On Saturday, a year after the Women’s Marches that spread across the United States and the world in protest of President Donald Trump’s inauguration, several thousand Missoulians dusted off their pink hats and returned to the streets.
This year, the march was different. The White Grass family, an indigenous drumming group, led the marchers from the XXXXs on Higgins Avenue to Caras Park.
Marchers held signs that read things like “#MeToo” and “I’m a proud immigrant from a shithole country,” and “Men of quality do not fear equality.”
After last year’s marches were criticized for excluding people of color and other marginalized communities, this year’s march promoted an intersectional feminist movement by highlighting the voices of Native women, black women, transgender women, immigrant women, women with disabilities, and more.
“Just as ordinary folks like us for hundreds of years have fought and won historic battles for social safety nets, for civil rights, for reproductive rights, for marriage equality, we are here today to continue that tradition of activism, and to celebrate one year of struggle,” said Rebecca Weston, one of the march organizers, to the crowd at Caras Park.
“A struggle that’s not always easy — to be a truly intersectional movement. And a struggle to bring social and economic justice.”
Salish elders began the program by saying prayers and singing, bringing attention to the fact that Missoula is on Salish land.
The first speaker, Lauren Small Rodriguez, a member of the Northern Cheyenne tribe, an activist for environmental and water rights, and the first woman from her tribe to be a member of the U.S. Coast Guard, asked those in attendance to consider their role in creating a more inclusive movement.
“We must have these tough conversations that will empower us all,” Rodriguez said. “Nobody is asking you to apologize for your ancestors, because what good is an apology without justice? We are asking you to dismantle the system of oppression that this country is built upon, that you maintain and have benefited from.”
Organizers wore red sashes, and many speakers also donned red, in honor of missing and murdered indigenous women, “an epidemic that nobody wants to talk about,” Rodriguez said. As an environmental activist who joined thousands of other indigenous people at Standing Rock, Rodriguez also called for land protection and for voters to consider why pipelines are often built through sovereign indigenous land.
“As women, we are the first environment,” she said. “We carry our babies in water. We know that water is essential to life and our future. We must do whatever it takes to protect the sacred waters and to protect our sacred children.”
Between speakers, the crowd was asked to make a promise that drove home the goal to create a more inclusive feminist movement.
“Put your hand up if you’re a white feminist,” said Erin Erickson, one of the march organizers and the founder of Missoula Rises, a community-led group that seeks to protect human rights through education and activism.
Most of the crowd raised their hands. To encourage intersectional feminism — meaning it includes women of different races, classes, sexual orientations, religions and ethnicities — Erickson read a prompt to the crowd and asked them to respond “me too.” The exercise referenced the #MeToo movement about sexual assault and harassment.
“My kind of feminism means that I stand up for indigenous sovereignty, environmental and water rights for all. If your kind of feminism does, say…”
The crowd yelled back in unison: “Me too!”
Meshayla Cox, a University of Montana student and president of the Black Student Union at the university, spoke about how last year's march left many women of color feeling under-represented in the resistance.
“Today, there are now movements led by women who resemble me, and there are spaces like this one for women of color to speak up and call out social injustices as we see and experience them,” she said.
“You guys, this is truly revolutionary.”
Cox encouraged the audience to hold each other and their families accountable for actions and remarks that exclude people who have been historically marginalized. “Being an ally is a verb,” she said.
More speakers followed, and the Missoula Women’s Chorus sang while children sitting on their parents' shoulders held up signs. The march was one of at least seven across Montana, whose leaders set forth three demands of the state and federal government.
• that the state of Montana commit resources into not only working with tribal leaders in their efforts to investigate and gather statewide data regarding crimes committed against Native women throughout the state, but in creating a mutually transparent process that allows for trust and shared information between the state and the tribes;
• that state legislators amend Montana's Hate Crime Statute to cover violence based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Without this coverage, members of the LGBTQI community do not have the ability to gather data or obtain legal protection for hate-based sexual crimes committed against them;
• that state legislators re-open the 19 Public Assistance Offices in rural areas of Montana — Big Timber, Chinook, Choteau, Columbus, Conrad, Cut Bank, Deer Lodge, Dillon, Forsyth, Fort Benton, Glendive, Livingston, Malta, Red Lodge, Shelby, Sidney, Plentywood, Roundup and Thompson Falls. In order to leave sexually abusive relationships or leave sexually abusive employment situations, women need access to financial resources. Because internet access is inequitably distributed and women rely on in-person office visits, closing rural Public Assistance Offices will only make it harder for women to seek safety, essential services and justice.