Our world is in crisis. Between the worst global pandemic in more than 100 years and rising levels of atmospheric carbon resulting in a cascading series of calamities, the foundations we’re accustomed to relying on grow fragile and shaky.
We in Montana have it better than many; there’s a reason we’ve proudly self-identified as "the last best place" for decades. Today, though, that rallying cry has come to stand for values under siege, and now rings hollow. When we look at the bills pouring out of Helena during this 67th biennial meeting of our state’s legislative assembly, it becomes clear that the values held by most Montanans and those being advanced by our state legislators are increasingly at odds. Though Montana has long stood as a beacon to personal responsibility and community values, our hyper-partisan legislators have seemingly taken it on themselves to redirect our moral energies into actions that punish, restrict and limit our rights and freedoms.
This must change.
While our state legislators are busy solving problems that don’t exist (are we really better off when health departments are prevented from enacting local regulations? When massive budget cuts would hamstring Health and Human Services? When our state — bucking the national trend — wants to reintroduce the death penalty? When tax cuts are created primarily to lure wealthy out-of-staters to move here?), real problems beg for real solutions.
Climate collapse is bad and getting worse. Affordable housing is becoming almost a fantasy. No-one can live on Montana’s minimum wage. Indigenous people, people of color, and those of us who identify as LGBTQ suffer increasingly onerous discrimination. These and other issues are the ones we should demand our legislators provide relief for. Surely we can agree that the true needs of our citizens are more important than the mean-spirited and divisive bills coming out of Helena during this legislative session.
Montanans come in all sizes, shapes, genders, colors, ethnicities, religions. Our faiths teach that we are all One, that there is no "other," and that when one of us suffers, we all suffer. Unless we want to be remembered by future generations as a state that squandered the many opportunities and gifts our Creator has provided, we must stand together in support of our brothers and sisters, no matter their politics or beliefs.
We must demand our representatives in Helena remember their constituents back home and enact legislation that supports financial security for all; promotes affordable housing and a livable wage; ensures a safer and healthier environment free from threats to our air, water and land; and embraces an ethos welcoming all beliefs and differences and safeguarding every person against discrimination.
The time to act is now, and the choice is clear. Please do the right thing to enable all Montanans to live full lives in a just and peaceful society. Please contact those representing you in Helena and demand they stand up for what is right. If we do, we can create a Montana that works for everyone, and we can reclaim that "last best place" appellation with pride.
Steve McArthur is a Missoula social worker, management consultant and climate activist. Salim Matt Gras is a climate activist with a juris doctor degree in environmental law. Both work with Faith and Climate Action Montana.