Neither threats or the heat could stop the protest for Black Lives Matter/George Floyd memorial in Waseca.
Ky Kehler, of Waseca, organized the peaceful protest in front of the Waseca County Courthouse on Tuesday, June 2. Kehler made a post on Facebook to spread the word of the peaceful gathering and she worked with the local law enforcement for the event.
The protest in Waseca of around 100 people was sparked by the other protests in Minneapolis that were started after the death of Floyd, who died while in custody of Minneapolis police on May 25.
“We’re not here for destruction, we’re here for a peaceful protest that all lives matter,” attendee David Brooks said. “I heard people say, ‘Let it go and that didn’t happen here.’ That’s (letting it go) when change stops and this is where change happens. We shouldn’t live in a society where what doesn’t happen in our society does not affect us. Your voice can be heard without violence. When we stop loving people for the color of their skin or where they came from, in 2020, it says a lot about America. We are all created equal in the eyes of God. Silence is not always golden. ... I come from a criminal and addiction background but through grace I found a new way of life, happiness and freedom.”
Organizing the peaceful protest
Kehler made a Facebook post to bring the Waseca community together to peacefully protest for Black Lives Matter and in memory of Floyd.
“I am part of the LGBT community and the person who started the riots at Stonewall was a black woman who was Marsha P. Johnson,” Kehler said. “And so I feel like I owe the black community my support because they gave me their support. Marsha P. Johnson is a godsend.”
When Kehler made the post she started to receive comments from other citizens saying they would exercise their second amendment right if Kehler went through with the protest.
“There have been community members who are threatening to use their second amendment rights and saying that this (protesting) is not necessary,” Kehler said. “And so I reported all the comments so they are deleted. I did fear coming here today. When I first came here I was by myself at the table and there were people driving by with their middle fingers up and revving their engines while I was the only one here and that was terrifying. I can only imagine if I was a person of color.”
Kehler contacted the police about the comments and feels they are taking the threats seriously. She also informed them of the protest and they were supportive. The local police department helped direct traffic when the protest moved to Trowbridge Park as well as blocking off a side street and putting cones in the front to keep cars away from the protesters.
People from all around the Waseca community and surrounding communities came out to the courthouse to show their support.
“As a white person, I never had to experience that (fear of police) and so I want to use my white privilege to give people of color a voice and give them a platform so they can speak,” Kehler continued.
Why people came out to the peaceful protest
The front lawn and sidewalk of the courthouse was filled with people voicing their anger for the injustice that has happened to Floyd and other African Americans killed by police.
One protester, Mario Jones, spoke out about his own experience with police brutality and support for those who came out to the protest.
“It takes a lot of (guts) to be out here,” Jones said. “There are a lot of ignorant people out here trying to stop you. I commend you kids doing this the right way. There are going to be a lot of ignorant people who try to stop you, but you are the future.”
He went on to say that the officers, both the police and sheriffs department are great in Waseca and he commends them for their job as well.
The crowd was filled with kids, parents, grandparents, students, young adults and many others from the community and surrounding area who all came together to share their distaste for the injustice that has happened for so many African Americans killed by police, most recently Floyd.
“I’m here to finally create change because we need to educate,” attendee Angie Noble said. “We have a lot of ignorant people. We had people who didn’t even want us to come out and protest today. Our kids were scared to come out here. It’s being discouraged and we need to create change because it just keeps happening. You heard lists and lists of black men and women dying when they go to get Skittles, going jogging, getting groceries, getting pulled over illegally, it’s where it’s justice for all and that’s why we’re here because Dawn (Nelson) and I are damn sick of it.”
Both Noble and attendee Dawn Nelson said they need to keep protesting to bring the change that is needed. They are both parents and they are having to coach their kids to not put their hoods up and to be extra respectful of the police when they interact and they are tired of that mentality.
“We have to teach our kids here in Waseca about black culture and black history and we have to educate our police officers, too,” Noble said. “I’m not going to stay silent, for my kids. I will not stay silent.”
Waseca is a small community but there is still a need to educate and to bring awareness and that was the goal of the protest that took place in front of the courthouse.
“My platform is when I pray I ask God to break my heart for what breaks His,” Nelson said “This breaks His heart, injustice. He makes a billion different colors in the world and He can’t make different skin colors? It makes zero sense. No one should be suffering for that.”
The protest remained peaceful in front of the courthouse with most passerbys honking or holding a fist up in support as they went by. The crowd yelled several chants throughout the protest as well; “What’s his name? George Floyd. Who’d they kill? George Floyd. Say his name. George Floyd.”
