A year after the first Women’s March, some 2,000 people gathered at the Montana State Capitol in Helena Saturday to make their voices heard again.
People poured in from Helena and surrounding areas, some coming from as far as Roundup and Essex. Ten events were planned in nine different Montana cities to coincide with the first anniversary of the march and President Donald Trump’s inauguration.
The crowd in Helena gathered by the Thomas Meagher statue, sticking to the sunlit areas before speakers kicked off the rally with exhortations to promote social justice, equal rights, LGBT advocacy and equality, and political statements against President Trump.
Sue Sillick, Kay Bills-Kazimi and Zia Kazimi showed up dressed in matching printed shirts and with signs calling out President Trump with the slogan “Just Say No,” referencing his Twitter habits and other epithets in bright yellow letters.
“He’s a poor role model for our children,” Bills-Kazimi said.
Zia Kazimi concurred. “We need to keep the awareness going,” Kazimi said, referring to Trump’s lies and legislative agenda.
Newly elected Helena Mayor Wilmot Collins spoke to the still-gathering crowd from the front steps of the Capitol.
“We will not let hate and bigotry divide us. We will not let hate and bigotry win. ... We will not accept fear!” Collins boomed to a cheering crowd.
Collins also reflected on the gathering itself.
“This is a part of the democratic process, to assemble peacefully,” Collins said. “I’m here to identify with the populace, to send a message that bigotry and hatred is not tolerated in our country.”
Sen. Christine Kaufmann, D-Helena, roused the crowd with a call and response, pointing to a goal to elect more women legislators and raise awareness about social justice, economics, science, climate change, women’s rights, equal rights for LGBT people and equal employment opportunities for men and women.
“We will challenge the white nationalist movement in Montana,” Kaufmann said to massed cheers from the crowd.
Shane Spencer-Fatz was at the march in an 82nd Airborne Division jacket with a sign supporting veterans. His mother, Jamie Spencer, and sister, Melissa Peterson, marched as well. Peterson was the one who brought them out, and Spencer-Fatz reflected on what it was like to be a veteran in America with Donald Trump as president.
“We see the damage being done,” said Spencer-Fatz said, who served three tours in Iraq and sees veterans suffering when they come back from war zones. “You never come back normal."
He was marching because he feels Trump damages America's credibility with other nations.
“He’s lying to the world, and it’s not OK. We teach our children to tell the truth and then the top guy lies all day,” he said. “I think of all these service members who died ... and he doesn’t understand.”
Peterson said people feel “energized.”
“I talk to people,” Peterson said about her political engagement. “I feel like everyone is talking more.”
Haleigh Thrall spoke to the crowd at the beginning of the march about health care for children and the economic realities that damage children.
“I feel in despair because there are so many problems in the world,” Thrall said while carrying her young son on the march. “I want to solve the issues and I want to know where to make the biggest impact,” and health care is the place where she sees that change beginning.
Angela McDannel stood outside the Capitol building where the march entered to meet in the Rotunda, with a dog named Sister. McDannel was brought out by “intransigence,” she said with a laugh. “Intransigence against what we see as a legitimate wrong direction for this country.”
Andy Shirtliff was one of the main organizers for the march this year. He said 27 organizations were at the Capitol doing outreach for the march, and all had helped in the organizing process over the past year.
“All politics is local,” Shirtliff said, quoting former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Tip O’Neill as he gave directions to the crowd before entering the Capitol.
“People are showing up to take the government back,” Shirtliff said. He sees the march as being about “solidarity, accountability.”
“Signs represent people being upset, inspired, hopeful,” Shirtliff said.
Inside the rotunda, singers and speakers vied for airtime over the humming roar of the crowd filling the hallways and upper floors. Patty Mott was there with her friends Deb Massett and Dani Tenneson, all wearing the pink “pussy hats” that were popularized at last year’s march.
“Trump needs to go,” Mott said. “People need to figure out who they’re voting for. And I’m going to keep watching Stephen Colbert and laughing my guts out.”
Massett said she was at the march this year for “solidarity.”
“I was here last year, and in a year I’m still marching,” Massett said. “I’m going to do everything I can to get women into office.”
Tenneson, who knitted the hats and had done something like 20 others over the past year, was at the march with members of her family.
“I’m here because I want equality,” Tenneson said. “I just want fairness.”