Braving bitter cold, Montana capital rally backs Wisconsin workers

HELENA, Mont. – Despite a forecast of single-digit temperatures and high winds, 200 Montanans braved the Rocky Mountain winter to gather on the Capitol steps in Helena and express their solidarity with the demonstrators in Wisconsin.

The rally moved along at a brisk pace, but there was no shortage of enthusiasm amongst those who turned out to show their support. The crowd was a cross-section of the state’s population: women and men, youth and elders, and workers of all trades – union and non-union – from electricians to grocery workers came out to show solidarity with Wisconsin’s public employees as they reject the right-wing’s attacks. People made the trip from all over Montana, despite having only two day’s notice.

Quinton Nyman, a laborer and leader of the Public Employees’ union who walked the picket lines with his father at the age of five, brought some much-overlooked perspective to the issue: “Public employees are not the enemy; they’re the victim. You don’t see Bernie Madoff out driving a snow plow truck in Wisconsin, or the Lehman Brothers working as prison guards,” he argued, “although they should associate with prison guards.”

Solidarity was expressed not just with the demonstrators in Madison, but with the popular uprisings world-wide, which many felt shared a common theme. John Thompson, a historian and professor at Montana State University, explained the connection: “The examples of Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya show that the power of the people can remove tyrants,” Thompson said, cautioning that “unless we stop the Republican Party, and now the tea party, from undermining workers’ rights, our personal freedoms, and the environment, we may end up in a dictatorship similar to those from which they are now freeing themselves.”

Montana State Senator Mary Caferro, a Democrat from Helena, brought the rally to a close with the message that Wisconsin Republicans’ assault in that state’s legislature is not the only front in the struggle, but that even in Montana the right-wing Assembly is bent on passing legislation that would harm working families . “I want to show support for our brothers and sisters in Wisconsin, but you know, we’ve got problems here in Montana,” she argued, citing privatization and anti-union legislation such as a bill that made it to the legislature without public hearing, which would strip the state veterans’ home workers of their health insurance. “Wall Street is doing OK. Let’s make sure our workers are doing OK.”

photo: PW/Jesse Jack