Those iconic pink hats came in handy during this year’s Women’s March as temperatures reached below zero in the St. Cloud area.
Despite the temperature, 150 people gathered near Lake George in St. Cloud on Saturday to participate in this year’s march. They eventually made their way to Tech High School to get out of the cold and listen to a variety of speakers.
The national Women’s March, originally organized in response to the election of Donald Trump, who has faced recent controversy regarding founding members and accusations of anti-Semitism. Namely, pushing out a Jewish co-founder and support for Louis Farrakhan, a black nationalist who has made racist, sexist and anti-Semitic comments.
The Women’s Center at St. Cloud State University (SCSU), which ran the St. Cloud rally, is affiliated with the national Women’s March network but said they were aware of the current controversy regarding founding members and accusations of anti-Semitism.
“Our planning group has been discussing the reports of anti-Semitism and exclusion of LGBT voices and we are working hard to address those and make sure there are voices at the rally that can speak to that,” said Jane Olsen, Director of the Women’s Center at SCSU. “We do not have our head in the sand.”
Olsen said these types of disagreements are part of the process for how groups evolve.
The rally included a speech by SCSU senior Carlee Staples that condemned “fake women’s health centers.” Staples said these centers exist throughout the United States and use state funding to mislead women based on the religious beliefs held by those that run these health centers.
“[They] are fake health care clinics that lie to, shame and intentionally mislead woman about their reproductive health care options to block young women from accessing abortion care,” said Staples.
Staples pointed out that one of these health centers is located in St. Cloud and has advertising throughout SCSU.
Anti-prostitution and anti-porn activist Rebecca Kotz also spoke at the rally, saying that sex traffickers force their victims into both of those illicit trades.
“All coerced sex, including sex coerced by inequality, survival, or financial struggle is sexual assault,” said Kotz, who works for the Central Minnesota Sexual Assault Center.
Natalie Ringsmuth, who recently won a school board member seat in St. Cloud and is the Director of UniteCloud, spoke about racism and privilege in St. Cloud.
Ringsmuth, who has been known to push back against radical elements in St. Cloud, said people should stop giving a platform to those who preach hate by describing a cartoon she once saw.
“There was a big valley and there was a big rock right above the valley. And on that rock there was a plank. And out on the plank, over the valley, was one person standing there. On the rock, also on the plank, was a huge group of people and the people on the rock were looking at each other and they were mad at this other person,” said Ringsmuth “they looked at each other and they were like ‘Wait a minute, if we just step off the plank that person’s voice goes down.'”
Ringsmuth said she’s seen community members do just that and organize ways to support each other.
This was the first year the Women’s March took place in St. Cloud. Prior years, people were sent to Washington D.C. and St. Paul.
There was a light police presence to block traffic during the march.
The event lasted from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.