On January 20, 2017, the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) protested the inauguration of the Trump presidency. They protested in conjunction with others nationwide. Between 1000 and 1200 protesters organized at the Wallace Bennett Federal Building. Among them were members of SDS, Black Bloc Anarchists, Freedom Road Socialist Organization, students, and many other individuals—young and old who represented all walks of life. Many held signs with creative slogans like “Send Pence To A Conversion Camp,” “ Pussy Grabs Back” or “Welcome To Fascist America.” Some protesters displayed flags symbolizing Anarchism, Anarcho-Communism, Communism, LBGTQ or upside down Stars and Stripes.
Speakers spoke out against what they perceived to be threats looming from President Trump’s agenda. They decried police brutality, Vice President Pence’s support of conversation therapy for members of the LGTBQ community, and other controversial issues. Some more radical speakers pointed out the Holocaust; another noted that the audience should remember that the land they were inhabiting was stolen Shoshoni land. In the same speech, the speaker also called the gathered to remember Standing Rock and the Red Warrior Camp. In addition to voicing opposition, speakers also called for people attending the rally to get involved with activist organizations. Speaker Nick Godfrey asked the gathered crowd, “Will you commit to struggle? Will you commit to organize?”
After the speeches concluded, yellow reflective vested SDS peacekeepers deployed to lead the march. The protester took and marched down the middle of the street on 100 S toward City Creek. The protesters chanted slogans like “Dump Trump,” and “Black Lives Matter!” Police cars stayed about a block away to create a perimeter to prevent commuters from running into the protesters.
As the protesters marched, their gathered size and loud chanting drew attention from onlookers. It appeared that most were curious, while some were supportive and others mocked the demonstrators. The march’s route took the demonstrators toward the Salt Palace and past the Mormon Temple. Around this time a section the demonstrators broke into two groups with women chanting “My Body, My Choice” and men responding “Your Body, Your Choice.”
The final route took the demonstrators to the Utah Capital Building, where they occupied the steps and listened again as speakers encouraged those attending to organize and get involved with organizations ready to take to the streets. Riding on this idea, a SDS speaker made it clear of his distaste for establishment political organizations like the Democrats and Republicans. This sentiment was supported by many, although it was clear that those with Democratic leanings were a bit uneasy. While the speakers delivered their final thoughts, a loose police presence was obvious. The police remained distant and did not antagonize or provoke demonstrators; rather they waited and just observed the demonstration. They acted to separate the protesters from the public, a tactic of restraint and isolation to keep the peace that has been seen at many other demonstrations in Salt Lake City.
Admittedly this protest, while not as large as some held before, showed a certain level of unity to oppose the Trump presidency and the Republican establishment. This unity among the different groups was quickly tested as the protest dispersed. A demonstrator lit what appeared to be an American flag on fire. The smell of burning plastic was pungent. A small crowd of demonstrators gathered and tensions flared between supported and dissenters of the flag burning. Within moments Highway Patrolmen stepped in to intervene and break up the confrontation.
Soon the protester’s attention shifted onto a new group who appeared on the scene. These newcomers– two of whom were draped in American Stars and Stripes—held their hands up with peace signs. They seemed to be there to offer an alternative point of view and debated with demonstrators on topics varying from economics to what he perceived the building blocks the United States was built on. It was unclear whether these counter demonstrators’ desire to debate was ill-intentioned or ill-informed, but their attempt to engage protesters was not well received and appeared to come across as even offensive. Despite passions rising however, the confrontation remained largely peaceful.
The protest in its entirety was a show of non-violent displeasure toward the Trump presidency. The march was passionate. It kept peaceful largely thanks to the participants and the SDS peacekeepers. The protest ended with the calls to organize and on what some would call a positive note. It was family-friendly and there was not the traditional occupation or disruption that other protests were known for—although one black bloc anarchist could be heard trying to encourage a peacekeeper to rally support anarchy.