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A guide to making effective protest signs

With the first ever March for Science two weeks away, a lot of us are sitting and scratching our heads thinking up the perfect rhyme, or the perfect punchline to write on cardboard that would express our outrage or our incredulity against proposed cuts for the NIH, or our passion for our favorite scientific topic, or even why science is awesome and important. We have so much to say, except there is only so much space on the cardboard or even the banner. Given that brevity is the mother of wit, we believe that you can come up with awesome signs for the March by yourself. However, we just wanted to provide some tips to help you along the way! If you happen to make a sign similar to someone else, don’t lose heart. Repetition = reinforcement, so it will show your solidarity with others. 

1. Use literary devices – Parallelism is a great way to get your message across and make it memorable. If you can make it rhyme, even better since it can turn your message into a chant! As the linguist Daniel Midgley describes, both parallelism and rhyming make slogans readable and memorable. In addition to rhyming, clever usage of common memes will also help making your sign memorable, such as the one below. 

Source: L May/Twitter

2. Be Positive – While the proposed cuts to the NIH budget may not sound funny at all and the future of scientific research looks bleak under this administration, negativity will not help win supporters. Instead, spin your negativism into a humorous catch-phrase that either expresses your incredulity (eg – “OMG GOP WTF”) or your positive attitude (eg – “We Are Better Than This”). 

3. Use Symbols – Your message can be personal and defined based on what you want to say, but  you can still express your solidarity with the overall cause by including the symbols of the protest (eg – the Boston March for Science has incorporated the official logo of the March for Science with its own twist by adding the Zakim bridge over it).

Official March for Science logo
Boston March for Science logo

4.  Focus on the Issues – Emotional reactions to President Trump and his proposed changes are inevitable. However, given that he has been in office for 3 months, it would not help to make signs that say “Not My President”. Instead, make sure your signs reflect the issues at hand – climate change, funding for scientific research, evidence-based policymaking, etc. Your sign should tell the rest of us about the cause you support in the specific context rather than a knee-jerk reaction, which may be valid but out of context. So, be informed about the specific goals of the march, and use those points to shape your message. 

5. Don’t be Partisan – Remember, it’s a non-partisan march, but it is not apolitical. Both democrats and republicans have utilized science as a tool to make political gains. However, this march is beyond petty partisan politics. This is something much more fundamental – it is about the defense of basic truths. While the anti-vaxxers and climate change deniers seem to support the Republican party more often than the Democrats, such issues affect all of us and the March for Science will not achieve its goals by displaying partisanship. Alienation is not what we need right now, but rather, we need to be able to win over the other side. 

Just a quick note – the March for Science is taking place on Earth Day, April 22. So PLEASE MAKE SURE you take your signs with you after the march, or recycle them and if you would like, help with clean-up afterwards. This is also our responsibility, not only as scientists, but also as members of society taking part in a civic and political action. 

Hope to see you all at the March, with your awesome signs.

For Science, In Solidarity!

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