In the People's Interest

Deb Hansen: Miracle in Manhattan

Being a precinct rep in a very red precinct can be lonely work; It’s been almost two years of hitting the red brick wall.  Knocking on doors, working with candidates, and wondering if I’ll ever have any consistent volunteers.  But last week something changed.  I received a text about an upcoming meeting of the town council. The Manhattan town council is heavily influenced by evangelical churches; a member of the council wanted to put forth an ordinance in Manhattan making it illegal to get abortion pills through the mail, and declare the town a ‘Sanctuary for the Unborn’.  Manhattan would be the first community in Montana to do so.

I got busy with social media, calls, texts, emails, and with the help of a few folks we had a massive turnout at the event.  I had never seen so many citizens turn out for any issue in town.  I was amazed.  This organizing stuff really works.  Town Hall was packed and at least 75% of the people were against the proposed ordinance.  People spoke passionately about the right to privacy in our Montana constitution, the right to make their own reproductive and health decisions, separation of church and state, the divisiveness it would bring to an already divided community.  All of testimony-by mail, zoom, and in person-was from local folks, not outsiders trying to influence the community.

Even the town’s own attorney advised against proceeding with the ordinance stating, that it would put a target on the town’s back for litigation, would be unenforceable, and unconstitutional.  She further stated that there was no way to even draft the ordinance that would be constitutional.

Despite all of the testimony from the residents and against the advice of their own attorney, the two most outspoken evangelicals on the council still attempted to pass the motion twice.  When it went to a vote it was 2 against and 2 for; the mayor broke the tie with a vote against.

If we had not shown up in such great numbers I am certain they would have voted to proceed with the ordinance.  They were not willing to go against the majority opinion in front of their actual constituents.  

A huge win!  For now. I know they intend to try again,  but for me, this meeting was an opportunity to introduce myself to so many people whom I had never met who were willing to come out and engage with local government about an important issue.  We are normalizing what it looks like to be a Democrat here in red country; no devil horns or witches, just ordinary people who demand better from their elected officials.  We were authentic, respectful, and well-informed.  And we will be ready for the next round.

Leave a Reply