Missoula rally looks to bridge divisiveness, rhetoric

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Ilana McCloud, left, and Holly Kingsford, second from right, lead a march through downtown Missoula on Saturday to spread a message of peace and unity in the aftermath of this year’s presidential election, the results of which caught them by surprise. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current)

By Martin Kidston

In the wake of this year’s charged election, some have taken to celebration while others have turned to protest. Some are looking to put aside their political differences and bridge the divide, saying the nation’s future depends on accord.

On Saturday, a group of Missoula residents donned their winter parkas and hoisted signs urging unity and love. They gathered in a freezing downtown fog to make a statement, one that strives for unity rather than political division.

And this coming from a largely left-leaning crowd.

“I need to bring some kind of peace into the current situation,” said organizer Ilana McCloud. “Emotions are running way to high. I think a lot of people need this.”

Like many American voters, McCloud admits this year’s general election results took her by surprise. Despite Donald Trump’s habit of belittling political opponents and targeting minorities, Muslims and women with hateful rhetoric, he easily captured the Electoral College, and she wasn’t prepared for it.

Worried about her children’s future and the message sent by the nation’s incoming president, McCloud felt powerless in the electoral aftermath. With the rhetoric high, she wanted to send a different message and burn off her emotional energy in a positive way.

“I’ve seen a lot of fear mongering from both sides of the spectrum,” she said. “There’s riots in the streets and people disrupting traffic in what they think is the name of good. People on the other side are doing acts of hate. It’s frightening. I needed to put something out there that was positive in the name of peace, love and unity.”

McCloud said politics had little to do with her desire to organize Saturday’s event. Few mentioned Trump by name. Rather, they offered silent respect to the incoming president, despite their unease with his language, tactics and vision for America.

“It’s important for us to come together and figure out where we’re going to go from here, and do it in a positive way,” said Holly Kingsford. “There’s a sense of darkness rising, and we have to make sure we balance it with the light.”

Kingsford and others who gathered Saturday see an America far different than the one professed by Trump.

While the president-elect singled out women, minorities and Muslims during his campaign – and made a commitment to isolate America – Kingsford envisions a unified nation where all people are treated equally.

“There’s an element of our population that now has freedom to express their voice and opinion, and I want to make sure we keep that balanced with a different voice – a positive, kind and loving voice,” she said. “We have to stand in unity and say we respect you for who God created you to be.”

Less than 30 hours after Tuesday’s election results, American Nazi Party propaganda appeared in Missoula. The hateful fliers were compounded by several reported assaults and acts of vandalism and graffiti.

While the identities of the perpetrators remain unknown, the events bother both McCloud and Laurie Franklin, the spiritual leader at Missoula’s synagogue Har Shalom. One of the fliers targeted the city’s Jews.

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A woman kisses her bundled baby at Saturday’s march for political peace and unity. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current)

“For some people, this is a cause for fear that they’re being targeted anonymously,” said Franklin. “In this post-election week, perhaps there’s a release of emotion for everyone who voted or didn’t vote, and maybe we’re seeing some of that now with these leaflets.”

Franklin looks to send a different message and not let hateful rhetoric become the status quo.

“I think most Americans believe in an open society,” said Franklin. “One that’s inclusive, pluralistic, democratic and representative – one that doesn’t target any group because of their identity. Our constitution is pretty clear about that, and I think the center will hold.”

Ed Seymore also lent his quiet support to Saturday’s cause, feeling the urge to unite and move toward a more positive future.

“I’m in general sympathy with what these folks are doing,” he said. “They seem to be for a more progressive view of life than what we’ve got coming up in the next four years. I’m for that.”

 

Contact reporter Martin Kidston at info@missoulacurrent.com