Vitriol ran thorough the veins of protesters who gathered Saturday, Dec. 2 to express their disdain for President Donald Trump.
Activists and everyday citizens gathered at the Utah State Capitol that Saturday to protest the president’s visit to Utah the following Monday, when he would ultimately sign executive proclamations to shrink the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments.
Approximately 6,000 protesters expressed frustration with Trump’s decision to return a large amount of protected public lands to private hands, which they fear will be prospected as ripe picking for large oil industries. The morning of the event, the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance called the president’s actions an “egregious assault on America’s public lands.”
In April, Trump issued an executive order to Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, requesting a review of national monuments established under the 1906 Antiquities Act since 1996. In a proposal to the president, Zinke recommended shrinking the size of the newly-appointed Bears Ears National Monument by more than 80 percent, and Escalante by 46 percent; amassing to roughly 2 million acres being relinquished from public control.
Leah Hapke, a public health major at Westminster College, attended the protests to make her voice heard.
“I was rallying for the right to have public land,” she says. “Donald Trump has made a massive mistake and hurt many people in the process. To be there and see over 6,000 other people rallying against this made me feel hopeful, but at the same time hurts because nothing came of the rally and he still shrunk the monuments.”
The protests observed were largely peaceful, though demonstrations caused parts of downtown Salt Lake City to be closed by blocking traffic.
President Trump addressed attendees at the state Capitol and called out bureaucratic overreach saying, “This law (the Antiquities Act) requires that only the smallest necessary area be set aside for special protection as national monuments. Unfortunately, previous administrations have ignored the standard and used the law to lock up hundreds of millions of land and water under strict government control. These abuses of the Antiquities Act give enormous power to far-away bureaucrats at the expense of the people who actually live here, work here, and make this place their home.”
While Grand Staircase-Escalante was designated a national monument in 1996 under the Clinton administration, Bears Ears was designated a national monument late in former President Barack Obama’s tenure and has existed as such for barely a year.
Utah Rep. Rob Bishop applauded the president’s actions, noting that the national monument reductions “are a first step toward protecting identified antiquities without disenfranchising the local people who work and manage these areas.”
Don Peay, founder of Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife, bought a full-page ad in local Utah newspapers to express appreciation to Trump for “hearing the voice of the Utah people, and for protecting our lands, wildlife and heritage of our public lands.”
The sandstone-laden land is also a place of historic value for its various inhabitants through the eons such as dinosaurs, prehistoric humans, and ancient Native Americans such as the Anasazi. This also comes in the wake of the controversial protests that rocked North Dakota last year to attempt to deter the Dakota Access Pipeline from being built near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation.
During the 2016 election, Trump gained 45 percent of Utah’s vote and currently holds an approval rating around 50 percent within the state.