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8,000+ in Utah March for Refugees

by Dayne Goodwin


Over 8,000 Utahns rallied in a March for Refugees Saturday (Feb. 4) in Salt Lake City.  Mormons March for Muslims had begun organizing a march when they found that a larger effort was underway and the efforts were merged into Utah March for Refugees.

The March for Refugees was sponsored by the local American Indian-led organization working in solidarity with Standing Rock (PANDOS), by the Latinx community organization Communidades Unidas, refugee support organizations like Women of the World, Catholic Community Services and the International Rescue Committee, by the leading LGBTQ organization Equality Utah and by Salt Lake City and Salt Lake County.

In late January Salt Lake City mayor Jackie Biskupski and SLC Police Chief Mike Brown announced that the city would not cooperate with Trump's agenda on immigration and refugees. The following day Salt Lake County mayor Ben McAdams said that Salt Lake County would join the city in resisting Trump's agenda.

Both Biskupski and McAdams spoke at the rally held inside the State Capitol building as did representatives of the other main sponsoring organizations.  The Imam of the Islamic Society of Utah spoke and got silence from the crowd as he gave a prayer. One of Utah’s Latina state legislators spoke as did Utah’s only Black woman state legislator.  Among all the speakers the “Burundi Drummers” got a joyous response.

High school student Saida Dahir, wearing her Black Lives Matter shirt, explained that she is a refugee, a Muslim, Black and a woman so that “my whole identity has been attacked.”  Saida read the brief poem she wrote for the march called "Paper and a Pen" which you can watch/listen to here...(Behind Saida's left shoulder is County major McAdams, to her right the next person past the rally moderator in the red hijab is City mayor Biskupski.)

The International Rescue Committee turned over the bulk of their time to a recent Syrian refugee arrival. Through a translator she pressed to use her bit of time to explain why she and other Syrians had to flee.  She said that Utahns might expect that the president of Syria would be protecting the Syrian people but in Syria “it is just the opposite, the president is killing the people” (2.5 minutes into this video).

The most popular chants during the demonstration were “No Hate, No Fear, Refugees Are Welcome Here” and “No Ban, No Wall.”  Some reporters said this march was even bigger than the Utah Women’s March of January 23 which I think is true, but they should have mentioned that there was a snowstorm on January 23 while February 4 was a warm sunny winter day. Of course there was no sense of competition with many participants wearing their “pussyhats” from the Women's March.

The Utah Women United who organized Salt Lake’s Women's March decided to hold it on Monday January 23 in conjunction with the convening of the annual session of the state legislature at the State Capitol (I think partly because a coalition of environmental organizations had already reserved the Capitol building and grounds for a Saturday afternoon rally for clean air). Local women were urged to travel to D.C. for the January 21 march and I understand that over 1,000 did.  Women involved in the annual Sundance Film Festival in Park City organized a Women's March there (about 30 miles east of SLC up into the Wasatch mountains) for Saturday Jan. 21. They scheduled it for 9 a.m. to minimize conflicts with the film festival’s heavy screening schedule which turned out to be fortunate since it got underway before the heavy snow storm that continued most of the day; 8,000 participated including many coming up from the Salt Lake area.

Despite another snowstorm going on all afternoon, 8,000 participated in the Monday afternoon Jan. 23 Women’s March walking from a public park half-a-mile up the steep hill for a rally at the Capitol Building. The snowstorm provided motivation for everyone possible to squeeze inside the building resulting in a record-setting 6,000 inside and another 2,000+ outside (some estimated a total of 10,000). The political content of the rally was anti–Trump’s sexism, racism and general bigotry of course. The gathering also served as a protest against Utah’s overwhelmingly male, Mormon, Republican right-wing legislature whose proceedings it disturbed.