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Marchers 'Unite Against Hate' in Bemidji

About 100 marchers gathered in Bemidji on Wednesday evening, Aug. 16, to protest white supremacy. The march was organized after a woman was killed during a white supremacy rally in Virginia on Saturday. Grace Pastoor / Forum News Service

BEMIDJI, Minn.—More than 100 people marched down Bemidji's main drag Wednesday evening, Aug. 16, holding signs and chanting in response to a racist rally in Virginia this past weekend that left one woman dead.

Three Bemidji activists planned Wednesday's "Unite Against Hate" rally after events in Charlottesville, Va., saturated headlines around the country. Colbi Ikola, Nate Larson and Dan Gannon wanted to combat local racism, both open and subtle.

"I'm assuming in Bemidji we don't want to see the rise of an organized white supremacist movement," Gannon said to the crowd that assembled in front of Bemidji's Green Mill restaurant. "They're here right now. They're not organized, and we're going to keep it that way."

As an example, Gannon and other community members spoke about instances of harassment by people driving vehicles displaying Confederate flags. A woman at the rally said a truck's driver shouted at her to show him her breasts; she said a Native American man also reported harassment by a driver displaying a Confederate flag.

"The levels of violence are increasing," Gannon said. "They're going from rhetoric to action."

After speeches by Bemidji State University professor and author Anton Treuer and local activist Ashley Charwood, the group began to walk down Paul Bunyan Drive toward the Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox statues. Marchers carried signs with slogans such as "Hate never made any nation great" and "Love wins...Bigly!" Passing cars honked in support, and onlookers stopped to take photos and video.

Though some signs were ruined by a constant drizzle, a majority of marchers remained gathered at the statues to listen to speeches and a performance by Red Lake rapper Thomas X.

First Lutheran pastor Linnea Papke-Larson spoke to the group about Jesus' acceptance of people on the margins.

"We commit ourself to be bold in love," Papke-Larson said. "We are taking a radical stand against that which tears us apart."

Emily Lindell, of Shevlin, said she was invited to speak after reaching out to event organizers. Lindell, who is white, told those gathered about her realization as a teenager that she and her family had benefited from systematic racism.

Lindell went on to encourage other white community members to address their own white privilege.

"I ask us, those of us here who are white ... to start asking ourselves some tough questions," Lindell said. "On whose land are we standing, and at whose expense did we prosper?"