‘Love Trumps Hate’ rally to shift presidential protest to voter education, registration

A number of protesters gathered outside the president’s rally in Great Falls. (Eric Peterson/The Electric)

Rather than chant outside the gates of Minuteman Aviation during President Donald Trump’s campaign stop in Missoula Thursday, protesters will host an in-town event that will help translate participants’ frustrations and energy into action.

“It’s less of a protest. I wouldn’t even characterize it as that,” said Erin Erickson, director of Missoula Rises. “It’s more of a community event that is focusing on empowering our community members to use their vote as a tool in democracy to make positive change.”

Missoula Rises, a local nonprofit that describes itself as committed to protecting the rights of community members, is hosting the “Love Trumps Hate” event at Playfair Park.

It’ll provide an opportunity for voters to cast their ballots or register to vote, Erickson said.

She hopes the rally can help voters make their own choices about which candidates and ballot measures to support.

“It’s also important to have this large rally because we aren’t there chanting for the sake of chanting, or protesting for the sake of protesting, but we’re actually translating it into action, which means we’re voting,” she said. “We’re getting out the vote. The more people show up, the more ballots are cast. That is how we make a change.”

The event will provide golf carts to ferry residents to the Missoula County Fairgrounds – home to the county’s election office – to vote or register.

Tables with information on ballot initiatives will also be on-site, along with guest speakers, including U.S. veterans, members of the Native community and Missoula Mayor John Engen.

The event will also include a potluck and activities like yoga, mural painting and T-shirt printing.

Erickson said Thursday’s rally is different from ones she has organized in the past.

“I’ve done a lot of organizing since I started the group Missoula Rises in 2016, and I’ve never quite seen the community really pitch in the way that it has to pull this together so quickly. I think it’s pretty unique to see that happen,” she said.

Late in the afternoon, rally participants will march from Playfair Park down South Avenue toward the fairgrounds to Russell Street.

Erickson said participants will not rally outside of Minuteman Aviation at Missoula International Airport, where Trump is scheduled to speak at 6 p.m.

University of Montana student Sierra McMurry is also helping to organize the rally, saying on the event’s Facebook page that the rally will not approach the airport due to trespassing concerns and that walking along the highway or sidewalks would require the purchase of “expensive insurance and permits for that area.”

She stated that, according to the president, he’s looking for evidence of “angry liberal mobs” to help sway undecided Montana voters to vote Republican.

“I didn’t want to take on that stereotype. That stereotype might be shown as an example if we were so close to the rally and if we were on the offensive, aggressive side,” McMurry said in an interview. “I wanted to approach this as peacefully as possible and also as lovingly as possible.”

Erickson said that it’s normal for opposing sides to feel angry, but the way in which a person directs their anger can be more positive.

“Certainly, people who are impacted by [Trump’s] policies have anger and they have rage, and that’s healthy,” Erickson said. “It’s just how you channel that, and so that’s what Missoula Rises is, it’s very important to us to take that passion, rage, anger and channel it in a constructive way that can actually make change.”

With Justice Brett Kavanaugh confirmed to the Supreme Court this month and Trump’s visit, McMurry decided to hold a march on Higgins Avenue, only expecting 20 to 50 people or close friends to attend. But quickly, the number of people interested grew to 500 and then to 1,000.

On Wednesday, about 535 people indicated they’ll attend Thursday’s rally and about 1,900 were interested in going, according to the event’s Facebook page.

“The bigger the rally, the more it shows that people are upset, that people will come to these events,” McMurry said. “I know people that are taking work off just to be at this event, to show that we’re not okay with what’s happening and that we’re not just going to sit idly by. The more people that come, it shows that more people are voting. It shows that people support love over hate.”

While it’s unusual for a president to visit Montana three times in one campaign swing, Erickson said Trump’s visits are inappropriate regardless of one’s party affiliation.

Erickson believes that Trump has a vendetta against Sen. Jon Tester after White House physician Ronny Jackson withdrew his nomination to lead the department of Veteran Affairs after allegations of misconduct were made by Tester in April.

“Regardless of party affiliation, I think that’s highly inappropriate for a president to openly display a vendetta against a sitting senior senator and campaign this aggressively against him when it does place financial burdens on our towns and cities,” she said.

Missoula County Commissioner David Strohmaier is looking into billing the Rosendale campaign for rally expenses at Missoula International Airport, saying that it’s “inappropriate for Missoula County taxpayers to be shouldering the burden of a strictly partisan campaign event.”

Erickson emphasized that Montana, generally considered a conservative or red state, is actually a mixture of both red and blue, or Republicans and Democrats, when it comes to voters and elected officials.

“I think it’s really important to break the narrative that Montana is a strictly red state, because we’re really not. We’re more of a purple state and it’s sort of frustrating to be consistently cast in that role,” Erickson said.

Regardless of party affiliation, the Midtown rally is meant to bring people together and encourage voting, McMurry said.

“The beautiful thing about this event is that we are focusing on voting,” she said. “Whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat, voting is important to you. That’s what we’re focusing on as a whole and as a community, so that there doesn’t have to be this divide.

“We can be upset at what’s happening in the administration regardless of if we’re Democrat or Republican – that we have the ability to change what’s happening in our administration.”

The “Love Trumps Hate” event will take place Thursday from 2:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. at Playfair Park. More information about the event can be found on Facebook.