Eleanor Sundwall: The incivility dominant at Salt Lake County Council meetings is a threat to all of Utah

We should be motivated by concern for one another, not anger at each other.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) People gather at the Salt Lake County Government Center on Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022, to support and protest the recent mask mandate issued by the Salt Lake County Health Department and Mayor Jenny Wilson. The Salt Lake County council was taking another vote on the matter which ended up keeping the mandate in place.

My daughter and I remotely attended the Salt Lake County Council meeting on Jan. 11. One person after another spoke with anger and frustration about the recently announced mask mandate. Some speakers shared moving stories. Some raged and spat outright falsehoods. Others just raged.

All spoke about their individual liberty. Mouth-obscuring masks are an easy symbol of tyranny, are easy to be mad at. But it’s the virus, too small to see, that has crippled our educational and health care systems.

When it was our turn, my daughter and I both spoke in favor of the mask mandate. We support it because personal freedom is powerless against a global pandemic when so many people define personal freedom as the absence of personal responsibility.

On Jan. 13, my daughter and I went to the Salt Lake County Government Complex to show our support of the mask mandate. We joined an outdoor rally organized by the Concerned Coalition with Safe Utah Schools during the council vote. We had fun talking with teachers, college students, Democrats, Republicans, parents, children and health care workers. Despite any differences, we all want a mask mandate to keep our communities safe from virulent selfishness.

After the Salt Lake County Council voted to uphold the mandate, attendees wanting a different outcome were not just disappointed; they were angry.

Maskless, red-faced adults leaned (and even lunged) into my daughter’s space to hiss or growl “SAD!”, “This is AMERICA!”, and “Pathetic!” I may not have been a small enough target, but the anger felt by these frustrated citizens was spread generously.

Curses and insults hung in the air outside, issued at no one in particular. Inside, they took creative license with “Do You Hear the People Sing” from Les Miserables, a song romanticizing anger, battle and bloodshed.

I drove away from the rally feeling I had endangered my daughter. I ended the day feeling that Utah’s largest county has endangered every Utah child. Schools are unsafe and closing. Routine childhood accidents or illnesses could be life-threatening events because of overwhelmed hospitals.

I have seen adults — maybe hoping to feel powerful — lash out at my young daughter in plain sight. Some adults have the self-control not to yell at children but they turn a desire for control over the world into a belief that their individual preferences are more important than the lives and livelihoods of anyone else.

To the detriment of all of us, frightened and angry people are sought out by others for encouragement, emails and votes. I keep reading that extremists are a minority, but they are loud and motivated — fear is a powerful motivator.

Fortunately, there are other motivators, too: compassion, community, reason and unity are just a few.

The Concerned Coalition is motivated by a desire for common-sense community care. Dedicated to elevating evidence-based solutions for Utah kids and K-12 schools, we are the parents, the aunts and uncles, the grandparents, the neighbors, the friends and the strangers who don’t usually speak up because we are busy, tired and don’t like to make a scene.

I don’t believe we have to make a scene to make a difference: We just have to send emails, make phone calls and speak at our municipal meetings in favor of policies that will keep our children and our communities open and safe.

I hope you’ll join me in elevating the level of discourse in Salt Lake County — and all of Utah — so we can protect our children. And yours.

Eleanor Sundwall

Eleanor Sundwall, Salt Lake City, left a career as a molecular biologist and science educator to raise a family. She has two daughters attending schools in the Granite School District and has served with the PTA, on our elementary school community council and as a roving volunteer.