It was not an ideal day to march up Utah’s Capitol Hill.
The chilling wind was strong and thick snow was falling, but a sea of people gathered wearing pink beanies and bearing signs.
Thousands of people took part in the Women’s March on the Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City on Jan. 23, 2017. While those who attended reported feeling a strong sense of unity, individual marchers gave a diverse range of personal reasons for joining the crowd.
Violence against women
“I marched because one in three Utah women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime,” said marcher and event organizer Suzy Andrews. “I marched because cases like Brock Turner are all too common. I marched to draw attention to these issues.”
Andrews was referring to Brock Turner, the former Stanford swim team member who was sentenced to three months in jail after he was convicted of three counts of felony sexual assault. Turner’s sentence caused a national uproar.
Andrews’ reasons for marching came from personal experience.
“I was sexually assaulted, and so were two out of my three sisters,” Andrews said. “I remember getting catcalls from grown men when I was as young as 12.”
Andrews said that she considers these catcalls insults and still experiences them now.
“It can be absolutely terrifying,” Andrews said.
Carol Surveyor was a speaker at the march and said she specifically marched because she fears the Violence Against Women Act is in jeopardy with the new administration ready to cut Violence Against Women grants.
Surveyor’s mother was murdered on a Navajo reservation on Nov. 30, 2015. Surveyor sold her furniture, left her home and moved to Salt Lake City with her daughters to “be my mother’s voice, her advocate” as the suspect is held in Salt Lake City awaiting trial.
“(The Violence Against Women Act) was put into place to prevent things like what happened to my mother, allowing those who are affected to have justice, fairness,” Surveyor said.
“I marched because I am worried that the recently empowered leaders of this country are going to ignore the voices of marginalized groups in America,” said BYU student and marcher Sarah Christensen.
Christensen said that women, the LGBT community, religious minorities, ethnic minorities and lower socio-economic groups are the marginalized groups she marched for.
Marcher and event organizer Miranda Kimberlin said she marched in an effort to acknowledge how women’s issues intersect with the oppression of racial and ethnic minorities, immigrants, LGBT people, disabled people and more.
Responding to President Donald Trump’s election
Some marchers attended in protest of the election of President Donald Trump. Salt Lake Community College student Hank Hansen said he marched because he disapproves of the way Trump has treated women.
“The reason I went was to say, ‘Listen, I can demonstrably prove that I am not OK with treating a woman like an object,’” Hansen said. “I’m certainly not ok with sexual assault, and I believe wholeheartedly that anyone who believes something like that is not fit to certainly run this country.”
BYU–Idaho student and marcher Sam Clemence said Trump’s election motivated him to speak up on women’s rights.
“I have a lot of very strong women in my life: my mother, my sisters, some women that I’ve grown up with that are very key, important parts to me,” Clemence said. “Knowing that Donald Trump — not only the way he treats women but the way he talks about women — and some of the promises he’s made in regards to women’s rights, really just made me feel like I need to start speaking up in a way that’s not just by social media.”
On the other hand, some marchers chose not to focus on Trump.
“I marched knowing full well that a lot of people in my life were not going to understand why I decided to march,” said march organizer Roma Loe Jones. “I did not march because I actually think it will change who the president is. There is no clear path from protest to power, and there is a reason my sign did not reference any specific person.”
“I want my voice heard”
Marcher and event organizer Lydia Ojuka said that as a woman of color living in Utah for over 20 years, she feels peaceful protests are a way to give her demographic a voice.
“It took me way too long to realize that I am relying on individuals who are from a whole different demographic to miraculously or perhaps telepathically understand my life experience and make laws that would reflect that,” Ojuka said. “I have to raise my voice or else be unheard and unrepresented.”
Joanna Smith said she started Utah Women Unite in response to so many Utah women joking about the women’s march on Washington. She wanted to see Utah represented in national issues.
“I was sick of seeing national events and Utah never showing up,” Smith said.
Unity or Diversity?
Some marchers felt a strong sense of unity, while others felt the crowd promoted a wide range of messages.
“I felt a unified connection with my fellow marchers, an understanding that we were all fighting for the same goal: equality for all,” said marcher Erika Larsen. “So I’d say I did see diversity in message, but several themes were repeated among the crowd, and we were all matching in solidarity together.”
Hansen felt the diverse messages were a weakness of the march. He said he saw many signs that didn’t seem to directly relate to women’s rights, such as signs about clean air or gun control.
“It’s not as impactful as it could be,” Hansen said. “The issues were so diverse that it kinda ended up looking like a bunch of angry liberals protesting Republicans. I don’t know if it’s really as powerful as it could be if there was one single, unifying message.”