They trickled toward the Missoula County Courthouse on Wednesday holding signs, cameras and shoes, eating sandwiches (it was the lunch hour, after all) and chatting with friends on their way onto the building's main steps.
They were there to protest the tax bill recently passed by Senate, and given all the coats, hats, earmuffs and gloves, thank goodness it was a sunny day. The shoes, lined up facing the street, represented people who couldn't be there in person.
Emcee Erin Erickson opened it up, yelling to the back of the 150-strong crowd instead of using a PA system that couldn’t be heard past the bottom of the stairs.
The chants didn’t quite sync up in the beginning, possibly because of their complexity ("Tax the rich, not the sick; money for teachers, not for jets; tax the rich, not the poor, we won’t take it any more"), although by the end chants like “Hey, Steve Daines, you can’t hide, we all see your greedy side” came off without a hitch.
“We know they want this to be a partisan issue,” Erickson said, before leading into another chant — "Whether red or blue, they’re still screwing you."
“So, let’s talk about that tax bill,” Erickson said, launching into some facts and figures of the legislation’s effect on those who make under $200,000 (which a show of hands made clear was everyone in attendance).
The bill passed early Saturday morning by the Senate would represent the biggest overhaul of the U.S. tax system in three decades. In the coming days, the House and Senate must reconcile their bills, each of which has tax cuts that would add up to about $1.5 trillion over the next decade.
Daines, a Republican senator from Montana, supported the bill and Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., opposed it.
One woman at Wednesday's demonstration made sure to grab an iPhone pic of her yellow Lab in front of the crowd, while another man hit his vape pen while listening intently to Erickson’s speech detailing the worst parts of the “tax scam bill” (as many signs referred to it).
Erickson’s speech was followed up by some words from Adventure Cycling Executive Director Jim Sayer, who said he was there as a private citizen, faced the most crowd involvement, one man interrupting him to yell “back to regular order,” (in reference to the federal government).
One of Sayer’s questions: “Sen. Daines, who are you working for?”
“No one” and “us” were just two of the many responses from the crowd.
A representative from Tester’s office read a statement that drew cheers and applause from those who heard it.
And all the while these speeches were going on, a curious figure stood in the background, at the top of the courthouse stairs, dressed like a deranged Statue of Liberty (or samurai, as one person guessed).
The woman would not reveal her name, preferring to keep on the half-mask and piece of gauzy skull-patterned cloth that covered her face. A rock hung around her neck, representing a cold, stone heart.
The woman stood behind the speakers, taking apart what looked like a crocheted scarf with her gloved hands, in representation of the unraveling of:
- the economy
- the moral and ethical fabric of our nation
- constitutional rights
- the role of Congress in exercising its war powers
“A lot of people know there’s something very wrong in our nation,” the costumed woman said. “There’s a big chess game going on and the people are being put at a disadvantage.
“Look at the lies that we’re being told.”
It was around this time when a young man asked the woman if she was dressed as a samurai.
“No. I’m simply the Personification of the Unraveling.”