Oct. 3, 2020: As another heat wave rolls through the Central Coast, along with the smoke from deadly wildfires raging throughout California, tensions between Santa Maria Trump supporters and counter demonstrators reached a boiling point.
While live streaming the demonstration and counter protest at the Crossroads Shopping Center in my hometown, I approached and interviewed people on both sides of the late morning event. Some were hostile, others spoke to me with no problem, but it was when the two groups interacted that things truly got ugly.
When asked, Trump supporters said Joe Biden has dementia and isn’t fit to lead, with one yelling “fake news!” at me through a bullhorn and calling Biden “pedo Joe.” Some said they were voting for Trump to “save the Constitution” or to “save the Republic.” Others said they were praying for President Donald Trump after he tested positive for COVID-19 earlier in the week.
While counter protestors were cagey about speaking with a journalist, one did share experiences of having slurs shouted at him in nearby Orcutt ever since Trump was elected. He wished people could “come together,” but recognized that wasn’t very likely in the country’s current state. To the valley’s indigenous and undocumented population, Trump’s election has come to mean something completely different than what is enjoyed by Trump supporters, especially considering how they already live under the shadow of an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facility in town.
The less than a dozen counter protestors held Mexican flags and signs that said things like “Trump is a puto” and yelled through a bullhorn of their own on the corner of Betteravia and Bradley. Later, as they marched through the dozens of Trump supporters chanting, one counter protestor was shoved by a younger man holding a “President Trump 2020” sign. Seconds later, the counter protestor approached him again and dodged a massive punch from the Trump supporter. The two squared off but didn’t land any blows as people on either side created a barrier between each man.
The Santa Maria Police Department arrived on the scene moments later and separated the groups, asking the counter protestors to give the other their space. Counter demonstrators argued with officers, asking “Why are you only telling us?” Within 20 minutes of the police presence, the Trump side of the rally began to disburse and return to their cars while counter protestors stayed posted on the roadside flying Mexican flags, a Black Lives Matter flag, a flag with the Earth depicted on it, and chanting “Fuck Donald Trump! Fuck 45!”
The event marks an escalation of tensions in the Santa Maria Valley, which has a massive agricultural economy and a majority Latino population, with many indigenous residents including farmworkers. Long considered a conservative town, the city has grown over the decades and has seen recent progressive representation on the City Council and large Black Lives Matter demonstrations downtown following the killing of George Floyd.
The pro Trump demonstrations near Betteravia are nothing new either. There were anti-lockdown protests before the Black Lives Matter resurgence across the U.S. I had never seen counter demonstrators and pro Trump people interact like this in town before, but why would Santa Maria be any different than the rest of the country?
The very same day, in Duluth, Texas, a Trump supporter savagely punched an anti-Trump protestor in the face. Two days before that, also in Duluth, a Trump supporter assaulted a journalist. And of course, weeks ago Trump supporters and Black Lives Matter activists had deadly clashes in Kenosha, Wisconsin and Portland, Oregon.
Political tensions across the country continue to escalate, with a clear example here in Santa Maria. I for one hope that the worst has passed both nationally and in my hometown, though sadly I think it’s unlikely. From small towns to growing cities like this one to larger metropolitan areas, people are becoming increasingly radicalized and more likely to take to the streets and answer the opposing side with violence.
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