BUTTE — A vocal, diverse crowd of about 150 folks, ranging from infants to 80-year-olds, protested the appearance of Donald Trump, Jr., and Greg Gianforte, who spoke at Pioneer Equipment under a secured white tent at the back of the industrial building.
For the most part, protesters stayed within the boundaries – at first on the public sidewalk to the south across the street near the corner of Centennial and South Montana Street.
When Trump and Gianforte’s motorcade showed up a few minutes before 11 a.m., police allowed protesters to move onto Centennial a bit closer to yell “Boo” as the visitors’ silver vehicle drove past the Butte-Silver Bow dump trucks blocking Pioneer Equipment’s driveway.
“Isn’t that a bit overkill?” asked Charlie O’Leary of Butte about the county dump trucks obstructing protesters from entering the business property and speaking area.
“We’re here to let everybody know it’s really aggravating that we have to pay for transportation and security for them,” said Dagmar Riddle, a retired Whitehall resident who emigrated from Germany as a toddler. Leaning on a cane with one hand, she held up a protest sign with the other.
Added protester Heatherlynn Meeks: “I’m so tired of having to protest this stuff. How much is this costing us?”
O’Leary echoed Rob Quist’s main platform – preserving Montana’s public lands, in Quist’s campaign against Gianforte to fill the U.S. house seat Ryan Zinke left when Trump appointed Zinke Interior Secretary.
“I worry about our public lands and (President) Trump and Zinke taking shots at our national monuments,” said O’Leary. “They should allow plenty of public review.”
Protesters voiced their opinions about the importance of affordable healthcare coverage, the protection of Montana’s public lands and wildlife, women’s rights, human rights and the separation of church and state, among other hot-button issues.
Marya Llovet, a Belgrade mother of two dressed in a Handmaid’s Tale costume, said she was protesting for the right of her one-year-old baby daughter, born with Downs Syndrome, to have healthcare coverage.
“I’m pretty worried about her healthcare right now,” said Llovet, adorned in red and white, symbolizing the suppressed women, the breeders, in the current “The Handmaid’s Tale” Netflix series, a reboot of Margaret Atwood's 1985 classic dystopian novel.
“If Republicans had their way, my daughter would be kicked off her insurance,” said Llovet. “I believe that ‘pro-life’ also means after the birth, as well. I could have had an abortion, but I didn’t do it. I feel that the (politicians) need to have my back. Being disabled does not make you any less deserving of our country’s support.”
Protesters picked up steam and numbers as dump trucks hauling gravel honked and passed by on their way west before looping back. Some vehicles were in support of the visitors, but most drivers expressed their support for protesters on the typically quiet street.
A coalition of local Democrats, Butte Area Rising Coalition and individuals, protesters watched Trump supporters walk across Centennial and straggle in to the Pioneer Equipment parking lot, then to the north and east sides of the venue.
“I think that America is on a terrible path to becoming a conservative Christian theocracy and that’s unconstitutional,” said Llovet. “If you read the Bible, we need to take care of our elderly and the veterans. If they make cuts to Social Security, it won’t take care of them.”
Concordia College senior Andie Palagi, fresh off her junior year, protested with friend Chloe McClain, a recent beauty academy graduate.
“I’m here to protest for our women’s rights – my body, my choice,” said McClain, 20.
“I’m really concerned about the integrity of the government, but that’s more on the federal level,” said Palagi, 21. She was impressed with the crowd.
“I’ve never seen young people so involved in politics,” Palagi added. “Even if I don’t agree with them – especially at my college. Seeing young people involved in politics is inspiring and important.”
Both young women then joined in a chant: “Gianforte, go away – sexist, racist, anti-gay.”
After Gianforte and Trump began their speeches safely tucked under the tent, the protest crowd moved east, crossed Centennial to the north past the Rosenthal Building, then stopped on the sidewalk where the event was visible.
In the back of the Rosenthal Building stood a lone supporter outside the event area to the east: Leah Anderson, a pharmacy tech at Community HealthCare Pharmacy. She leaned on the property fence, taking photos and video.
“I think it’s good that they’re trying to bring more jobs,” said Anderson about the visitors. “It’s exciting – this is history in the making.”
Traffic increased on Montana, with some drivers honking support and others looking to simply get out of the area.
As the motorcade left the area, protests grew angrier and protesters lingered on the cross-streets.
June Lague, 72, and Michael Savoie, 75, of Butte said they protested for their descendants’ futures.
“We want our children, grand-children and great-grandchildren to have the same freedoms we have,” said Lague. “I want to show people that they have a voice and to get out and give their opinion.”
Samantha Fish, 30, and her mother, Jamie Porter, 56, traveled from Bozeman to partake in the protest.
“We’re showing solidarity just with people who are frustrated not only with the Trump administration, but also with the atmosphere and hostility brought on by this election,” said Fish, tending to baby Sophia and poodle Mosby in a double stroller.
“We’re trying to do what’s best for the country instead of the party,” added Porter. They protested Trump Jr.’s visit to Copper Springs Ranch Arena in Bozeman on April 22.
As protesters bounced from corner to sidewalk, a palpable sense of commonality hung in the air.
“I’m proud of Butte,” said Donavon Hawk of the Butte-Silver Bow Democratic Central committee. “I’m proud of my community and I’m proud to say we had no paid protesters.”