The University of Utah’s chapters of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and the Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL) joined forces with other off-campus organizations such as the Brown Berets and Utah Against Police Brutality to rally against U.S. President Donald Trump’s declaration of a national emergency at the nation’s southern border with Mexico.
The rally took place Saturday afternoon in front of the Wallace Bennett Federal building. The opening speaker at the rally was Bryn Dayton, from SDS, who said, “We declare today that this [declaration of national emergency] is a racist anti-immigrant attack” and that “there is no national emergency.”
In between speakers, protesters chanted from “Palestine to Mexico, these border walls have got to go!” and “Legalization for all!”
Dayton told The Daily Utah Chronicle that the U’s SDS chapter began planning the rally on Tuesday, Feb. 19 after receiving a call from the national quarters of the organization.
Dayton said the group wants to send out the message that there is no “national emergency on the border” and that the declaration made by the president is “just a way to build the border wall.” The SDS member believes that a border wall will not increase national security but will serve to increase “anti-immigration sentiments.”
Halfway through the rally, three counter-protesters showed up carrying flags supporting president Trump and wearing Make America Great Again caps.
At first, the group stood next to Shirley Reyes, a speaker who was addressing the crowd. However, after a couple of male protesters placed themselves in between the rally and the counter-protesters, the men crossed the road and remained on the other side until the end of the rally. During this transition, one of the men yelled at Reyes to “go back to Mexico.”
One of the counter-protesters, Jason Smith, told The Daily Utah Chronicle he heard about the rally after accidentally stumbling into one of the organizing group’s planning meetings last Thursday.
He said he thought it was “something completely different,” but upon finding out that there would be a rally “protesting president Trump,” he said he decided to show up and take part in “counter-protesting their protest.”
Although Smith said that he does not agree with everything the president has said, he says he feels that “we need the wall built” and that he supports the president for trying to “stick to” his promise to do so. Smith said that he believes there is an “overflow of immigrants” adding that he believes “we don’t need those people here.”
The counter-protester said that the president has “done away with NAFTA [The North American Free Trade Agreement]” and he credits a three dollar raise he said he has recently received to this type of policy.
Although the president renegotiated the trade agreement that is still in existence between the U.S., Mexico and Canada, changes made to the agreement will not go into effect until 2020.
Dayton said it is not uncommon for SDS rallies to see counter-protesters. The SDS organizer said that they “get a little uneasy” when this happens, but added that they have people who are trained to deal with this type of situation. Dayton explained that the group “made sure [they] had people that were okay with standing in between them [counter-protesters] and the crowd” in order to prevent commingling and potential clashes that could result in violence.