Over 400 Montanans from across the state, all the way from Ashland to Missoula, converged on the State Capitol in Helena on Monday, February 21, for the first annual Citizens Day at the Capitol, hosted by Alliance for a Just Society affiliate the Montana Organizing Project.
Since the state legislative session began in January, Montana lawmakers have been slashing jobs and funding for public services even though the Governor’s budget clearly shows that there is no sound financial reason for doing so. Members from Native tribes, Indian People’s Action, unions, churches and community groups came together as one to demand that critical services stay completely funded, that the state tax system be restructured and made more equitable, and that federal health care reform be properly implemented, ensuring that all Montanans have a safe and secure future.
All day long, the halls of the capitol building bustled with working people from all four corners of the state who came to tell their stories of how cuts to health care, education, and public safety programs would adversely affect their families and communities. They presented legislators with Protecting Montana’s Future, a book filed with the stories of ordinary Montanans which amplifies the voices of small business owners, Native Americans, students, public servants, and senior citizens throughout the state and shows the need for a healthy public infrastructure.
Citizens Day culminated in a mass rally on the snowy capitol steps with members of the Montana Education Association and Montana Federation of Teachers. The crowd of over 400 declared their support for a new way forward in Montana, one that involves “reversing the cuts and restoring the future.” Moving testimony from firefighters, faith community, small business owners, progressive legislators, veterans groups, and teachers riled up the crowd, many of whom held signs proclaiming why they were there and expressing solidarity with the workers and protesting at the capitol in Wisconsin.
The Capitol truly belonged to the citizens of Montana on Monday, and they all walked away with the pledge to keep coming back until their legislators get the message.