‘Get proximate,’ and reverse hatred, Utah leaders say in two anti-racism rallies

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Crowds gather at the City and County Building for the Charlottesville Va. solidarity rally, hosted by Utah League of Native American Voters, Monday, August 14, 2017.

Nearly 2,000 Utahns congregated at Salt Lake City Hall on Monday night to stand in solidarity with people oppressed by racism.

That rally and another, held on the steps of the Capitol earlier in the evening, gave Utahns a chance to react to the white supremacists gathering in Charlottesville, Va., where one person was killed and dozens were injured when a vehicle driven by an alleged Nazi sympathizer ran into a counterprotest.

State Rep. Sandra Hollins, D-Salt Lake City, spoke at both rallies, condemning the “domestic terrorism” of white nationalists and telling those in attendance that the way to move forward is to “continue to challenge our current societal norms.”

“I love this state. I love my community,” Hollins said. “But we have our challenges to overcome.”

She talked about students being “face to face with racist propaganda” on the University of Utah campus last week, and she spoke out against “institutionalized racism,” “discrimination” and a “lack of support” for people who are considered different throughout communities in Utah.

“We can, we must and we will do better,” Hollins said, the crowd following with an eruption of applause.

Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes also took to the microphone at both rallies, and though he was applauded by his peers and the 200 people gathered at the Capitol, the City Hall crowd booed him off the stage.

At the earlier rally, Reyes publicly thanked President Donald Trump for “denouncing” the behavior of those who turn to violence because of race.

Not all who attended the rallies advocated for the same cause. One protester at the Capitol, Willie Anderson, of Salt Lake City, argued in favor of the white supremacists whom he said wanted to march peaceably. He held a sign that said ”Protect free speech.”

“Anarchists and leftist psychos” went to Charlottesville, he said, “with the express purpose of depriving these people of their constitutional rights to have an assembly on public property.” He said making the issue into anything else is “typical media lying.”

But the words of the politicians who spoke were more focused on eradicating hate, and the vast majority of signs condemned white supremacy and bigotry; some took issue with the president himself.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Mia Willie Anderson hides behind his sign, next to an un-named Trump supporter and Sister Foster Chiiild, as the jocky for space at the "One Utah" Rally for Unity at the State Capitol, Monday, August 14, 2017.

Community leaders and grass-roots organizers took turns speaking at the City Hall rally, encouraging people to take action after they returned home for the night.

A few voices cried out against messages of speakers at both rallies, but they were drowned out by those with a microphone and cheers from the supportive crowd.

Alysia Foote, of Layton, attended the rally at the Capitol, carrying a sign with a quote from Martin Luther King Jr. She said Trump hasn’t done enough to denounce racism.

Jennifer Ha and Sione Siaki, both of Salt Lake City, said they were “outraged” by the the events in Charlottesville.

Ha said she has friends who don’t understand that “racism is rampant today,” and white supremacists’ terrorizing of minorities “destroys what America is.”

When people don‘t condemn racist acts, it’s the same as saying they’re OK with it, Siaki said. “As a person of color in my community, I feel like people should be standing up against white supremacy.”

Though there was a small scuffle at City Hall, the protests mostly were peaceful.

Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox and U.S. Rep. Mia Love, both Republicans, joined Hollins in speaking at the Capitol, while Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City, addressed the crowd at City Hall.

The idea that in America if you work hard, you can do anything is “void,” Romero told the crowd, due to “systematic ’isms.’”

“Growing up in Utah, growing up a woman of color, I felt that,” Romero said. “… We don‘t need to make America great again through hate and racist policies.” The state representative included the words in her speech from chants commonly used at protests to support people of color, denounce police brutality and promote human rights, including sayings like “I can’t breathe” and “Hands up, don’t shoot.”

She added that not all politicians are the same, and her goal is to “make sure that I‘m standing up for everyone.”

At the Capitol, Love told the crowd that “we cannot go around being victims,” and that while racism and hatred is a learned habit, it can be reversed. She‘s seen it happen, she said.

“People filled with rage and hate can change,” Cox said, “but we only change when we get proximate. We only change when we get close. We only change when we dare to get close to people who are different than us and ... dare to have uncomfortable conversations.”