An Ely march for solidarity

Black Lives Matter demonstration draws about 250 participants

by Tom Coombe
Ely’s Peaceful March in Solidarity lived up to its title.
About 250 people filled the sidewalks on several blocks and marched from Central Avenue to Whiteside Park Saturday afternoon.
The peaceful gathering was led and organized by Ian Lah, a 2012 Ely High School graduate who recently returned to his hometown.
Lah said Wednesday he felt called to do something here to support the Black Lives Matter movement and was overwhelmed by the results.
“I just figured there’d be like 30 people, maybe 50 people, but people kept showing up,” said Lah. “I was at the park and I turned around and saw so many people I thought ‘wow, that’s a lot of people.’ I was so proud to see my community, my family, my friends show up and be able to voice their opinions and thoughts and use the march to show solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement and all the marches happening.”
The Ely event came on the heels of similar demonstrations and marches across the United States following the death of George Floyd, a Minneapolis man who was killed while in police custody in late-May.
Floyd’s death, which led to murder charges against one officer and aiding and abetting charges against three others, fueled protests, demonstrations and riots in several cities, including Minneapolis and St. Paul.
But in Ely, there was no violence nor little visible angst during the roughly hourlong event.
“There was no trouble,” said Lah. “It was nice to see everybody so peaceful.”
Led by Lah, who carried a wreath that was placed at the city park’s “peace pole,” a mixture of young and old, Ely area residents and visitors marched for several blocks, chanting “Black Lives Matter,” “George Floyd” and “No Justice, No Peace.”
Similar chants continued at the park, where Lah also addressed the audience and later led an eight minute, 46 second moment of silence. Most of the large group kneeled in memory of Floyd for the same length of time that the accused assailant - now-fired officer Derek Chauvin - placed his knee on top of the handcuffed victim’s neck.
A bystander captured that incident on video and it has led to more than two weeks of civil unrest, and calls for police reform both in Minneapolis and across the nation.
Lah watched the protests and on short notice, the event was planned and completed in a matter of three days, put together Saturday’s gathering in Ely.
“When I thought it up, my heart has been with these people in these marches,” said Lah. “Being an openly gay man I have faced my hardships, and having lived all around the world, I have seen how people are treated in all sorts of horrible ways. Here I am a gay man, a white man with all this privilege. If I’m not using this to lift up and defend the lives of people of color, I have it easy in the world. I should be on the front lines with these people”
Lah said he was engaged with discussions in friends and “basically came to the conclusion that I needed to do this.”
A plan to march up Sheridan Street was altered after discussions with Ely Police Chief Chad Houde, and the Ely department was joined by county deputies to ensure safety.
“I’m so grateful for Chad Houde and his officers,” said Lah. “When I met with him, he said they wouldn’t be there, but would just be around for safety. They were just going to be a presence that was seen and not heard and how they showed up was so amazing. That really helped with the environment.”
Lah, who works as an actor and artist, said the event “left me very inspired and hopeful that it could inspire conversation and dialogues in this community.”
“I’ve never experienced something like this in Ely,” he said. “I’m a firm believer that Ely is a great place to live. I feel especially in this modern age it could be a hub of culture and diversity where all humans can find solace and inspiration.”