As Program Director at Montana Women Vote, I often meet with legislators in Helena to discuss women’s needs. And every year on International Women’s Day (IWD), I am joined in the capital building by hundreds of women celebrating IWD Lobby Day.

While this lobby day is always a great opportunity for women of all backgrounds and experience levels to come together, hone lobby and strategy skills, and push for policies that make our communities stronger and more inclusive—this year felt markedly different.

This year, I felt even more energized to elevate the policies that impact the women of Montana.

And it’s clear I wasn’t alone.

As women from all over my state gathered together, I could sense that the current political climate has our communities primed and ready to leverage our collective power like I’ve never witnessed before. The level of energy around holding our elected officials accountable to the people, families, and communities they represent is incredibly inspiring and uplifting. There is now wide recognition that the stakes for public education, senior services, and healthcare are at an all-time high, and it’s vital that we harness this passion and use it both offensively and defensively in state capitols and city halls.

We absolutely have the power to affirm and elevate our values. Like the people of Whitefish, Montana, we can refuse to allow people to hijack our communities.

As we move forward and navigate an emerging landscape of restrictive policies that directly affect women, it’s encouraging to witness women throughout Montana leading the response.

In towns across our state, I see women operating domestic violence shelters, leading town councils, planning protests against white-supremacist groups, starting LGBTQ centers, turning their homes into food pantries. Women have a wealth of knowledge and experiences critical to our state’s decision and policy-making process.

On the state level, Montana Women Vote, funded in part by a Pride Foundation grant, is collaborating with Forward Montana Foundation (FMF) and Montana Human Rights Network (MHRN) to build capacity for advocacy work during the 2017 Montana Legislative Session.

Already, we have achieved executive and administrative actions that have secured protections for LGBTQ Montanans. Including Governor Bullock’s signing an executive order preventing state employees, contractors, and sub-contractors from being discriminated against based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.

At this point in the session, we are working to support House Bill 391, the Montana Earned Income Credit (EITC), which would create a state version of the EITC. The EITC provides assistance to working and low-income families—and would lift millions of children and families out of poverty. And we are working against another bill, HB 609. HB 609 would enshrine discrimination into law—forcing all Montanans to use public facilities based on their biological sex as designated on their original birth certificate. This poses a clear threat to transgender and gender diverse people because they will no longer be able to use public facilities appropriate for how they live their lives everyday.

On this International Women’s Day, with hundreds of women joining me in the capital building, I felt the enthusiasm and sense of community across Montana—from Big Sandy to Bozeman—that has me even more certain of the gains we’ll achieve in the coming year.

Micah Nielsen is the Program Director at Montana Women Vote. She lives in Missoula, Montana. To learn more about Montana Women Vote, visit MontanaWomenVote.org

Posted In: Blog, Blog, Building Organizations, Blog, Connecting Leaders, Blog, Montana, Blog, Regional