BUTTE — Margot Kidder and Butte just seem to go together.
The Canadian-American actor, perhaps best known for her film roles as Lois Lane in the Christopher Reeve Superman movies, grew up around mining. Not only that, two of her passions are Montana — and progressive politics.
The longtime Livingston resident was in Butte Saturday coordinating a rally for Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders that drew scores of activists from across the state.
At the start of the rally Saturday morning above Quarry Brewing in the Grand Hotel building, Butte's Amanda Curtis welcomed out-of-towners and helped get the crowd fired up.
"We have a long history here of workers standing up to corporate greed," she said. "One block in this direction" — she pointed west — "you'll see a magnificent copper king's mansion right next to miners' shacks. We know firsthand of the … disparity between workers and owners.
"Four blocks the other way, on the Anaconda road, 16 miners were shot and one killed striking for better wages and working conditions. People died on these Butte streets" trying to get a better deal for workers, she said.
"I'm thankful Bernie is running as a Democrat, and I'm proud to be on his side."
Kidder began to feel the Bern about a year ago. Deeply concerned about climate change, she heard Sanders speak on the subject. "I thought, wow, he's right on the money," Kidder said in an interview. "I've been panic-stricken about this for my grandchildren's sake, just worried sick. And here he was saying our campaign finance rules are so bad that the fossil-fuel corporations and the banks that invest in them can basically call the shots.
"The more I listened, the more I thought, the sane thing about this man is that all of his stands on the issues logically connect with each other," she says. "He sees rightly that being a good environmental steward is good economics. He sees correctly the need for campaign-finance reform, that our middle class is disappearing, that we need better health care, that we have a non-livable minimum wage."
She's just getting warmed up.
She recognizes clearly the delegate box Sanders is in — more accurately, the superdelegate box. Almost all of Hillary Clinton's delegate lead is in superdelegates, the officeholders and party officials who gain delegate status through party rules.
Kidder insists that "our enthusiasm has not dampened one bit" in the face of a narrow shot at victory for Sanders, who is ironically poised to have a productive, even dominant month of May after a win in the Indiana primary last week. Sanders announced Saturday he would visit Billings for a rally next Wednesday.
She loves that so many of Sanders' supporters are millennials.
"They are a quarter of the population. The care about the issues — climate change, student debt, income inequality — and you can't fool them. They'll fact-check you in a second. They're active, involved, committed and educated.
"And they don't care that Bernie Sanders is 74 years old. I think that's delicious."
About 15 years ago, Kidder came to Butte to gain her U.S. citizenship.
"I'd always done fine with my green card. But I knew I was politically active and would probably get arrested at some point (she did, protesting the Keystone pipeline), and I didn't want to get kicked out of the country — because my grandkids are here and because of my deep love of Montana. It really is my home with every pore of my being.
"When I went to that big courthouse, I was nervous," she recalled. "George Bush was president, and I thought I'd have to swear allegiance under a picture of him.
"But there was not one picture of him to be seen. They had pictures of John Kennedy, Mike Mansfield and Jimmy Carter."
Then, as soon as the ceremony was done, the judge told the new citizens, "Now that you are American, you must realize that to dissent is not un-American. It is the essence of being American. You must defend the rights of those who burn the American flag, no matter how repugnant you may find it."
And she knew she had come to the right place to be naturalized.
Kidder was born in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories. Her American father had been a sapper in World War II, and he was an explosives expert. So the family followed ore discoveries around Canada while she grew up, mostly in tiny towns in the north country.
"I read books … and hung out with friends in the woods or at the hockey rink. We'd get Montreal on the short-wave radio once a week. That was about it for entertainment. But it was glorious, in a weird way."
She went to boarding school in Toronto then high school in Vancouver and college at the University of British Columbia — where her consciousness of women's rights was quickly raised. "In high school, you were supposed to be dumber than your boyfriend and bat eyes at him," she said. "That summer, when I got to college, I discovered you were allowed to be smart, allowed to express yourself." Quickly following was her growing awareness of the environmental and civil rights movements.
Kidder first came to Montana in the early '70s, when she married the novelist Tom McGuane. "Our marriage had an expiration date on it, because I was an ambitious, feminist young lady who wanted to work in film as well as be with this man I was madly in love with," she said. "So I was here three years then went off and did 'Superman' and got divorced."
She was living in Prague in the '90s when her daughter Maggie called to say she was marrying a novelist who lived in Montana (Walter Kirn). "So I came home and rediscovered how much I loved it here and decided to stay," she said.
Her political activism has taken many forms. Kidder has been active in the anti-nuclear movement. She supported Paul Simon, Tom Harkin and John Glenn for that reason. She was an early supporter of Tom Hayden in California.
In 1988, she was a strong supporter of Jesse Jackson in the Democratic primaries.
"That's the first time I was part of a campaign going state to state," she said. "Jesse was magnetic and brilliant. (Michael) Dukakis (the eventual and unsuccessful Democratic nominee), by comparison, was not very exciting."
She went to the convention "and watched the Democratic National Committee stab Jesse in the back," she said. "Now, we're watching the same thing happen all over again with Bernie Sanders."
What will happen to the Sanders "revolution" if Hillary secures the nomination?
"This movement is going to go on after this election, no matter what happens," she says. "Too much stuff has come out. The curtain's been pulled back on corruption in both parties, and you can't close it. Where this moment ends up, I have no idea. But what a thrilling moment in history it is."