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Trump Protesters

Sarah Smith of Lewistown wears a dinosaur suit as she protests President Trump's rally at Rimrock Auto Arena at MetraPark on Thursday, Sept. 6, 2018.

When news hit that President Donald Trump would hold a rally in lefty Missoula, social media erupted about the best way to respond.

Should protesters use silence as a tool and ignore the former reality television star? Should dissenters get tickets, but boycott the rally? Should they get tickets and show up to quietly represent the 62 percent of Missoula County that didn't vote for the real estate mogul in 2016?

Responses vary, but Erin Erickson of Missoula Rises is seeing the president's visit as a positive for western Montana because it will energize progressive voters.

"From my perspective, it is in a sense a gift or a benefit to have him come to Missoula because it does help us get out the vote. I do think he's doing a service for progressives in Missoula," Erickson said.

Missoula Rises, which describes itself as committed to the protection of rights for community members, is organizing a "Love Trumps Hate" event that appears to be the largest organized response to Trump's visit. It will include Native American drumming, a rally, a march and a push to get people to deliver their ballots Thursday to election officials. 

Meanwhile, other community members continue to mull and debate the best response to a visit by one of the most polarizing presidents in history.

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Tootie Welker, with the Western Montana chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, said some people expected her group to plan a protest of the president's rally given their sit-in at the Missoula office of the Montana Republican Party and ensuing citations. The activists had demonstrated against the Supreme Court nomination of Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who was accused of sexual assault.

Welker said she personally would like to rig a speaker system across from Trump's rally and play "loud dancing music," but she said members have opted against taking direct action because of time constraints and strategy.

"We're not going to play into his hand of being the mob-left like he's wanting to label us right now," Welker said.

She said members may choose to volunteer for a social service activity Thursday instead.

Some, she said, didn't want to participate in the event led by Missoula Rises. "Many of us felt some of the responses to the rally that Missoula Rises was putting together is becoming just another Democratic kumbaya, rah-rah-rah that doesn't necessarily change anything," Welker said.

Missoula Rises is urging people not to attend the Trump rally. But longtime Missoula resident Grace McNamee Decker said she may attend the Missoula Rises event and also go to see the president. She worries that staying away from the rally only reinforces the deep political divisions that are already raw in this country.

People in Missoula will have to live with each other long after Trump's appearance and the next election, Decker said. She wonders if it's better for people to "show the face of love" not across town at a separate event but at the president's rally, "which is famous for being mean."

Decker doesn't want to go to protest, but she is thinking about attending because she wants the participants to reflect the Missoula she knows, a mixed community. 

"If everyone went, then what you would have would be a crowd who shows up to the Griz games or the farmer's market or the Christmas parade downtown," Decker said.

Tobin Miller Shearer, associate professor of history at the University of Montana, said a combination of approaches are effective in social movements. Shearer, whose expertise includes the civil rights movement, said direct action on the streets was essential to undermine segregation, but so were conversations that took place behind closed doors.

"You needed both. Neither one would have worked by itself," Shearer said.

One call to action for an event that didn't include love (centrists need not apply, the post said) recently disappeared from social media.

Erickson, of Missoula Rises, said the "Love Trumps Hate" rally has brought people together in a way she hasn't seen before. She said many people who might prefer a different approach than the march and get-out-the-vote event are on board, and in her experience, the unity is unique.

"As an organizer, it's very different from what I've seen before," Erickson said.

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