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Salt Lake denounces war on the homeless and war with Iran at four energetic rallies

By Bryn Dayton

Salt Lake City, UT – The Trump administration rang in the New Year by putting millions of lives at risk with the assassination of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani and threatening a war with Iran. Similarly, Salt Lake City police began 2020 with a violent raid on the homeless community and the organizers fighting to protect them.

Salt Lake residents responded fiercely with no less than three anti-war rallies in the last week, as well as a rally in support of unsheltered folks and tenants’ rights.

On January 4, 200 gathered at an event organized by supporters of Bernie Sanders, and on January 8, hundreds more gathered for a rally organized by the Party for Socialism and Liberation and the Freedom Road Socialist Organization in downtown Salt Lake City (SLC), plus another event at the University of Utah organized by Students for a Democratic Society.

At all three anti-war rallies, people from various organizations – along with Iranian Americans who are already feeling the effects of the conflict – spoke about how a war with Iran would only be in the interest of the people at the top, especially defense contractors like Boeing and Northrop Grumman. Speakers correctly pointed out that every bomb dropped in Iran would be paid for by us, with money that should be going to our communities to pay for health care and housing.

Amid the military escalation, Salt Lakers, and specifically unsheltered folks in the city, faced severe police brutality. Early in the morning on January 3, the Take Shelter Coalition set up camp at the Salt Lake City and County Building. They provided heat, shelter, food, first aid and conflict mediation to any and all unsheltered people in the city, and they intended to stay until their demands for more shelter beds and more services for the homeless were met. The camp was an act of mutual aid, but also a protest against the city’s inhumane treatment of homeless and unsheltered folks.

On the night of January 6, hours after the first anti-war rally, police raided the camp, with dozens of officers in riot gear, shotguns, handguns, batons and the threat of tear gas. At least three were shot with rubber bullets or beanbag rounds, and ultimately 16 were arrested. Police trashed the camp, and the unsheltered folks who had been staying there were forced to move yet again.

In response to the display of police force at the camp, the lack of tenants’ rights in Utah, and abusive landlords in SLC, the newly formed Wasatch Tenants United held a rally January 8 demanding that the newly inaugurated mayor, Erin Mendenhall, keep her campaign promise and provide material relief to homeless folks in SLC. They also announced their intention to begin organizing tenants against ruthless and exploitative landlords as rents continue to rise.

What do police brutality, homelessness and abusive landlords have to do with the potential war with Iran? Every dollar spent killing people in Iran is a dollar that could be spent on feeding and housing people who desperately need it here. But more than that, the same capitalist class profiting from war is profiting at the expense of tenants and homeless folks in SLC.

As rents increased over 50% in the last few years, the city refused to build affordable housing – to the benefit of landlords. As developers build expensive new apartments and shopping malls at the location of a now-closed homeless shelter, developers profit. Our politicians are complicit because they too get a cut. In fact, Mendenhall’s husband is a property developer in SLC, giving her absolutely no incentive to address homelessness or rising rents.

Through the threat of war abroad and violence by local cops, Utahns came together to defend Iranians and their neighbors both sheltered and unsheltered. The past week showed clearly the strength of people united against the capitalist class across the United States and in Salt Lake City.

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