RIVER FALLS, Wis. -- Haylee Spindler graduated from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls in 2018 with a degree in social work. She still couldn’t sleep a week after George Floyd died, so she decided to do something.

“I honestly couldn't help myself,” she said. “I felt like I needed to do something and I want to stand with black Americans and do the best that I can to advocate for them, because what’s going on with systemic racism is insane and terrible.”

So she put out a plea on social media for people to join her at a peace rally Thursday night in River Falls’ Veterans Park.

“Join us for a peaceful protest to stand with solidarity with Minneapolis and the Black Lives Matter movement,” the post read.

And people responded. By 7 p.m. Thursday more than 100 people were in the park, carrying signs, chanting George Floyd’s name and eliciting honks of support from motorists passing on Main Street.

"It’s wonderful to get the support,” Spindler said. “I wish they would join us, but I understand if they have things to get to.”

Hudson attorney Sarah Yacoub, who is running for Wisconsin's 30th Assembly District as a Democrat, saw Spindler’s post and said it was an opportunity to get together and fight for justice.

“It’s the heartache,” she said. “Everyone is just heartbroken and we want to feel like we’re doing something. So if we can use our voices to be inconvenient for racists and force the conversation and force some change, I’m happy to be a part of it.”

Spindler said she felt it was important for small towns to stand in solidarity with the people of Minneapolis.

“I personally grew up in an even smaller town Durand, Wis.,” she said. “And I experienced a lot of ignorance there. And as a social work major, I find that it’s important to advocate for oppressed communities, and this is just one way we can do it. I strongly believe that no voice goes unheard, and that the community can do anything if they set their mind to it.”

A young girl holds up a “Justice for George” sign at a rally in Veterans Park Thursday Thursday, June 4. Photo courtesy of Sarah Yacoub
A young girl holds up a “Justice for George” sign at a rally in Veterans Park Thursday Thursday, June 4. Photo courtesy of Sarah Yacoub

Yacoub said it was refreshing to see so many community members gather for a peaceful rally in the name of justice.

“What happened to George Floyd can happen anywhere, and it precipitated some very hard but much-needed conversations that we’re just not having,” she said. “And they’re not fun, but we need to have them.”

She said there is a long history of racism in this country, but feels that the nationwide reaction to Floyd’s death might finally spur some real change.

“The whole world is paying attention now,” she said. “We watched a man die in real time. Any child with a smartphone and social media watched somebody die, and that’s traumatic. ... We have very real problems that we need to take on or they’re going to destroy us.

Spindler said she intends to organize more rallies to keep the conversation going.

“I’m going to try and do it as much as I can,” she said. “So I’m hoping that we can continue to have these protests peacefully, and make a change.”