In light of the historic events unfolding in Helena this week, we’re taking a break from our regular “What the Helena” programming to spend some time talking about Representative Zooey Zephyr.
It’s almost certain that, if you’re engaged enough to read this newsletter, you already know that the Montana House of Representatives voted on Wednesday to bar Rep. Zooey Zephyr from the House floor, gallery, and antechamber for the remainder of the legislative session. Speaker Matt Regier has also decided to close the gallery to the public until the legislature adjourns, and even press access appears to be restricted at this point in time. We don’t have to tell you that this is a blatant attack on democracy and Montanan’s constitutional right to participate in government.
On Monday, April 24, approximately 300 people gathered for a rally in front of the Capitol building in support of Rep. Zephyr, who had already been unofficially barred from speaking on the House floor for several days following her remarks on SB 99. After the rally, over 100 of those people filed into the House gallery, where they sat quietly to observe the floor session. When the House once again voted against letting Rep. Zephyr speak, the gallery broke out in chants of “let her speak” and “whose House? Our House!” In response, riot police were mobilized to forcefully clear the gallery, resulting in the arrests of seven protestors.
Through it all, Rep. Zephyr stood tall with her microphone raised to the gallery in solidarity with her constituents demanding to be heard.
Two days later, the House voted to formally discipline Rep. Zephyr for her expression of solidarity with those who had protested in defense of democracy. Now, for the rest of the session, Rep. Zephyr along with the 11,000 Montanans she represents, will be denied a voice on the floor of the people’s House. Not only is she facing this formal consequence, but informal ones as well; as of Thursday, every remaining bill assigned to Rep. Zephyr’s two committees had been reassigned, effectively barring her from any debate for the remainder of the legislative session. Rep. Zephyr serves on the House Judiciary Committee, which under the House Rules is tasked with hearing legislation that deals with abortion. Yet, when a resolution that deals with abortion pills was heard this week, it was suddenly reassigned to the House Business and Labor Committee. These abrupt reassignments also harm the other representatives in those committees, and the thousands of people they represent.
This isn’t just about trans people, or decorum, or rules, although all of those things are certainly worth discussing. It’s a question of democracy and the Republicans’ attempt to undermine the very foundation of our society. If that’s not a bigger breach of decorum, then we don’t know what is.
We are sending all of our love to the trans and queer communities feeling the impacts of this week and the session at large, and are heartened by the ways in which Montanans have risen up to defend Rep. Zephyr and all of our rights to be heard.
All of this is a stark reminder that there is a lot of work to be done in order to create a Montana where all people have a voice, a home, and a future. We are committed to that work during the legislative session and beyond, and we’re grateful to be in this with each of you. Whether you’re providing testimony on bills, registering young voters, or engaging in local elections to stop extremist politicians before they can rise to prominence in our state; whether you’re knocking doors, having tough conversations with your neighbors, or cooking a meal for your community at the end of a long day– we all have a place in this movement. Take care of yourself – we’re glad you’re here.