By Derek Jacobs
SALT LAKE CITY — Thousands of Utahns donned filtration mask and crafted witty signs to protest for cleaner air at a rally that drew an estimated 4,000 people.
People who said they are tired of breathing dirty air showed up to the Utah Capitol midday Saturday, Jan. 25. There was no shortage of energy or of things to say as several speakers from doctors to athletes addressed the gathering and urged people to urge legislators pass new laws that will clean up the air.
Dr. Brian Moench, the president of Utah Physicians for a Better Environment, called people to action. “This is your state. What goes on in the building behind us is your government… this is your rally,” Moench said.
Cherise Udell, president of Utah Moms for Clean Air, also told the crowd that they were key to convincing lawmakers to pass laws to regulate air quality.
“It is going to take each and every one of you to help lobby for it (a clean air petition),” she said. “You need to be writing letters, you need to be making phone calls, and you need to be doing emails, we can’t do it by ourselves.”
Her words drew shouts and cheers from the diverse group, many indentifying themselves as Republicans, Democrats as well as people from different walks of life.
A large number of college students came out to protest because they said clean air affects them. Two students held up the contact information for Gov. Gary Herbert. Carrie Brown, who is 23 and now attends UVU, said “we hope that people will call or email, in hopes that they can make a difference too, they can be loud and obnoxious about how sucky the air quality is out here.”
For Jessica Ellis, a 24 year-old student at the University of Utah, the rally was a great way to see that other people care about the air as much as she does. ” I don’t think so many people cared about our air, I’ve been complaining about it for months and months and I had no idea so many people cared, so hopefully we will get something done.” Jessica admitted that most of the requests by the speakers are too much, “It seems more radical, I think they need to start with something smaller.”
Katherine Jackson, a U. graduate, and Blake Holland, who attends Salt Lake Community College, attended because they wanted to show that they weren’t going to be as Jackson put it, “pushed around.”
From their house two blocks away they could hear the rally loud and clear and it gave them a sense of unity. “It’s just really nice to see everyone out here, protesting the same thing,” Holland said.
One 19-year-old girl had more than just her health to protest in behalf of, she was also thinking about her wallet. Anna De St. Aubin emphatically held a sign that read, “Bad air is bad for the economy.”
Aubin is a hostess at a restaurant in downtown Salt Lake who takes a financial blow every night that the air is bad.”We don’t get as many people in the restaurant,” Anna said.”We go from like 300 people a night down to like a 150, it’s nearly half as we normally would get on a clean air day.” That decrease in costumers translates to less tips and Aubin said she loses at least $150 a night when the air is bad.
Moench estimated the crowd at 5,000. However police officers on sight gave a few different numbers. A Utah Highway Patrol officer said there was “2,000-2,500” people present. Another group of officers said anywhere from 3,500-4,000.
Lawmakers begin the 2014 Legislature Monday, Jan. 27 under pressure from constituents to clean up the dirty air.
“The difficult part now,” Moench said, “is to try and harvest this energy into a sustained determination on the part of the people who attended here, that they are going to stay engaged with their legislators and demand that they do something.”