By Bella Butler MANAGING EDITOR
BIG SKY –Traffic came to a stop on Lone Mountain Trail on July 4 as nearly 150 protesters marched across the road where the sheriff had protected the crosswalk.
“Women’s rights are human rights!” they chanted as they thrust homemade signs painted with phrases like “My body my choice” and “Abortion is healthcare” into the air. Inside the first stopped car, a family eagerly unbuckled their seatbelts and two women jumped out to join the demonstration.
Organized by Big Sky resident Sophie Walder, the women’s march was held on the Fourth of July to protest the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 24 decision to reverse Roe v. Wade, a case that when decided by the Court in 1973 declared abortion as a constitutional right. The march began at the Big Sky Community Park and ended in Len Hill Park, where local lawyer and former Montana Legislature staff member Erin Bills discussed the impact of the court’s decision on Montanans and what abortion bills state lawmakers may have in store.
Before leading them in the march, Walder addressed the protesters from atop softball bleachers.
“The future that lies ahead is completely unknown,” Walder said to the protesters before leading them in the march. “And the only thing left that we can do now is fight and keep fighting and let our voices be heard.”
Walder said Fourth of July is one of her favorite holidays for it’s communal and celebratory tone, but this year felt different, she said in a July 5 interview.
“This year, obviously with everything going on there was a big shadow that you had to confront, especially as a woman.” Inspired by other protests taking place around the country on July 4, she decided to bring the concept to her own community.
“What better way to celebrate your independence than fighting for your equality?” Walder said.
Walder said every business in Big Sky she approached for help was eager to pitch in.
Big Sky Print and Ship donated posters, the Hungry Moose Market & Deli donated snacks and water, Mountain and Canyon Cab Co. donated a shuttle service and Santosha Wellness Center hosted protesters for sign-making.
At the park before the march, children peered over people’s shoulders as they made final touches on their signs. Big Sky local Chris Bracht sat crisscross on the ground, intently drawing a uterus with a sharpie on a piece of cardboard.
“As a veteran, I fought for your rights,” said Bracht, who served in the army. “I gave up six years of my life for all of these women, for all of you, to have the right to choose what’s done with your body. I stand in solidarity with all the women in my life … I feel like it’s probably the most patriotic thing I could do on a day where I don’t feel like America deserves a birthday.”
Another Big Sky resident, Ryleigh Copeland, sat beside Bracht with a pink sign that read “Bans off our bodies.”
“[Protesting] lets people know that we have a voice and we’re angry and we’re hurt, and we want to be heard,” she said.
After having lived most of their lives with the protection of the Roe v. Wade decision, other protesters said they never could’ve envisioned they would be protesting its reversal in 2022.
“I can’t believe my daughters and granddaughters have less rights than I did,” said Cyndee Button.
Standing next to Button, Vicki Davies nodded with a stern expression on her face. “[The Supreme Court has] taken away the freedoms and liberties that we’ve had for 50-plus years,” she said. “It’s Fourth of July. I don’t feel very patriotic right now about my country because as a woman, I feel attacked in my power, and they’re trying to control me and my choices.”
After grabbing snacks and water at the park, protesters hit the pavement and followed Walder in protest chants for roughly 1.5 miles.
As the march snaked down the bike path along Lone Mountain Trail, cars laid on their horns as they drove by, some drivers sticking thumbs up out the window and others a thumbs down. According to protester Abigail Kull, it was an emotional experience.
“This is a really amazing turnout for our little community,” she said as horns blared in the background. “This is important. We’re here. Opinions need to be shared. We have emotions that need to be shared and we’re angry.”
At Len Hill Park, the march disbanded as protesters huddled around the stage to hear Bills speak.
“What we’re seeing here today is active participation in democracy,” said Bills, a fourth-generation Montanan who’s lived in Big Sky on and off for 20 years.
In addition to being a lawyer, Bills is also an epidemiologist and has spent much of her career working on improving access to healthcare in rural Montana, especially for women and children.
On stage, Bills explained how the Supreme Court’s recent decision puts regulatory power related to abortion in the hands of the states. Bills said she expects to see many bills attempting to restrict access to abortion in the next Montana legislative session and encouraged protesters to consider their opportunities to engage with the issue outside of the march including voting and testifying at bill hearings.
“In Big Sky, Montana, you have just as much of a voice as a member in Helena,” Bills said in an interview. “And the visitors that leave here that go back to their home state, they have a voice in those places too, whether you are pro-choice or pro-life, both sides have a voice, and they need to use them through the political process.”
The day after the march, Bills recalled the women jumping out of their car at the road crossing to join the protest, a moment she said brought tears to her eyes.
“To me,” she said, “that just shows that there’s a lot of people in our community, both residents and visitors, that need a platform to share what they believe in—to exercise their right.”