BEMIDJI -- As President Donald Trump geared up for a rally in Bemidji ahead of November’s election, the smaller of two counter-demonstrations here was thinking about more than the person who’d be in the White House.
A collection of Bemidji-area nonprofits on Friday advocated for a cultural seachange and solutions to a series of societal ills as they decried the president. Demonstrators carried “Black Lives Matter” signs and photos of Hardel Sherrell, a Black man who died in Beltrami County Jail in 2018. Others carried signs advocating for the “Green New Deal” that’s been proposed in Congress and has become a sort-of line in the sand that separates the more left-leaning wing of the Democratic party from its older guard. And others carried Transgender Pride flags.
“The struggle towards true and lasting equality, justice, and peace is ongoing. The powers that work against them and that dream are oligarchy, white supremacy, and fascism,” said Jeremiah Liend, who’s running for a seat in the Minnesota House of Representatives. “If Donald Trump was struck dead by lightning today, those forces would remain. They are systemic, entrenched, and reinforced.”
The demonstration near the intersection of Paul Bunyan Drive and Hwy. 71 grew to 200-plus people by 6 p.m. -- and it was younger, more ethnically diverse, and leaned further left than one organized by Indivisible Bemidji that was held at the same time near the city’s iconic statues of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox.
Nancy Beaulieu, a citizen of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe who helped organize the event, said the rally also aimed to emphasize to the president that Indigneous people are still here.
“That treaties do matter,” she said. “If you’re an American, you have a treaty responsibility...So we want this administration to know that we’re not going to poison our land and poison our resources.”
The rally doubled as a campaign stop for several Bemidji-area politicians. Audrey Thayer, a White Earth Nation citizen and candidate for a city council seat, said that having several American Indian candidates on citywide ballots was empowering.
“We lead,” she said. “That’s what Indigenous people do. We lead….Don’t look at people and say they don’t like me. Look at them and say what can I do to help you. Let’s change the makeup of this community and let’s put Indigenous people in office.”
The rally was generally peaceful as this article’s print deadline approached. A handful of people, universally white, gunned their trucks’ engines as they passed by on an adjacent frontage road, Trump-Pence flags fluttering behind them. A young man got into a brief scuffle with someone in the passenger seat of a passing truck and ripped a Trump flag from the passenger’s hands, but he seemed to relax after speaking to several other people at the event.