By Cole Grant

UM Community News Service

University of Montana School of Journalism

HELENA – Organizers of the Women’s March on Montana estimate there were 10,000 people gathered at the Capitol in Helena on Saturday.

“I just want to put that in perspective, because when we first started thinking about this, we were wondering if we could get 500 people,” said Rebecca Weston, one of the organizers of the march.

People travelled from all over the state to show their support, from Florence to Billings.

By noon, the streets were filled with supporters. Men, women, and children marched around the Capitol building holding colorful handmade signs of all shapes and sizes — signs with the sign for female power or “fight like a girl” or “respect” or “all people are equal” or “no hate.”

After a few blocks of marching, supporters gathered on the Capitol steps to hear a slew of speakers and performers, including Montana’s First Lady Lisa Bullock, Judith Heilman, the director of the Montana Racial Equity Project and Sen. Jon Tester, who joined via phone.

“We walk and stand together today to recognize that defending the most marginalized among us is defending all of us,” Bullock said.

Co-organizer Deb O’Neil, who shared MC duties with Weston, talked about rape culture.

“We need to shut it down. Dismissing this as locker room talk is demeaning, insulting, and does not belong in a caring, compassionate society,” O’Neil said.  

A number of Native Americans also took to the steps of the Capitol, like Lauren Small Rodriguez, who sits on the board for Native American students at the University of Montana, and was the first Northern Cheyenne woman to join the Coast Guard.

“We are no longer here to just be happy to sit in the room. No we’re not. We’re going to sit on this table and we’re going to have a chance to say something and speak out. That is what we’re here to do,” Small Rodriguez said.

Weston said although there is no organization affiliated with the march, she’s planning to organize meetings in communities around the state, “so that people can use a lot of this energy, use a lot of this sense of solidarity, to then start doing things locally in their communities, then all the way up in the state.”

According to WomensMarch.com, the Montana march was one of more than 650 marches organized across the globe in response to the inauguration of President Donald Trump.

The Helena Police Department reported no counter protests.

Cole Grant is a reporter with the UM Legislative News Service and the UM Community News Service, which is a partnership of the University of Montana School of Journalism and the Montana Newspaper Association.

Video by Freddy Monares of Community News Service.