Another chant that was repeated several times was; “One down three to go.” This was in reference to only former officer Derek Chauvin being arrested and the other three who were on scene during the death of Floyd who have not been arrested.
The other main chant that could be heard was; “No cops, No KKK, No fascist USA.” The crowd also sang part of the Twisted Sister song, “We’re Not Going to Take it.”
“I want people to realize that even in our small community there is racism that is still prevalent that people of color face everyday and children of color face everyday,” Kehler said.
Sharing personal experiences of racism
When the protest moved to Trowbridge Park Kehler had people speak on their experiences of racism to bring to light what is happening in the small community of Waseca and all around the world.
One attendee said she would whitewash herself as a kid by straightening her naturally curly hair because people would say it looked like a rats nest.
Another attendee who is a young adult shared that when he was in the seventh grade he had other kids ask for the N-word pass from him. He went on to say that this is ridiculous and needs to stop. He doesn’t want to worry about his life being on the line when he gets pulled over.
When speaking out people were able to share whatever unique experience they have had and one man shared his experience of being a part of other protests in Minneapolis as well as his own experience with racism.
“I’m here today and I want to speak out because I think it’s important for people to get awareness raised to get people to realize and know what’s really going on and share things from my perspective because there’s not a lot of people out here that do that,” the man said. “I just want to be able to give the people who want to understand a chance to understand us so we can move forward and make a change together.
“Everywhere protests are very powerful and very beautiful and there’s all types of people from all walks of life coming together and the difference here (Waseca) is the respect of the police. We were being moved in on and aggressed on, the police were being aggressive toward us when we were being peaceful (in Minneapolis).
“Waseca allowed us to do it in a positive and safe way and didn’t take anything away from it and were not talking about any other issues surrounding the true issues that need to be talked about and that’s just racism and social injustice in the United States. ... I just want to make it very clear for the people who haven’t been there (Minneapolis) that protesters and the rioters are not the same people. I just felt like it (protest in Waseca) was really powerful and really positive and I just hope that it doesn’t stop here and it keeps going and the crowds get bigger and it’s done the right way and people feel safe and police feel safe.”
After several people shared their stories the group moved back to the courthouse to keep protesting.
“Silence is just not an option any more,” Nelson said.
Waseca Junior Senior High School launched its virtual graduation on Sunday, May 31 at 1:30 p.m. followed by a parade around the school.
The pre-recorded graduation ceremony is available to view on the Waseca Public Schools Facebook page or website.
This unique graduation ceremony was put in place due to COVID-19 concerns that kept the school from hosting an in-person ceremony and the regulations given by the Minnesota Department of Education.
“I think I speak for us all when I say this is not how I imagined graduation or senior year to end,” class speaker Augusta Boyer said in the video. “So I’m just going to come out and say, ‘this sucks and it’s not fair.’ Each of us is entitled to every emotion we’re feeling. Having everything ripped away with no explanation is a horrible thing to have to experience, trust me I know. ...
“I was once told that if we didn’t experience the bad times we wouldn’t know the good times when they came around. Right now, it feels more like one of those bad times and for some of us all of high school was one of those bad times. Life isn’t always easy for everyone. This I have come to recognize, but I know that each of us will be headed to new opportunities and better things after this. We are on our way to one of those good times.”
The seniors missed out on countless experiences they were looking forward to and one of the biggest milestones of their life so far; high school graduation. When holding the ceremony was no longer feasible in-person, the school administration and staff put together the pre-recorded video and the senior parade around the school.
The senior class of 2020 lined the sidewalks of the WJSHS on the day of graduation for a parade of vehicles to congratulate them. WJSHS staff, graduates, friends and family all came together to celebrate the graduates with cheering and waving at the graduates as well as having their vehicles decked out.
In the days prior to the parade each senior walked the stage in the Performing Arts Center to receive their diploma. These clips were put together for a video to watch online.
In the video each senior is recognized before the speeches began and they walked the stage.
Senior class president Rachel Breck welcomed everyone watching the video and introduced the first class speaker.
“Many of us have lived in Waseca our entire lives and began this journey together back in pre-K,” Breck said in the video. “Thirteen years later here we are. Up until now we have been a team walking as one and today is the day we all part 115 different directions onto our own unique paths. The memories we have made together as a class will last a lifetime.”
