September 3, 2022
Maria Archibald, email@example.com, (919) 259-8191
Muskan Walia, firstname.lastname@example.org, (801) 497-6121
Youth “drop dead” on dry lake bed, demanding action to protect Great Salt Lake
Utah youth held a die-in demonstration at Great Salt Lake, mourning its disappearance and highlighting what more will be lost if Utah leaders fail to act.
Salt Lake City, Utah — Today, young organizers from Utah Youth Environmental Solutions (UYES) gathered with roughly 100 community members to hold a funeral for the Great Salt Lake, which is rapidly approaching ecological collapse. Flanked by handmade tombstones, youth dropped “dead” one by one to demonstrate the severity of the crisis at Great Salt Lake and to demand that Utah leaders take bold action to protect it.
Protestors converged on the dry lake bed behind the Great Saltair, where local writer Milo Emilia read poetry from their recent book lake words. “Think of a place you know that is loved, cared for. Think of how that place feels and how you feel there,” they read. “Now think of a place that has been disregarded, put aside, and ignored. You can feel it. Has our great salt lake been disregarded? What love does it need to heal?”
Demonstrators then marched in silence onto the lakebed, arriving at a “graveyard” comprising approximately 20 tombstones – each warning of harm that will befall communities in the Salt Lake Valley if the lake dries up.
Youth stood among the tombstones as speakers described a future without the Great Salt Lake – a future in which arsenic and other heavy metals are carried on the wind into peoples’ lungs. As speakers told this story, youth demonstrators dropped to the ground one by one to the backdrop of tombstones with messages including: “2005-2022: I died from arsenic poisoning,” “Utah values alfalfa over my life,” and “my legislators let me die.”
The action concluded with three speakers: Winona Gray, an environmental sociology PhD student and an organizer with the Party for Socialism and Liberation, who discussed how capitalism is the root of violence against both people and the land; Flor Isabel, a parent of four and the Community Leadership Coordinator at United Way of Salt Lake, who spoke about their child growing up with asthma due to poor air quality; and Alan Gutierrez, a 22-year-old Zoology major and UYES organizer, who called on attendees to wield their collective power and demand revolutionary change.
The Great Salt Lake is rapidly disappearing due to compounding issues, including climate change, metropolitan expansion, and water diversions for agriculture and industry. As the water recedes, arsenic and other heavy metals deposited in the lakebed by nearby mining operations will be carried by the wind and inhaled by residents. Research shows that the ecosystem could collapse as soon as this year, killing off brine shrimp and migratory birds that rely on the lake for food and habitat, as well as multiple industries the lake supports. “It’s incredibly dangerous for biodiversity, for the economy, and also for peoples’ health” says UYES organizer Muskan Walia.
Young people organized this morning’s intergenerational gathering to educate about the crisis we are facing and demand that Utah leaders take immediate action to protect Great Salt Lake. “Legislators are talking about it, but the conversation has predominantly been about how we can geoengineer our way out of this crisis,” says UYES organizer Maria Archibald. “What we are gathering at the lakebed to say is that we don’t need to be piping water hundreds of miles to the lake, we need to be working within the bounds of nature to let the water that we have actually make it to the lake instead of diverting it for alfalfa and industry.”
UYES organizers are clear that the pipeline projects legislators have proposed are false solutions – a form of disaster capitalism intent on profiting from crises rather than addressing their root causes. While demonstrators called on law-makers to take action this morning, they also reminded each other that change comes from the ground up and that we have the collective power to hold our legislators accountable. “We will not and cannot wait for change to come from the system,” said 22-year-old Alan Gutierrez in his keynote address. “We are the change we need.”
“The truth is that this is affecting all of us, right now and even more so in the future.” -Natalie Roberts, UYES, age 15
“Inaction is the root of violence against the people and the land. This work is not just about legislators. This demonstration is not the end. We need sustained resistance that centers frontline communities of color.” – Muskan Walia, UYES, age 20
“Investing the state’s resources into vague research efforts and geoengineering projects are not solutions. Researchers have been studying this issue for several years. We must turn this knowledge into action that reduces harm, sustains, and centers justice for all people in Utah.” – Muskan Walia, UYES, age 20
Utah Youth Environmental Solutions Network (UYES) is a youth-led organization that empowers young people in Utah to mobilize around climate and environmental issues through legislation, education and action. Our mission is to connect students to environmental advocacy by cultivating reciprocal relationships between Utah’s youth, environmental organizations, and community leaders.