BEMIDJI -- Mattea Elhard fell into her role as a Women’s March organizer after waking up post-General Election in 2016 feeling awful.
“The first march, I remember the sign that I held said ‘empowered women empower women,’ and truly I was so depressed that Election Day in 2016. The day of the Women’s March I was kind of lying in bed like, ‘I’m not going to go, I’m not going to go,’” she said.
She finally dragged herself out of bed, and went un-showered and alone, to the inaugural Bemidji Women's March. It changed her whole perspective.
“I just showed up and marched with some amazing people,” she said. “These people around me, total strangers, lifted me up.”
Since then, she’s gotten involved in the planning, and now, she is one of the main organizers of this year's second Women’s March.
You heard that right -- this will be the second Bemidji Women’s March in 2020. “2020 has been that gnarly that we have to have two Women’s Marches,” Elhard said with a laugh.
Since 2017, people across the globe have been participating in the Women’s March movement. Traditionally, the march is held in January, after the first event was held in Washington D.C. the day following President Donald Trump’s Inauguration Day.
This one won’t look quite like the most recent one back in January.
On Saturday, Oct. 17, marchers will be “marching in place” stretched out on the sidewalk along Bemidji Avenue from Library Park to the lakeside Dairy Queen. To maintain social distancing, participants will be stationary and spread out.
“My vision is that we will create a wall, like a total chain, a connected chain from Dairy Queen to Library Park, so I’m hoping that people really will spread out,” Elhard said. “I hope people make signs.”
Elhard said the idea stemmed from the Indivisible Bemidji demonstration during President Trump’s campaign rally on Sept. 18 in Bemidji.
The beauty of the Women’s March lies in its ability to cater each event to address different issues and principles, Elhard explained. The march in Bemidji earlier this year centered around the controversial refugee county vote. This weekend’s event will instead focus on voter turnout, encouraging people to register and go vote. Bemidji’s League of Women Voters will have voter registration forms and information available for attendees.
The "march in place" will also celebrate women’s right to vote, as 2020 marks the 100-year anniversary of white women’s suffrage, while the right to vote for Black and Indigenous women were not specifically secured until the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
The group this weekend wants to encourage women to celebrate and exercise this right -- not only on land but also on Lake Bemidji. A group of "Progressive Paddlers" will circle the lake in kayaks and canoes, flags flying, while the marchers stand on dry land.
The event is hosted by the Bemidji Women’s March organization, the Bemidji League of Women Voters and the Progressive Paddlers. Students from Bemidji State University’s Black Student Union and Phoenix will be participating. Thursday evening, BSU students gathered to make signs and posters for the march together.
Those planning to attend the march should dress for the weather, bring signs and wear masks -- which are required, Elhard said.
All are welcome to attend, not just women, Elhard made sure to add.
“Men are as much of this movement as we are, they need to be our allies against traditionally some of the men that have held us back,” she said.
The event will take place from noon to 1 p.m. on Saturday, with paddlers launching at 11:30 a.m. Anyone interested in canoeing or kayaking during the event is encouraged to bring flags, and should contact Cate at firstname.lastname@example.org if interested in renting watercraft.