The Waseca High School class of 2020 will be able to keep close knowing they share the memories and hardships of missing out on important events their senior year. The class will always remember what it was like to graduate during a pandemic.
“I remember five years ago sitting in the gym watching my brother and sisters’ graduation,” class speaker Jacob Butterfield said in the video. “I was extremely bored and started imagining what it would be like to walk into the gym with my own classmates in 2020. I also remember fantasizing about all the great moments and friendships ahead of our class. Championships we would win and who would be crowned king and queen of our class. All these wonderful memories we would create together, however today I stand in the PAC, something I never imagined to be built. No one could have predicted a pandemic cutting our senior year short along with all of the memories we have missed out on.”
The class came together when they lost one of their classmates the summer before junior year of high school.
Jonathan Mortensen, Johnny, died but he was honored at the graduation ceremony.
Set up on the stage where the seniors walked to get their diplomas was a flower display with Johnny’s picture sitting by it so every classmate of his could pass by him as they exited the stage.
“Yet today I stand in an empty room to remind our class of the highs and sadly the lows that we’ve experienced together,” Butterfield continued. “I want to start off by remembering one of our classmates, Jonathan Mortensen, by whom many of us knew simply as Johnny. Johnny tragically passed away in the summer before our junior year and will remain missed by our class and the Waseca community. Johnny always knew how to make everyone around him smile and laugh. I believe that Johnny has showed our class the importance of acceptance and how to make the best of our circumstances. (moment of silence) I implore you to not look back on our senior year at what could have been but what was. Remember the great friendships, the midnight shenanigans and most importantly the mistakes we’ve made along the way. Either good or bad these lessons we have learned have shaped the men and women we are today.”
WJSHS Principal Jeanne Swanson also spoke during the graduation about the hardships and experiences the graduates have had in the past few months.
There are 112 graduates of Waseca and the class of 2020 has three students who are joining the military. Swanson recognized them for their service they will be giving. She also thanked those who made graduation possible before sharing some of the experiences the class had and advice for them going forward.
Swanson will be retiring at the end of June.
“Today we are joined to honor the class of 2020” Swanson said in the video. “This class understands better than any other that life is a journey that brings both challenges and opportunities. You chose your class motto ‘class of 2020 a glimpse of the future’ who knew what glimpse 2020 would bring to the class that was born in the year of 9/11. The class who experienced a threat to our school, the class who experienced several days off from a rainstorm and a flud, the class who experienced the loss of your classmate Jonathan Mortensen, who we honor today with a rose and his photo next to us and then end your high school experience with a pandemic. What we do know about you as a class of 2020 is these experiences will drive you to become your best selves as you choose where you will serve society.
“My advice to the class of 2020 is to create a vision of your own future, identify and live out your values, in these dark times. Remember that whenever the struggle is ragging most fiercely words are being spoken most loudly and the work is engaging most fiercely we must remember that everything that is loud and is insistent will eventually become quiet. Better days are definitely ahead, you can always begin again and we trust you, the class of 2020 will be essential in bringing that brighter future. Thank you for making Waseca High School a better place. Make whatever contribution you can to leave the world a better place than when you found it.
The speakers for the class of 2020 focused on how unique their graduation and senior year was. They spoke on what they missed out on and how the class is strong and will overcome these hardships.
Class speaker and valedictorian Blake Wendland spoke on how to use these experiences to grow in the future.
“This year may be remembered as the strangest graduation/senior year ever,” Wendland said in the video. “But I want to be clear about something upfront. We have all missed some incredible experiences from our senior year, all the precious lasts. However, I will not use this speech to say all that we may have had or say there are better times ahead, as I guarantee most of you have heard those things so many times that once more will make your head explode.
“Instead I just hope to share a different perspective of our precarious situation. It is a very difficult time to graduate high school right now. We have missed events that we have been anticipating since elementary school and maybe worse our wounds are constantly reopened by the sympathy of well meaning family and friends or a notification from our once busy calendars. However, this moment in our lives is not a sad one. Right now this is the doorway into the rest of our lives. No doubt the world needs some time to rebuild, but here we come, the class of 2020 to build our own future. Our class motto is ‘class of 2020 a glimpse of the future,’ this is not because 2020 will be indicative of the future. This year has been off to a rough start no one can deny, but tough times bring out tough people. We are the tough people my friends. ... We, the class of 2020 have been given the golden opportunity to kick adversity right in the chin.”
Waseca City Council discusses outdoor dining options and pro-rating liquor licenses.
