A few dozen activists planned a protest that swelled into a rally so large Monday, it might have made Utah history.
The advocacy group Utah Women Unite organized a Women’s March in Salt Lake City modeled on similar protests that were held worldwide on Saturday.
This one aligned with the beginning of Utah’s Legislative Session. Crowds began gathering Monday afternoon at City Creek Park, then marched north to the Capitol Building, many of whom were carrying signs expressing equality, chanting slogans and donning the now-iconic pink knitted hats that have come to represent women’s rights.
Protesters trudged up State Street as full, wet snowflakes fell from the sky. They gathered on the statehouse steps then filed inside, filling all three floors and occupying the massive staircases on the east and west ends.
Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, claimed it to be the largest assemblage inside the rotunda. He was an invited speaker at the event.
Carol Surveyor, a member of the Navajo Nation, recounted her decision to move to Utah eight months ago after her elderly mother was murdered on a reservation in this state. “The National Institute of Justice found that on Indian reservations, Native American women are murdered at a rate that is 10 times the national average,” she said.
Surveyor addressed the importance of the Violence Against Women Act. “With the incoming administration, we now face potential threats to funding that could affect access to fairness and justice for all,” she said.
Protesters continued to cheer, applaud and chant throughout the speeches, including a raucous applause when one speaker said the lawmakers were having trouble conducting business because of the noise.
Some legislators stood on the state in support of the movement.
State Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City, is working on legislation that would require law enforcement to test all rape kits. Last year, a study determined Washington County processed less than 20 percent of its rape kits, while neighboring Iron County processed close to 40 percent.
“Nobody should ever have to be subjected to sexual trauma and not get their kit processed,” she said.
She said Utah also needs to “step up and offer comprehensive sex education.”
Dabakis told the crowd he intended to introduce the Equal Rights Amendment to the state of Utah.
More than 2 million people marched at Women’s Marches in major cities across the world on Saturday, and on every continent sans Antarctica. Locally, on Saturday morning, a march took place in Park City—where the Sundance Film Festival is underway—led by comedian Chelsea Handler.
Kat Kellermeyer is the social media coordinator for Utah Women Unite, who recently returned from the Women’s March in Washington D.C. She said they brought back an apropos chant: “This is your first day, we will not go away.”
Kellermeyer says the goal is to communicate the needs of women and minorities to lawmakers and push for change.
“We are here to let the people know on a local level that we are here to hold the line,” she says.
Kellermeyer said Utah ranks at the bottom of many metrics that measure women’s rights. Sexual assault rates and domestic violence rates are high, she said. And several Utah cities rank nationally for poor women’s pay.