Progressive movement is organizing in Great Falls

A group of like minded people in Great Falls have been meeting monthly to promote the progressive movement.

The group now goes by Great Falls Rising and typically has 50-100 people at its monthly meetings, plus 350 people on the mailing list.

Though the group is nonpartisan, they spent considerable energy campaigning for Rob Quist in the recent special election for Montana’s lone seat in the U.S. House of Representatives that was vacated by now Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.

One of the organizers is Gerry Jennings, a local cyclist who’s deeply involved in recreation and public land organizations.

The group’s mission is based on that of Big Sky Rising, the state level organization, and that is to empower individuals and connect communities while fostering equality, diversity, human rights, civil liberties and a sustainable future through respectful dialogue, education and advocacy.

They’ve been meeting since at least February, when they adopted the Great Falls Rising name. At the monthly meetings, they’ve had speakers including former candidate Quist, Lt. Gov. Mike Cooney, staffers from Sen. Jon Tester’s office, local gastroenterologist Dr. John Molloy and Montana Nurses Association Director Vicky Byrd recently spoke on the Affordable Care Act and an upcoming meeting will feature a panel of Great Falls area legislators on the budget bill.

“I can’t think of a speaker who hasn’t been really interesting,” Jennings said.

The meetings always start with a mix and mingle “so people can just talk with one another,” Jennings said. 

Great Falls Rising organizers are currently surveying members and others in the community to create a priority list. Community members are being asked to rank issues from a list of about 15 items that includes public lands, education, healthcare, equality, jobs and more.

From the responses, they’ll distill a top 10 list of priority areas to focus their attention and energy in the community.

They started their surveying efforts during the fair to help reach a broader cross section of the community.

“We’re trying to be proactive to get people to advocate for causes that we believe in,” Jennings said.

That kind of community action means writing your elected representatives, calling elected officials, writing letters to the editor and more, Jennings said.

They plan to continue the group and have a planning committee that meets monthly to watch issues on the horizon for possible discussion at meetings or community action.

“People are excited, they’re interested,” she said. “We didn’t want to lose that emotional energy” after the November election, but wanted to turn it into positive energy, though it’s been difficult to attract young people to participate. 

Currently, the group participation ranges from Jennings and her husband Chuck, one of the founders of the River’s Edge Trail, to a current City Commissioner, a candidate for city office, congressional staffers, nonprofit administrators, educators, lawyers, ranchers and more.

The goal, Jennings said, is to “keep people interested, energized, educated and committed.”

Members of Great Falls Rising reached out to The Electric, but if you know of a similar group focused on conservative issues, that has a large membership with regular meetings focused on a wide range of major community issues, email jenn@theelectricgf.com.