Unless you’ve been living in an enclosed ecological system á la Biodome for the past month, then you are certainly aware of the unrest sweeping the nation. From the Native American protests taking place in North Dakota against an oil pipeline to the anger rising up from the displeasure about President-elect Trump, demonstrations have been ongoing both nationwide and here in Ventura County.
For most of the activists interviewed, uncertainty was the common thread linking their individual goals. Uncertainty about what might happen under a President Trump to equal rights progress made during President Barack Obama’s term for members of the LGBT communities, minorities, migrant farmworkers and undocumented immigrants. There is also a lot of concern for the environment, particularly in regard to climate change. For others, the issues reach beyond whoever the president may be, and instead fall on the shoulders of those who would seek change in the very basis of the way the United States conducts its politics.
PLAYING THE TRUMP CARD
“I got involved the day after we found out the result of the presidential election,” said Leslie Olivera, 19. “I was really moved by what I was seeing, on not just social media but hearing from my community as well.”
On television, protests erupted in Los Angeles, where, in the days following the election, hundreds of demonstrators were arrested. The same story played out in Portland, Oregon, broadcast live for the world to see.
Olivera is a student at Ventura College, where she says that, post-election, many of her friends were feeling disillusioned and angry. She and her peers Jocelyn Padilla, Martha Solano and Dahlia Zarate, all aged 19, organized a rally in support of those who could be affected in the coming years.
“It wasn’t really in an anti-Trump kind of way, because it’s way bigger than a single person,” said Olivera. “It was more about standing up against the ideals that he brought out in people. It’s 2016; we shouldn’t have to fight for equality still.”
On Friday, Nov. 11, Olivera and her friends marched to downtown Ventura along Main Street holding signs and shouting, “Donald Trump, go away, racist, sexist, anti-gay.” The group rallied at Plaza Park across from the post office before staging a demonstration on the steps of Ventura City Hall.
“He did a great job of exposing these and many other issues that minorities are constantly told don’t exist,” said Jocelyn Padilla. “We rallied in a wake of peace to show that we are not full of hate but, rather, fully aware of the injustices that take place, not only in our communities but on a global scale as well.”
On whether or not protesting will change much of anything in light of the fact that over half of registered voters did not vote on Nov. 8, Olivera said that in time, it will.
“The more the people become aware, the more there is a possibility to change things,” she said. “Right now, there’s not enough of us saying, ‘Hey, this isn’t OK.’ If enough of us say that, something is going to have to change because we are the greater.”
Elsewhere, other groups were staging decidedly anti-Trump protests.
On Friday, Nov. 18, the Oxnard chapter of Todo Poder al Pueblo organized a rally designated “United for Dignity,” which it said was held to protest the “fascist ideologies that brought Trump into presidency.” Students walked out of class at Pacifica High School on Thursday, Nov 10, in Oxnard, while many strolled out of Port Hueneme and Channel Islands High Schools on the same day. Students from California State University, Channel Islands, protested on campus in the days following the election, chanting “Love trumps hate.”
A PIPELINE FULL OF PROTEST
Cynthia Medina, 55, is a member of the Chumash Nation and has appeared at many rallies protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline. The pipeline, DAPL for short, is a controversial 1,172-mile-long underground oil pipeline project stretching from North Dakota to Illinois. Set for completion in January, the pipeline owners — Dakota Access LLC, based in Dallas, Texas, has run into a significant problem: Anti-pipeline protesters have set up camp and demonstrated for the better part of several months, disrupting the final phase of construction.
The activists most notably comprise Meskwaki and Sioux tribal nations, since the pipeline’s path would run parallel to sacred native lands. Activists say that due to the propensity for oil pipelines to leak, and the fact that the pipeline travels underneath the Mississippi River, the possibility of contamination is too high a risk to take. Since resistance to the pipeline’s construction began, what once was largely considered to be a regional dispute became a national and then an international one, with protesters and activists joining the cause from the world over.
“I can’t physically go over there and do anything, but from here I’m doing everything I can,” said Medina. These actions have included protesting at the Ventura County Government Center on Sunday, Nov. 20, and attending other protests when she learns of them.
Medina hopes that the nationwide protests will spark action by President Barack Obama prior to Donald Trump’s inauguration.
