Fifteen of the hundreds of thousands of people expected to attend the Women's March on Washington on Jan. 21 gathered inside the Burns St. Bistro on a recent Wednesday evening. They arranged the restaurant's chairs in a circle and set up a side table with pistachio cake and Doritos. They had logistics to discuss—how to navigate the D.C. Metro, where to find a state flag to wave or a "pussy hat" to wear—and phone numbers to exchange. Several of the women were friends, but others had connected through Facebook and were meeting for the first time. Personal introductions quickly spilled into a discussion: Why march?
A 16-year-old told the group that she's motivated by the realization that "I'm going to grow into a woman under Trump." A few others, older than her, said they felt a sense of parental duty. And Niki Vanek said she wanted to reposition the grief she felt upon Donald Trump's election as president.
"I have to go confront this monster who is going to lead our country," she said.
The Women's March is officially nonpartisan and not formally anti-Trump, though the timing—the day after his inauguration—is intended to send a message that the president-elect and his administration do not have a mandate to trample on human rights. The event, coordinated with marches in every state capital, is shaping up to be the first effort to convert the fears roused by the electoral victory of an openly misogynistic, verbally abusive and apparently racist president into organized, mass-scale resistance.
"There's the requisite amount of fear about what's coming down, but also the requisite amount of hope," says Missoula resident Rebecca Weston, a co-organizer of the state march in Helena.
Like the national march, the Women's March on Montana gained traction through social media after Weston and others independently suggested the idea on Facebook. Organizers now expect thousands to demonstrate outside the state Capitol, with buses and carpools coming from all corners of the state. In Missoula, more than 300 people had signed up by press time to ride buses to the event.
- photo by Derek Brouwer
- Missoulian Rebecca Weston is a lead organizer for the Women’s March on Montana, which begins at 12 p.m. Saturday outside the state capitol in Helena.
At the same time, march planning has sparked conversations—and some disagreements—about what messages to prioritize and whose voices to elevate. In Portland, Oregon, for instance, the local NAACP chapter withdrew its support when organizers there declined to include racial justice in the march's platform.
The Montana march, like the national one, was started by white women, but Weston says organizers have sought to widen the focus to include the rights of all marginalized groups. She hopes the event will allow marchers to "find points of solidarity and find ways to understand each other's specific issues." To that end, speakers on Saturday will include representatives from the Montana Racial Equity Project and the Pride Foundation, a Standing Rock water protector and an American Indian educator. Half of the scheduled speakers represent minorities—not by design, Weston says, but because "the people who have been fighting for human rights issues in Montana often aren't white."
In preparation for traveling to Washington, D.C., the Missoula contingent also sought out additional perspectives. Hermina Harold, one of several women who raised money for airfare with an online campaign and used-goods sale, invited an American Indian man, Joseph Grady, to speak to the group at Burns St. about his recent experience at the Standing Rock encampment. Grady, a University of Montana employee, said that movement drew its potency from the sense of common cause shared among tribes and other supporters. Unity, he suggested, could similarly help dispel the anxiety that many participants had expressed about marching, and perhaps turn the table on the incoming administration.
"They should fear us," he said.
"Do you think they actually do?" asked Kia Liszak.
Grady pointed toward their circle. "This is what they fear," he said.