COVID-19 has kept restaurants to take-out only and bars completely closed until June 1. Now these businesses are allowed to open for outdoor dining at the establishments but not all have the space to put patrons.
The councilors met virtually to discuss suspending certain zoning ordinances to allow for sidewalks, blocked streets and parking lots to be used for outdoor dining space.
City Manager Lee Mattson brought the resolution for outdoor dining to the council so restaurants and bars would be able to add outdoor seating and the consumption of food and beverage properly and safely.
Mayor Roy Srp responded to the resolution by saying that the city council wants to do anything it can to make it easier for establishments to operate in Waseca.
Councilors unanimously passed a resolution to suspend some zoning ordinances in town for outdoor dining. The councilors also voted to allow city-owned picnic tables to be used by restaurants and bars and to allow Katie O’Leary’s to use a city-owned parking lot to expand outdoor dining.
Businesses who receive temporary use of picnic tables or use city parking lots will need to sign an indemnification agreement to protect the city from liability that could arise. With the councilors’ vote Mattson will also be empowered to close roads, sidewalks, parking lots and limit access to public spaces that may be used by businesses.
If the decision made is unfavorable by the business owner they are still able to go to the council.
The Waseca Area Chamber of Commerce has been working with connecting the businesses and the city to help plan for outdoor dining.
“The city and the chamber have been brainstorming for weeks about how we could make outdoor service work for as many restaurants and bars as possible,” Waseca Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Ann Fitch said. “The city staff understands how hard this entire situation is for our business community and want to be a lifeline rather than an anchor for them.”
Minnesota Governor Tim Walz recently issued a new executive order that allows bars and restaurants to open outdoor dining that started on June 1.
“Our businesses are ready to open safely and get back to serving their customers,” Fitch said. “The suspension of a few zoning laws and other considerations are going to help them do that. I ask that everyone be patient with this new phase. Over the next week or so, businesses will find out what works for them and what doesn’t. They will probably be tweaking things along the way. Check out your favorite business’s social media for timely updates or give them a call.”
In the city council packet, it read that this resolution for outdoor dining will require a permit application that would be approved by the city staff. Businesses will be required to have a COVID-19 preparedness plan and will receive a copy of the template included in the packet to assist them in developing their plan.
Those businesses wanting to use outdoor dining, on sidewalks, parking lots or blocked off streets will need to put up barriers or fences in areas to keep customers safe from traffic and are required by state law.
Restaurants and bars are finally able to serve customers at the establishments but liquor license fees were still being charged for on-sale and Sunday fees while closed.
City of Waseca Finance Director Alicia Fischer was present on the Zoom meeting to discuss liquor licence refunds for restaurants and bars.
“So we have presented in front of you an option to be able to prorate liquor licenses for businesses and bars and hospitality businesses that have been closed due to COVID-19 and executive orders,” Fischer said.
The council passed the liquor license prorate unanimously. Eligible businesses will get an on-sale and Sunday fee prorate for April and May 2020. June is not included since these businesses can open for outdoor dining. Off-sale was not included because that was still allowed during take-out only.
It will cost the city just over $2,600 for each month refunded based on sales of liquor fees that were charged with Sunday fees.
Gym owner speaks out
Before the council discussed the outdoor dining, two people spoke out during the public forum section about the need for gyms being allowed to open.
Andrea Burger, owner of Anytime Fitness in Waseca, asked the council to consider overstepping the governor’s executive order to allow the gym to open now.
“Our members count on our services for chronic pain, to boost mood, curb anxiety, boost self esteem. ... A majority of our members join for health reasons,” Burger said. “It’s a sense of belonging and routine. We’re hearing from a lot of them that walking works but they’re losing progress. It’s truly affecting the members and their well-being and it’s infringing on their rights to keep their immune system strong.”
She went on to say that the gym rarely has more than 10 people in it at a time and that additional hand sanitizers have been added as well as closing the showers for sanitary reasons.
Julie Green, a member at Anytime Fitness, also spoke out during the meeting from the perspective of a member.
“I support Andrea,” Green said. “I actually work in Waseca and a number of years ago I finally decided to work on myself. What I did, I took my lunch hours every day for the last four years, minus the quarantine, every day to burn off energy. Having the freedom to go to the gym taken away is really hard because just from a stress level, I have a stressful job and being able to burn off that energy in the middle of the day and be able to go back to work with a clear and healthy mind is nice.”
The council listened to what they had to say but Mattson stated that the city doesn’t have the authority to go over the executive order unless a court rules it inadequate.