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For the second year in a row, Weber State University student Nate Porter is organizing the Utah Undie Run in Salt Lake City this coming Sunday.
Porter owns his own hookah bar. Last year, the Utah State Legislature unveiled a series of controversial bills aiming to ban or curtail a number of practices, from sex education to the smoking of hookahs. This last bill in question, House Bill 245, which aims to ban indoor tobacco devices like hookahs and e-cigarettes, threatened to jeopardize Porter’s business.
“Last year I got pulled into the legislative thing of the capital, and by going through that I kind of felt like the little businessman being eaten by big government, and I didn’t really feel like I had a voice,” he said.
Porter said he felt other young people like himself would agree there needs to be a change, so he organized the Utah Undie Run to protest what he called the uptight laws the state lawmakers were proposing. Originally, according to Porter, the run was intended to consist only of himself and some of his friends. However, once the event was posted on social media sites such as Facebook, it took off in popularity.
“It kind of just got out there and exploded,” Porter said. “I was intending for it to just be a small little event, but then friends invited friends, who invited friends, who invited friends, and the next thing I know, we had thousands and thousands of people saying that they were going to be attending this event.”
So many people attended the 2011 Utah Undie Run, a total of 2,270, that it made it into the Guinness Book of World Records for the ”largest gathering of people wearing only underpants/knickers,” said Sara Wilcox, a spokeswoman for the London-based Guinness World Records Inc. This year, Porter said he hopes to break the world record a second time.
Pablo Acosta, another WSU student assisting Porter in organizing and counting the event attendees, said breaking the Guinness record has helped change the perception of Utah and its inhabitants.
“You go to other states or to places like New York, and you mention Utah, and people say it’s a really uptight state with religious people and not really fun,” Acosta said.
Last year, the event spawned 600 international news articles, according to Porter.
“I believe it probably did change a lot of people’s perceptions of the people of Utah,” he said.
With few controversial bills to protest in 2012, the aim for this year’s Undie Run is to once again change the view of Utahns.
“Last year it was kind of billed as a protest; this year we’re trying to be a little more positive,” Porter said. “We’re trying to change the world’s perception of the people of Utah.”
Last year, the unanticipated growth of event attendees gave Porter only six weeks to get the proper permits and police protection needed to host such a large event. Porter had to resort to using personal funds to pay for permits and police presence. He said he felt he had some resistance from city officials in hosting the event. However, after the success of last year’s Undie Run, he said he has received more support, and Salt Lake City has donated the use of the public library and police services free of charge.
“This year, the city of Salt Lake has been way more cooperative with it,” Porter said.
Former Salt Lake City mayor Rocky Anderson, who spoke at last year’s event, will be back this year, and event organizers are in talks with two other Utah senators to attend. Both Democrats and Republicans are expected to be supporting the event and speaking.
One big aim of organizers this year is to get people to register to vote. They are also encouraging attendees to write messages all over their bodies about what they believe or the reason they came to the run.
“We don’t tell people, ‘Hey, go write this all over your body,’” Porter said. “People just write what they believe.”
Last year, attendees of the event wrote messages supporting everything from the relaxation of alcohol laws, to gay rights, to more sex education.
Thousands of articles of clothing were also donated to the homeless at the last run, according to Porter, who wants to repeat this for the 2012 Undie Run.