President Donald Trump’s visit to Bakersfield Wednesday, Feb. 19 brought both supporters as well as protestors out into the streets.
In the morning, protestors and local political candidates gathered beneath the Cesar Chavez mural at 18th and L Streets downtown. There, they prepared signs and made plans to gather on the north side of Meadows Field Airport when Air Force One touched down.
Carlos Ramos, a community activist who helped organize the protest, said it was as much about setting an example for others to get more involved in the political process as about opposing the Trump administration. Ramos believes the most relevant deciding factor in Trump’s 2016 victory was not the number of people who voted for him, but the number of people who did not vote at all.
Indeed, Ramos’ belief is borne out by the numbers. During the 2016 presidential election, there were about 229 million people over the age of 18 living in the United States according to U.S. Census data, but only about 129 million votes cast in the presidential race for both major party candidates combined. This amounts to slightly more than half of the qualified electorate actually participating.
The trend holds in Kern County as well. According to elections division figures, there are 395,643 registered voters living in Kern County. However, 2016 election night numbers compiled by Politico show only 217,725 votes were cast for president in Kern County for all candidates combined. Again, this indicates that about half the people who could be voting aren’t.
Ramos hopes that staging a visible, public protest will motivate others to take a more active interest in government.
“We’re out here to show them that you have to be an active participant in this process,” Ramos said.
The protest was not without issues. In the hours following the president’s visit, several videos circulated on social media depicting confrontations between pro-Trump and anti-Trump demonstrators. The Bakersfield Police Department is not aware of any arrests directly related to the protest activities.
While the protestors remained on the north side of the airport, the atmosphere at the south end was ebullient, if slightly wary. Trump supporters and people simply there to watch shaded their eyes and recorded on phones as Air Force One landed. Some perched on top of their hastily parked vehicles to get a better view. Many waved American flags.
“He’s right there! He’s right there!” a young woman in a red cap sang out, watching Air Force One on the tarmac, an American flag waving against her shoulder.
Tanya Bowling, an employee at the Shell gas station located at Airport and Norris Roads, said people began gathering two to three hours prior to the president’s arrival, but the day remained business as usual.
“Everyone right here stayed pretty calm,” Bowling said.
President Trump was in Bakersfield on Wednesday to talk about water issues in the Central Valley and sign an agreement that will transfer more water from sources in Northern California to farmers in the valley.