SALT LAKE CITY — While a neon pink crowd danced on the stairs of the state Capitol Wednesday afternoon, similar crowds gathered simultaneously all around the world with a singular message: Free Britney.
The glitter bedecked rally-goers held signs stating, "End the TOXIC conservatorship," and "If it can happen to her, it can happen to you." They chanted "Jail Jamie! Free Britney!"
Some of them mouthed along to the lyrics of the Britney song in the background: "I'm Miss American Dream since I was 17.
"Don't matter if I step on the scene, or sneak away to the Philippines.
"They still goin' put pictures of my derrière in the magazine."
Britney fans checked their phones for updates about the conservatorship, and the chorus of the song punctuated their conversations.
"Hopin' I'll resort to startin' havoc.
"And end up settlin' in court.
"Now are you sure you want a piece of me?"
Shannon Egan, founder of Free Britney Utah and rally organizer, stood in front of the crowd and declared Spears' case a violation of human rights, and "specifically a women's rights issue."
"Not only am I a fan, but I'm a woman," she said. "If a man were to get up with an umbrella and shave his head, I doubt he would have been stripped of his rights."
Psarah Johnson, board chairwoman of the Disabled Rights Action Committee, spoke on how the situation with Britney and the conservatorship is one that is all too familiar to disabled people, and people are largely unaware of these circumstances.
"I'm so glad people are seeing this now and realizing how wrong it is," she said.
Disabled people in conservatorships are not given the right to vote or choose their living arrangement, pointed out Heidi Pomerleau, also of the Disability Rights Action Committee.
"The people who are under conservatorship should be the ones up here, but they don't have the right to," she said, adding that because they can't speak, the general public is largely uninformed about the finer points of the issue.
Egan stated that she didn't even know what a conservatorship was before Spears' situation became known. She and the speakers agreed that Spears fans are largely implicit in that ignorance and stigma, along with the media.
"We all liked. We all clicked. And we all shared," said songwriter and performer Jacob Berkowitz. "Now we have a chance to turn that around."
In trying to support her, her fans have lined the pockets of her captors and read the clickbait stories tearing down her reputation, said rally speaker Darren Willison.
"We all owe her apology. We have failed," he said. "Other celebrities are able to learn and grow from mistakes instead of being punished."
He challenged the crowd and the media to no longer engage in the celebrity gossip that caused Spears to deteriorate and respect her decisions.
The #FreeBritney movement arguably began on April 22, 2019, when Spears fans gathered outside West Hollywood City Hall with signs reading "#FreeBritney" and "the Truth Will Set Her Free." At first most people were unsure why Spears needed freeing. These fans were digging in deep after Spears had canceled her Vegas residency and entered care for some "me time."
The theory was that Spears was being controlled and her free will was taken away right in the public eye because she was placed in a conservatorship under her father, Jamie Spears. There was evidence that Britney Spears had attempted to get out of the conservatorship, but the court documents were sealed to the public.
"Britney's Gram" podcasters Tess Barker and Barbara Gray are credited with beginning the movement, examining Spears' Instagram looking for signs that she was not OK and was being censored and controlled. More fans joined them across the world, but Spears never made a public statement confirming the theories even after the popular and recently Emmy-nominated New York Times documentary "Framing Britney Spears" came out.
Then on June 23, Spears made a 24-minute statement in court, largely validating the fan theories.
"I truly believe this conservatorship is abusive," she said. "Basically this conservatorship is doing me way more harm than good. I deserve to have a life. I've worked my whole life. I deserve to have the same rights as anybody."
In her statement, Spears claimed that under the conservatorship, she is not allowed to get married or have a baby. She has been told that she cannot remove her IUD in order to try for another baby.
"I just want my life back," she stated. "It's been 13 years and it's enough."
Multiple speakers in Salt Lake City Wednesday called for action from Utah's senators, Mike Lee and Mitt Romney, to do something to end conservatorship abuse.
Egan stated that this was the first of many rallies, not just here, but worldwide until Britney is freed from her conservatorship.
These people, largely strangers, from across the state hugged and danced and sang together, united by their love for the pop star and their hope that she can live a peaceful life.
"Everybody can agree that Britney has somehow shaped the people we are today. We all have a little piece of Britney," Willison said. "And trust me, you don't want a piece of us."
Egan has been a Spears fan from the beginning, even when it was a little embarrassing to say that you liked her.
When Egan was 22, she road-tripped out to Oregon to see Spears in the 2004 Onyx Hotel Tour. After the concert, she saw that there was an online auction to purchase some of Spears' clothing. One shirt in particular caught her attention, and she knew she had to have it. It said, "Oopsie, I said the F word." She paid $500 for the to-be-beloved possession.
Egan, an author and a former freelance journalist and press officer for the United Nations, personally knows what it's like to be in long-term recovery from drug and alcohol addiction and serves as an advocate and award-winning grant writer for U.S.-based addiction recovery organizations. After Spears began her notorious decline, Egan felt for the pop star.
"She was so filled with despair. She's never been the same, and now we know why," Egan said. "So many people have felt that there was something wrong with her situation, but she hasn't said anything because she hasn't had a voice."
"We are coming together in love," Egan said. "I have been so angry that this is even happening, but there is so much love within the movement. I have been working with the Free Britney movement in LA, and they have welcomed me with open arms."
Egan said when Spears finally spoke out, she and others around the world knew they had to act to support her.
"I've known about the movement and followed it for the past few years, but I thought 'Britney isn't speaking, so I'm not speaking out against it.' Her sharing her voice has given me permission to feel safe to advocate for her," she said.
"[Britney] represents all of our human rights, especially marginalized groups ... If someone like her can be taken advantage of in the public eye, what does that mean for the rest of us?
So she decided to created Free Britney Utah. She was not alone in her activism. All over the world, other Free Britney chapters popped up and organized rallies worldwide to end the conservatorship, raise awareness about conservatorship abuse, and advocate for reform of the probate court system.
On June 30, Utah Rep. Burgess Owens joined the movement by signing a letter drafted by fellow Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, inviting the pop star to testify before US Congress.
Paris Hilton, along with many other celebrities that are known Democrats, has also stood with Spears, citing her own allegations of abuse against a Utah boarding school.
"That widespread support is a testament to Britney as a performer and a singer and her music that has impacted so many people, like the LGBTQ community, women seeking empowerment, and so many others," Egan said. "What's happening to her is a major human rights violation. And when you're hating somebody's human rights and you're doing it so publicly and also so secretively, it basically punches us all in the stomach."
"It's not about whether or not you like Britney Spears; it's about human rights," she added.