Sacramento’s March for Science draws presidential candidate, anti-vaccine counter-protesters

The topics du jour at Sacramento’s March for Science on Saturday were both modern and ancient: climate change being accelerated through modern human today, and vaccines to treat formerly eradicated diseases that have started to come back.

Dr. Richard Pan, whose bill to restrict how doctors administer medical exemptions for vaccines in California has met committee approval, was standing at the steps of River Walk Park in West Sacramento imploring anyone who would listen to take immunizations seriously. The state senator, who represents Sacramento, spoke about the recent measles outbreak in Southern California, which he said was spurred by some people’s increased reluctance to vaccinate their children.

“Science allows us to understand how the world works, how the universe works, and then to be able to to anticipate what’s going to happen,” Pan said in an interview following his speech. “But then we have to have the will to address it.”

As Pan spoke to the crowd, a protester dressed in a stormtrooper costume walked to the base of the steps and ripped a cover reading “March For Science” off his poster. The poster had a picture of Pan with “liar” stamped over his face; on the other side, it read “vaccines are not placebo safety tested.

Joshua Coleman holds a sign at the March for Science at River Walk Park in West Sacramento on Saturday, May 4, 2019. Sarahbeth Maney Special to the Bee

Inside the costume was anti-vaccine protester Joshua Coleman, who said covered his face because he had been told security would eject him if he showed up at the event. Although Pan’s security detail stayed by Coleman’s side as more counter-protesters joined him, they did not make physical contact.

Asked if he was vaccinated, Coleman, who appeared relatively healthy, replied that he was.

“Not everyone who smokes gets lung cancer,” Coleman said.

Pan was followed by Washington Gov. and 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Jay Inslee, who told the audience he believed in three things: California’s power to lead a technological revolution, cold beer and science.

The future cost of inaction outweighs any investment of climate change solutions, Inslee said. He pointed to the Camp Fire’s destruction of Paradise last fall, as well as flooding of Midwest farms and the Florida coast as examples of people could expect without immediate action.

“Don’t tell me that it costs too much to defeat climate change. It costs too much not to defeat climate change,” Inslee said.

After the 2016 Democratic primary debates came and went with nary a single question about climate change, Inslee has made the issue his campaign’s cornerstone. He introduced a climate action plan Friday that would mandate zero greenhouse gas emissions in new cars, trucks and buses and urge Congress to pass laws making all energy generation “clean, renewable and zero-emission” by 2035.

Inslee has been polling at 1% since shortly after he announced he would run for president, according to Morning Consult. Asked why voters eager for change should choose a 68-year-old white man with an extensive political career out of a crowded Democratic primary field, he fired a shot at surprise contender and South Bend, Indiana mayor Pete Buttigieg, who is fourth in the Morning Consult poll.

Jay Inslee, Governor of Washington, speaks during the March for Science at River Walk Park in West Sacramento on Saturday. Sarahbeth Maney Special to the Bee

“It’s better to have a 60-year-old that can defeat climate change than a 37-year-old that’s never lifted a finger to do anything about it,” Inslee said in an interview with The Sacramento Bee on Saturday.

Hundreds of cities across the world first participated in a unified march for science in 2017, when about 15,000 residents came out in Sacramento. Attendance dropped significantly the next year, though, and only 200 people showed up to Saturday’s march.

Similar marches were held in countries such as Malawi, Czech Republic and Germany, as well as cities throughout the United States.

This story was updated May 6 to correct the information about the bill by State. Sen. Richard Pan.

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Benjy Egel covers local restaurants and bars for The Sacramento Bee as well as general breaking news and investigative projects. A Sacramento native, he previously covered business for the Amarillo Globe-News in Texas.
Bryan Anderson is a political reporter for The Bee. He covers the California Legislature and reports on wildfires and transportation. He also hosts The Bee’s “California Nation” podcast.