A line of about 50 protesters shouted out "justice for George" and "black lives matter" as part of a planned and peaceful protest, which started at about 5 p.m. Friday in front of the Wadena County Courthouse.
The busy Hwy 71 roadway had an assortment of reactions from those passing by. Some passed by slowly giving the "thumbs up" or honking. Others took the opportunity to see how loud their exhaust pipes could be, drowning out the conversations of those standing by.
Walking through the crowd, many identified themselves as Wadena residents wanting to stand up against brutality, towards black men in particular. The recent death of George Floyd was the spark that ignited the recent protests throughout the state and nation.
Patrick Mertens, one of those Wadena residents, said this was part of American history. He looked back at the Boston Tea Party and said that was how people stood up against injustice then - the same continues today. On Friday his stand was against "systemic rascism."
"We're here just to be friendly," Mertens said. "When there is something wrong with our system and we need it to be fixed, this is what we do."
The main organizer of the event was Brady Motschenbacher of Wadena. He said earlier in the week he was out by himself protesting, but he knew if others knew about it that they may come stand with him.
"I couldn't sit on my couch anymore," Motschenbacher said. He felt the large crowd of people gathered peacefully, sharing a united message, was a success.
"Part of this is standing in solidarity with the other protesters," Motschenbacher said. "The reason for specifically protesting in Wadena, my hometown, is because I know we have a very white community and I think it's important for white people to stand up right now, in a community like this, and let people of color know that they have allies."
"This shouldn't be happening in 2020," Emily Orsello of Wadena said.
"Free at last, still hasn't happened," Tiffany Orsello, also of Wadena, said. "The whites, we need to be the voices because any one of color, the minority are being shutdown, and it's up to us to make the change. And I think the change is coming."
Yet another Wadena resident, Deb Dorman, was upset at how word of a peaceful protest brought people to immediately begin posting on social media that buses of black people were coming to town. Dorman said she called the governor and Tri-County Health Care shortly after the Wadena Farmers Market were closed due to potential protests. In her opinion, these cancellations were brought on with no credible reason to do so. She said she saw the same thing happen in Detroit Lakes before a protest there. She said as was the case here and there, there were no buses full of black people, there were locals gathering in peace.
While the crowd conversed and held out signs against racism, just down the street people sat dispersed in lawn chairs or just stood in front of businesses. Some kept a watchful eye from inside the buildings. Community members and business owners came to observe, support local businesses and protect buildings as necessary.
A few business owners wanted to make their presence known and check on their buildings in case the protest turned destructive as seen in Minneapolis/St. Paul. At Smith’s Furniture and Carpet, family and friends gathered and the furniture was moved back from the front windows as a safety precaution. Wadena resident Michael Burcham stood outside Boondocks Cafe.
“I came out because I usually drink coffee up here at the Boondocks every morning when it’s open and I just didn’t want to see anything happen to the building because Dale and Shelly put a lot into it and I just wanted to help out,” Burcham said. “I mean I agree with the protesting. I do not agree with the looting or destruction of people’s property and stuff like that.”
A group of local church members and pastors, including people from Verndale Family Life and Eagle Bend Assembly, met outside of Greimann’s Printing to pray for peace. The group gathered around 4:45 p.m. and prayed for approximately 20 minutes. Some of the local pastors also previously traveled to Minneapolis and prayed with pastors there for peace, according to Eagle Bend Assembly pastor Eric Monson.
“Just praying for what’s going on, there’s so much anxiety in our nation right now, all sides, walks of life. And really what we need to pray is peace so that people can get their voice out, speak to what they want to speak to but yet do in a peaceful fashion,” Monson said.
As a part of the prayer group and a small business owner, JCE Enterprises Incorporated Carol Ervasti came since Wadena is “our investment.” She said if businesses were lost the travel time to other towns would require at least four hours with two total hours of driving and two hours actually in that town doing business.
“That’s a small business, that’s a small business, that’s a small business, and for every small business there’s a family behind it and every family needs that business to run and without that business America fails,” Ervasti said. “You need the small businesses, big business can’t do what the small businesses can do.”
Outside of Owly Coffee, owner Jeremy Hagen said he was standing aware and prepared including with the gun he carries daily, though, he was highly certain that nothing destructive was going to happen.
“I just want to keep an eye on my building and our livelihood here,” Hagen said. “We bust our butts every single day of the year and I’m not going to let somebody tarnish that in some dumb way.”
Along Jefferson Street, people wanted to see safety for their families and their hometown Wadena.
“We don’t want this taken from us,” Ervasti said.