In response to the violence in Charlottesville, Va., on Saturday, about 60 people gathered on the lawn of the Yellowstone County Courthouse on Sunday to call for peace, justice and inclusion.
“Virginia?” Penny Ronning asked. “Charlottesville? That could be Billings. Charlottesville is not unique.”
Ronning, a member of Billings Rises who is running for the City Council in Ward 4, was one of the organizers of the hastily called gathering. She said “there were a lot of groups that were doing a rapid response” after the events in Charlottesville, where one person was killed and 19 injured by a man who drove into a crowd of people peacefully protesting a rally of white supremacists.
Before she had made any concrete plans, she saw that Fitzgerald Clark had already created a Facebook event — a 5 p.m. rally on the courthouse lawn. Clark, an American citizen born in the Caribbean nation of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, spread the word among his fellow Baha’is. The event was then circulated by other groups, including Billings Rise, Sanctuary Rising, Big Sky Rising and the local chapter of Democratic Socialists of America.
Among the crowd Sunday was another City Council candidate, Tyler Starkweather, running in Ward 3, former City Councilman Ken Crouch and Yellowstone County Commissioner Robyn Driscoll.
Clark opened the rally by saying this “is a really important moment, and unfortunately we have too many of these moments.”
“At this moment, when there are forces out there that oppose the love of every human being,” he said, “that oppose standing up for all of our neighbors, all of our brothers and sisters — at this moment we have to be forceful for the cause of love. We have to stand up for the cause of love. … Love demands justice.”
Ronning also spoke, reminding those at the gathering that Billings was the home of Not In Our Town, when the community stood up to white supremacists who were terrorizing Jewish residents of the city in 1993.
“This is what America is,” Ronning said, pointing to Clark, a black Baha’i; herself, a white female Christian; and Starkweather, a gay man converting to Judaism. “This is what America looks like.”
“Not in our town,” she said. “Not in our country. Never again.”
Even as the rally in Billings was underway, it was being reported that similar gatherings had been organized just as hastily all around the country, and that the White House was still trying to deal with the criticism that met President Trump’s half-hearted remarks on the deadly violence in Virginia.
Starkweather also spoke, telling people that while it was important to stand together, to protest and hold rallies, “we need to vote” and to support like-minded people who do run for office. “It’s not easy,” he said of getting involved in politics, “but it’s what needs to happen.”
The rally ended with the singing of several songs, including “We Shall Not be Moved,” which includes the lyrics, “We shall not be moved/On the road to freedom/We shall not be moved/Just like a tree that’s standing by the water side/We shall not be moved.”