A year to the day after a historic series of marches across the country, including a gathering of thousands in Helena, a crowd marched through Montana State University on Saturday, part anniversary celebration and part renewed rallying cry for issues from reproductive rights and environmentalism to female representation in government.

Organizers estimated roughly 1,300 people turned out for the event, which began with a gathering in the parking lots near College Street and 12th Avenue. The crowd, many sporting the bright pink knit caps made famous by last year’s demonstrations, marched around the corner and down 11th before congregating outside the university’s Strand Union Building.

Like 2017, the march was one of many nationwide; tens of thousands marched in similar events across the country Saturday, according to the Associated Press. In Montana, marches were planned in Butte, Helena, Great Falls, Missoula, Billings and Kalispell.

For some, the march was a form of political catharsis aimed at government leadership, including, but not limited to, President Donald Trump, who marked his first year in office this weekend.

For others, it was a way to reinvigorate the community around issues such as immigration, children’s health care and education, as well as conversations regarding sexual assault and harassment in light of the recent #MeToo movement.

“It’s important that we support all citizens, not just the ones who are in power,” said Penny Citrola, 38, who carried a sign that read, “The Handmaid’s Tale is not an instruction manual” — a reference to the book-turned-TV series about a dystopian future in which women are deemed property of the state.

Citrola, who lives in Belgrade, was in Washington, D.C., for last year’s events and said she was pleasantly surprised by the turnout Saturday. The timing, after the federal government officially shut down Friday night, could not have been more appropriate, she added.

“It’s even more timely now seeing that our government officials can’t seem to work together,” Citrola said. “Maybe they can learn a thing or two from us.”

“(This movement) brings all sorts of different people together. It’s really important,” added Mollie Call, 39.

Call, who has a daughter, emphasized the importance of the many younger women and children at the rally.

“It’s really impactful for younger women. We have to instill confidence in them to speak up and tell them that this isn’t normal,” she said.

A handful of groups helped organize Saturday’s event, including Big Sky Rising, Forward Montana, the League of Conservation Voters, Montana Women For, MSU College Democrats, Gallatin County Democrats and Lokken Productions.

Crowds packed into MSU’s Procrastinator Theater to hear several speakers, spilling out into the lounge area and outside the building where a sound system had been set up.

“I ask you to take this as your motto,” the Rev. Denise Rogers, founder of local human rights organization Montana Hate Free Zone told the crowd, “no woman left behind.”

“We all have similarities, we all have commonalities,” Rogers continued. “We have decided today that we will get what we need and if they are in the way we will move them.”

Bozeman Mayor Cyndy Andrus, Democratic Sen. JP Pomnichowski and state representative candidates Denise Albrecht, D-Bozeman, and Kristine Menicucci, D-Belgrade, were among a group of local legislators who spoke to the importance of equal representation in government.

“Why should we elect more women? Because we make up more than half the citizens in this country, and as I’ve learned in politics, if you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu,” Andrus said.

“Fairness in pay, what is acceptable behavior in the workplace; it’s high time that women are making these decisions. Time is up.”

Kendall can be reached at 406-582-2651 or lkendall@dailychronicle.com. He is on Twitter at @lewdak

Lewis Kendall covers business and the economy for the Chronicle.

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