Crowd at march during Sundance could be biggest ever in Park City
Most demonstrations in the past have drawn just a few dozen people
In January of 2005, as George W. Bush was sworn in as president for the second time, perhaps 30 people gathered during the Sundance Film Festival to show their displeasure with the Republican president.
And, two years later, as the Iraqi war continued, fewer than 50 people staged a protest during Sundance against the military action.
There is a long history of demonstrations timed to occur during the film festival, typically supporting causes of the political left. But even with large crowds in Park City for the festival and a global press corps in the city, the demonstrations in the past have typically drawn far smaller crowds than the organizers had hoped to attract.
But a demonstration planned on Saturday, the day after Donald Trump was sworn into office as the president, could, potentially, become the largest protest in Park City’s modern history. It seems that, different than in past years, the demonstration on Saturday will coalesce as organizers desire. They hope thousands of people will march in Old Town in support of a variety of causes.
The organizers of the Women’s March on Main, scheduled alongside a similar demonstration in Washington, D.C., have said between 4,000 and 5,000 people could participate on Saturday. The Park City Police Department estimates the number could range from between 2,000 and 3,000. Even at the smaller range, the Women’s March on Main would draw at least 1,000 or more people than past demonstrations held during Sundance.
“Most of the demonstrations that we’ve had in the past are very small groups,” said Rick Ryan, a Police Department captain and a member of the department since 1985. “This is significantly more, potentially.”
Ryan said many demonstrations during Sundance in the past have involved perhaps 10 people or fewer. He anticipates the Women’s March on Main will be the largest demonstration in Park City in his 31 years with the Police Department.
The Women’s March on Main, which is not affiliated with the film festival, won a City Hall approval for a demonstration that will descend Main Street from the Brew Pub lot at the southern end of the street, turn east on Heber Avenue and end at the flagpole lot on the lower stretch of Swede Alley. A rally is planned in the lot.
The march, scheduled during the busy opening weekend of Sundance, is designed to support a variety of causes, including women’s rights, civil liberties and worker’s rights. More than 4,500 people had indicated they planned to attend by Friday morning, according to the event’s Facebook page.
“Main Street and Swede Alley, as they stage and get ready to march, it will look like a significant number of people,” Ryan said.
The streets of Park City during Sundance provide an extraordinary platform for demonstrators, particularly during the opening weekend. Large crowds are already in the city and journalists are searching for news beyond the screening rooms, creating a critical mass in Park City those days. The possibility of celebrities participating in a demonstration creates even more buzz.
Rich Wyman, a Park City musician and activist, has been involved in demonstrations during past film festivals. He will not be in Park City for the Women’s March on Main, though. Wyman was one of the key figures at the demonstration during the festival in 2005, marking the beginning of Bush’s second term. It was a dramatic event with the demonstrators slowly walking down Main Street carrying a makeshift coffin meant to signify a funeral for the rights of everyday Americans.
“I didn’t reach out to anybody beyond our local Park City community,” Wyman said of the demonstration in 2005. “It was local, grass-roots, locals only.”
Wyman, though, said the march on Saturday has more potential. He said Trump has upset more people than Bush did and a spectrum of groups has mobilized to demonstrate against him.
“I’m optimistic that it’s going to be a much bigger event, probably the biggest rally Park City’s ever seen,” he said.
Time to rally?
There have been many demonstrations in Park City during the Sundance Film Festival promoting a range of causes like animal rights and equality. They typically did not draw as many people as organizers hoped.
Some of the notable ones over the past 20 years include:
- the Occupy Wall Street movement, which drew attention in 2012. A group numbering fewer than 12 people rallied at the Wells Fargo bank branch on Kearns Boulevard. At one point, some of them stormed into the lobby chanting and dancing. Police officers almost immediately ordered them out. Between 30 and 40 people supporting the Occupy Wall Street movement rallied on Main Street the day before.
- the gay rights movement, which was present during the 2010 festival. There were 30 or so demonstrators outside a screening at the facility once known as the Racquet Club. The demonstrators were unhappy with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ position on gay marriage.
- the animal rights movement, which has demonstrated repeatedly during Sundance, including in 2009. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals that year staged a small demonstration on Main Street. The demonstrators contended primates should not be used in films. A person dressed in a gorilla suit repeatedly threw a banana peel on the sidewalk as passers-by watched.
- the conservative Westboro Baptist Church, which in 2011 stationed several people outside a film that depicted a fictional congregation that resembled the Kansas church. Approximately 200 Park City High School students staging a counterdemonstration overwhelmed the small number of people from the church.
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A longtime Park City activist expressed worries that another Winter Olympics could exacerbate some of the issues the community as of today struggles to address. Rich Wyman’s comments were some of the only public statements in recent months addressing concerns about the efforts to stage a second Games.