This Saturday organizers are expecting almost 4,000 people from across the state to gather in Helena for the Women’s March on Montana — an event organized in tandem with the national march happening on the same day in Washington, DC.
The idea for the sister march here really came from two different women in two separate towns at the same moment, just a few days after the presidential election. Co-organizer Rebecca Weston said at that point, she was feeling a lot of —
"Deep, deep despair and panic," Weston says. "And abject fear for my children and for my own future."
Weston is a therapist in Missoula. She’s Jewish, and her family is biracial. Her concern was rooted in the racial, gender, and religious discrimination that erupted in the wake of Trump’s win both here and nationwide. But she says her biggest fear, besides safety, was actually paralysis.
So, after hearing about the national Women’s March on Washington, she decided to mobilize. In the middle of night. During a dystopian fantasy she was having.
"It was a little bit manic, it had a lot of chutzpah attached to it," says Weston. "But it was really ... I can’t be alone out here, and I’m sure no one else wants to feel alone out here. So I put out that call and …"
Within an hour of reaching out on Facebook, she found Deb O’neill, from Helena, who was doing the same exact thing.
"We joined forces pretty immediately, and after we put out a request to see if anyone wanted to build a march on Montana, we got an unbelievable response so fast that there was no option to turn back," says Weston.
March organizers say there are now about 22 bus loads coming from across the state, from Billings to Browning.
"It says a lot more, to me, about being able to build such a large march in a so-called red state," Weston says. "That even though, you know, the simplified notions about what it means to live in Montana, that we have the Whitefish stuff going on, that we also have tremendous, tremendous contradictions, you know, and within that, huge numbers of people who are dying to get out there and say we don’t stand for that kind of hate, and we believe deeply in human rights."
On Saturday, marchers will walk about a mile-long route around and near the state capitol building. They’ll rally there, with speakers talking about those basic human rights, and focusing on specific vulnerable populations. Weston hopes it will be a chance for people to build solidarity and momentum, meet allies, and bring energy back to their home communities.
"We need to be networking here," says Weston. "The fight is gonna be local. And so the more we have these networks, the more we’ll be able to be taking on some of the fights that are definitely going to be coming to pass, and starting from a position of confidence, with a historic march like this, is far better than just coming back and feeling alone."
But some women from Montana feel it’s important to be at the center of the national day of action on the Trump administration’s first day in office. Jessica Finstuen is special education teacher with two young kids, from Heron. She leapt at the opportunity to go to the Women’s March on Washington with her mom.
"I had a really strong urge immediately, to be present, physically present at the location of where the beginning of this political change is happening," says Finstuen. "Because I believe that physical presence sometimes really matters."
Bryher Herak lives in Basin. A retired mediator who worked with the Montana Human Rights Bureau, she’s been to hundreds of marches and protests all around the country. But this time, going to Washington D.C. wasn’t even a question.
"I wanted to be where he is," says Herak. "To let him know that his stand on women, his stand on civil rights, his stand on prisoners, his stand on torture — they’re not ok."
Herak is excited to represent Montana, and —
"I’m just going to be so proud to be standing with two hundred thousand women," Herak says. "I’m just going to be so proud to be there."
"This just seemed like the time to throw it down again and get our feet back out on the streets because it’s a seriously scary time, in my estimation," says seventy-two year old jazz musician MJ Williams, also from Basin.
Williams hopes to bring back perspectives from D.C. that might not be as visible in Montana,
And a sense that —
"There is solidarity in the country," says Williams. "That we’re not just going to get hysterical because we’re not happy about who got elected president. Because in fact it’s an opportunity for us to really examine our own values and listen to the values of other people who live in other circumstances and understand that we are all connected."
The Women’s March on Montana starts at noon and ends at 3 pm. For more details, and information about march safety, visit: