‘I’m here to fight the system’: Hundreds rally in Salt Lake City during third-annual women’s march

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) The 2019 Women's March on Utah, sponsored by People for Unity, marches to the Utah Capitol in Salt Lake City on Saturday Jan. 19, 2019.

For the third year, Utah women marched in solidarity on a chilly January day — carrying signs, chanting and wearing those pink pointy-eared hats — all to show political leaders that they still are a force “too great to ignore.”

First gathering at Salt Lake City’s Washington Square and then again on the steps of the state Capitol, the Women’s March on Utah was one of many taking place around the country Saturday.

While it didn’t attract as many participants as in 2017 — when thousands filled the Capitol Rotunda in response to the inauguration of President Donald Trump — the 2019 edition, with hundreds of participants, took on a youthful tone as it was organized by People for Unity, a group founded by college-age activists.

While infighting and charges of anti-Semitism were hanging over the organizers of the national Women’s March taking place in Washington, D.C., the theme of the Utah event shined a light on diversity, specifically the racism, violence and sexual harassment faced by black women, Muslim women, Native and indigenous women and those in the LGBTQ community.

“We will not be liberated,” Ermiya Fanaeian, co-founder of Utah’s March for Our Lives, told the crowd, “unless each and every one of us is liberated.”

Mishka Banuri, a Salt Lake City student who helped push the Legislature to pass a climate resolution last year, was one of several ethnically diverse women who spoke. Banuri said she has always felt the need to keep her head down and accept the racial and sexual slurs she received as a Muslim woman from Pakistan. But in recent years she has found her voice as an activist.

“I’m here to fight the system that makes people like me feel like they don’t belong,” she said. “Another world is possible and she is on her way.”

It was that message of inclusiveness that inspired Caitlin Benko, a student at Weber State University, to attend her first women’s march.

“It’s important to march for every person who has been marginalized by this country,” said Benko, who attended with three friends. “And I’m here because people marched for me in the past and I want to do that for people in the future.”

Kristen Jensen, a student at Hillcrest High, acknowledged that as a straight white female she hasn’t felt the discrimination that has hurt many women — but the march is a way to step up and lend her support. “No woman should feel oppressed,” she said.

Her friend Brie Borrell added: “We are here to back each other up.”

As they marched up State Street to the Capitol, women listed some policies and governmental actions they feel negatively affect women and need to change.

For Ashley Black, of Lehi, it was funding cuts to Planned Parenthood and “limited access for women’s health.”

For Donna Kelly, a Salt Lake County prosecutor, it was Congress’ failure to renew the Violence Against Women Act, “which has helped thousands of women escape violence.”

For Andrea Beringer-Lyon, of Ogden, it was sexual harassment allegations against President Donald Trump “that doesn’t seem to bother anybody.”

Beringer-Lyon’s husband, Charles Lyon, was one of dozens of men who marched, in part, he said, “because things don’t seem to be getting better.”

That’s not completely true. Since the first march in 2017, more women have been elected to the Utah Legislature than ever before, said Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski. It’s still not enough. Women can’t be satisfied with “just a seat at the table,” she said. “We must lead the conversations.”

With the beginning of the 2019 Legislature set for Jan. 28, many in the crowd, including Biskupski, were pushing for Utah to help revive the fight for an Equal Rights Amendment, which would guarantee equal rights between men and women. Utah’s lawmakers didn’t ratify the possible amendment before congressional deadlines passed in 1979 and again in 1982.

Kate Nevins, who attended women’s marches in the 1970s, said she was inspired that so many young adults participated in Saturday’s event and that the next generation has stepped up its activism.

There was a twinge of regret, too. “We’re still having to march [about women’s issues] all these years later.”