By Hilary Smith, Sustainability Resource Center
I have to say, I don’t love politics. I never have. I don’t like the gamesmanship, the tired rhetoric, the nagging, or the talking out of both sides of the mouth.
And I didn’t grow up participating in political action—I was taught, for the most part, to follow rules rather than questioning them. We didn’t go to rallies, didn’t make signs, didn’t call or write to our legislators.
Yet, for the second January in a row, I’m gearing up for a rally here in Salt Lake. I’m thinking about good sign slogans, planning my public transit route for the day, and thinking about which mask I’m going to wear.
That’s right. It’s almost time for the second annual Clean Air, No Excuses rally, to be held Saturday, Jan. 31 from noon to 1 p.m. on the steps of the State Capitol. The event is organized by Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, Utah Moms for Clean Air, Clean Air Now, and Communities for Clean Air.
I went to the rally last year and was blown away by the crowd, which multiple media outlets counted at nearly 5,000 strong. I made no sign, and I didn’t do much shouting or singing—I was kind of a wallflower, if you can call it that on an outdoor field where there are no walls—but still, I was touched by the camaraderie that seemed to pervade the place. No one isn’t touched by our air, particularly when the air is as dirty as it is in this valley during toxic inversions. And Utahns are not about to let the issue go—a recent survey by Envision Utah showed that air quality is residents’ issue of top concern, over things like crime, crowding, and lack of diversity.
Even with all the good vibes I got from attending, I continued to ask myself, why rally? What’s the point? Why go to such great lengths to get people together, voices raised, cheeky signs waving, kids and dogs in tow? What good will come of all of this?
Reverend, writer, and political activist Jim Wallis says that “the great thing about social movements is that everybody gets to be a part of them.” It’s that sense of everybody being on the same page, everyone asking for the same thing, a diverse community coming together to demonstrate unified intention—to be heard, and acknowledged, by politicians, businesses, and maybe by something as big and lofty as the Universe.
Carl Ingwell, founder of the University of Utah Student Clean Air Network and one of the organizers of the rally, agrees. “I believe this is a community problem and will only be solved by the entire community,” he told me recently. Ingwell says that organizers want the event to be something mainstream, something that everyone comes to, and not just people who are already familiar and comfortable with demonstrating. This is one reason it’s being hailed as a “rally” rather than a “protest,” he says.
On the topic of results: whether or not significant legislative action results from the rally, politicians “can only say no for so long,” he says. “If nothing else happens, you are outside hanging out with other people from the community, and that feels good. It’s just one hour out of your entire year,” he adds.
Ingwell notes that individual action toward clean air should neither start nor finish with the rally. He hopes attendees will use the good energy from the rally to “reach out and take one more step”—whether that step is driving one less day every week, writing a letter to a senator or newspaper, or reading up on the politics of the issue.
Individual commitments to clean air can start with the event commute itself. Biking and walking are great options. A mass ride will begin at the Alchemy Coffee Shop, 390 East 1700 South, at 10:30 a.m. and follow a route through Memory Grove to the site. A bike valet service will also be available. Alternatively, a short march will begin at 11:30 a.m. at the City Center TRAX stop and will proceed up the hill on foot to the Capitol. For those interested in taking public transit, UTA will provide a special running of the route 500 bus, which runs straight up Main Street off North Temple and circles the Capitol. Added bonus: this route, which will run from about 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., falls within the city’s free fare zone.
Updates, information on contacting legislators, directions, and other useful nuggets can be found on the event’s Facebook page.
I asked Ingwell who he hoped would come to the event. He smiled and said, “The entire Wasatch Front. All 1.4 million people.”
Now that I’d like to see. I’ll be there—I’ll be one of them. Will you?
Hilary Smith is a graduate student in Environmental Humanities. She is a graduate assistant in the Sustainability Resource Center.