Snow and a biting cold hurried things along, but the 250 people who gathered Friday at Caras Park got their point across.
They called on Republican Sen. Steve Daines of Bozeman to soften his support for what they call President Donald Trump’s ban on Muslims. Then they climbed up to street level and marched to Daines’ Missoula office on East Front Street to present a petition asking him to meet with Missoula, the only city in Montana with a refugee resettlement office.
“This is what democracy looks like, right here,” Erin Erickson of the community group Missoula Rising said at the conclusion of the Montana for Immigrants rally.
“This is not an anti-Daines rally. This is his constituents asking him to sit down, have a meeting, and discuss with us his position on the anti-Muslim ban. That’s what this is.”
The rally was the second of its kind in five days since Trump’s Jan. 27 executive order that placed a temporary ban on immigrants from seven mostly Muslim countries.
Daines got national attention when he issued a statement explaining why he thought it was a good idea.
“We are at war with Islamic extremists and anything less than 100 percent verification of these refugees’ backgrounds puts our national security at risk,” he said. “We need to take the time to examine our existing programs to ensure terrorists aren't entering our country. The safety of U.S. citizens must be our number one priority.”
Speakers at Friday’s rally included Mayor John Engen and Marilyn Marler of the Missoula City Council.
“In my mind America is a country that’s strong and generous,” Marler said. “The president’s ban on refugees is cowardly. It’s neither strong nor generous.”
Engen said he was glad he was there “and I’m glad more people are coming all the time to make our world better, brighter, different, varied, exciting, interesting colorful, meaningful.”
“Montana is for everyone and Missoula is for everyone.”
Missoula has welcomed 16 families from the Congo, Eritrea, Iraq and Syria in the past five months, said Mary Poole of Soft Landing Missoula.
“In this tiny amount of time, these families have already begun to weave into the fabric and daily life of hundreds of Missoulians,” Poole said. “They have enriched many of our churches and faith communities, adding experience and a global perspective to our public schools, entered our work force, and a few brave souls have even dared to explore our ski hills.”
Eamon Ormseth of SALAM Missoula, a support and educational group for local Muslims, was master of ceremonies for the 35-minute event under the canopy at Caras Park. He introduced speakers Laurie Franklin, rabbinic intern and spiritual leader of Har Shalom, Pastor John Daniels of First United Methodist Church, and Claire Charlo, a descendant of Chief Charlo of the Bitterroot Salish.
The rally was one of five around the state, starting with one in Billings on Thursday evening. Three hundred people attended a rally on the downtown walking mall in Helena on Friday at noon, the same time Bozeman and Eureka planned events.
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The participants carried banners that read “Daines Meet, Don’t Tweet, “Muslims Are My Friends,” and “Treating Refugees As the Problem Is the Problem.”
Charlo noted the snow coming down and related to the demeaning name “sensitive liberal snowflakes.”
“My tribe believes that the snow brings the ancestors’ songs, the snow brings the ancestors. And it’s very powerful,” she said.
“If being a snowflake means that I believe in equity, equality, if I believe that takes courage to be compassionate, if I believe that I can love fiercely, then I am a snowflake.”
Daniels said his family, some of whom attended, say every day they are angry and frightened.
“That’s a dangerous combination if it goes awry,” the Methodist minister said. “Those two things, if they’re not guided, can go into this dark morass called hatred, and I think that’s what we’re experiencing in our country today: the dangers of hatred.”
Stacy Houge showed up in the cold to “support resisting what’s happening.”
She brought with her Lewis and Clark Elementary third-grader Oliver Darlington and second-grader Khaden Meyers, each of whom carried a sign.
Darlington’s said “Stand for Nonviolence. Stand for hope. Stand for love.”
Meyers’ said “Empathy and compassion.”
Why did he come? Darlington was asked.
“Donald Trump,” he answered promptly. “I’m scared of Donald Trump.”
A spokesperson from Daines’ office didn’t say if he would agree to meet with leaders of the rally.
"Steve's number one priority is to represent all Montanans and Montana values in the Senate,” she said in an email to the Missoulian. “He welcomes the opinions of everyone from the Treasure State.”