“Obama has already put three holds on this pipeline, and I know he has other people to deal with before he can actually sign off on getting it stopped,” said Medina. “We’re trying to get to him before he’s out, that he can maybe sign something to get this completely stopped. All of the people are in fear that if Trump takes over we’re doomed.”
Though Medina doesn’t organize rallies herself, she says that she joins in with others who do, as was the case on Friday, Nov. 18, when a group of students from Ventura High School walked out of class to march along Main Street in protest of what they called “hate speech.” Medina was one of several DAPL protesters who marched with the group, totaling around 50, who ultimately gathered at City Hall.
Just a few days after the election, several members of SURJ (Showing Up for Racial Justice), Ventura County Climate Hub and Move to Amend Ojai marched in Westlake Village with signs and a message: Stop the DAPL and prevent future attempts to install it and other pipelines across, not just this country, but the world.
The group had a different message for American private-security firm G4S, with headquarters in England, whom it alleges has provided private security for police during the DAPL protests, at a protest that took place in front of its Westlake Village branch.
Elle Stockton, organizer with Ventura County Activists for Bernie Sanders, has protested in front of the Ventura County Government Center for the better part of four months, since the beginning of the DAPL resistance. She says that what is happening in North Dakota is happening around the world — and here in Ventura County as well.
“As we all know, living in VC, oil pipelines break,” said Stockton, referring to the most recent incident in midtown Ventura where 30,000 gallons of oil spilled into a barranca near Grove Lane. “The pipelines themselves leak oil into the ground, and with that you have toxic cancer-causing chemicals.”
Stockton says that in support of the DAPL protesters, several caravans filled with supplies such as warm winter clothing, food and the like have driven from Ventura and L.A. counties to North Dakota. She also says that taking money out of banks that finance the pipeline is a way to make a difference locally.
Though DAPL is currently in the crosshairs, Stockton says her protest is globally centered.
“This is a classic example of what we are looking at today in this society, which is greed for oil over human life,” said Stockton.
FROM THE GROUND UP
Raul Lopez is an organizer with CAUSE, Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy. On Monday, Nov. 21, Lopez helped organize a meeting covering a debriefing of the election and preparation for an upcoming immigrants’ rights workshop.
“One of the biggest things people here in Oxnard are worried about is the immigration issue,” said Lopez. “Oxnard is full of immigrants, mostly ag workers, which are related to a lot of the first-generation people who live here; they’re a conduit of their families’ fears.”
A signature piece of Donald Trump’s campaign was the construction of a border wall. After the election, President-elect Trump said that at the top of his agenda would be the deportation of up to 3 million undocumented immigrants.
But Lopez is not currently organizing protests. Rather, with CAUSE, Lopez is hosting workshops designed to give immigrants knowledge of their rights should President Trump’s promises come to fruition.
His cousin Leo Martinez, owner and operator of TheLAB, a creative studio located in Ventura, is looking at a much bigger picture. Martinez once joined protesters and rallies around the county and elsewhere, but now makes an effort to bring separate groups together, “managing and delegating resources,” in hope that someday the effort will result in a drastically different political system.
“From CAUSE to organic farmers to the high schoolers who have to network, it’s really any and everyone who’s trying to make a positive change right now; and at the same time it has to be outside of the realm of the Democrat and Republican parties,” said Martinez. Martinez has assisted demonstrators and those in need by offering space at his studio for the creation of signage and such, something he says is important in taking on opponents with financial backers. “We’re not going to associate ourselves with some guy running. We’re saying, you’re part of the problem and you have your own resources.”
Martinez bucks against the notion that voters are apathetic. Rather, he points to anti-Trump rallies in Chicago , wherein a multitude of various peoples came together to protest, resulting in Trump cancelling his campaign appearance. The Trump campaign at the time said that the rally was canceled due to unsafe conditions in the city.
For now, Martinez says he’ll continue assisting demonstrators as best he can, backing demonstrations against issues ranging from police brutality to genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
“I think that whether we like to admit it or not, there’s no more pretendsies; we’ve seen that this year with the implosion of Democratic and Republican parties with the all-out propaganda machine that has come to light and a lot that hasn’t,” said Martinez. “No matter what you believe and which way you want to vote, things are going to get worse; they’re not going to get better any time soon.”