know most of the people there. And I’ve been protesting for a long time,” says the former librarian and the chair of Blacksburg’s Coalition for Social Justice. She herself is not a scientist, but her husband and daughter are.
Saturday’s march—some 900 people showed up near the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) campus—brought people “out of their labs and out of their classes,” Breslau says. The marchers were even joined by tailgaiters celebrating the school’s annual football scrimmage, some of whom cheered the protestors on—Mardi Gras style—from second-floor balconies.
For all that, Breslau has no real idea what will happen next. The day of the march, she had few answers for participants who asked her how to follow up the event. “Wait and see” what the national organizers do, she told them. Now that the group has sent out an email calling for a week of action, she’s concerned that it might already be too late. Final exams are taking place next week at Virginia Tech and on many other college campuses. Faculty are taking off. “Everything gets a little bit fragmented in terms of organizing,” she says.
She and others are following up with projects that don’t require people to be on campus—for example, a letter-writing campaign on House of Representatives and Senate bills that would ban federal agencies from using geospatial data to track racial and income disparities in housing. She’s also planning a teach-in for when students return in the fall. Meanwhile, “I hope people stay on top of things and that the national organizers keep everyone informed and engaged,” she says.
The last thing she wants is another Women’s March on Washington. “I have to be honest. I was so disappointed in the follow-up. I was like, you had all that power in your hands? You should have been banging on the White House door,” she says. “You have a big, long email list—use it wisely!”