Patriots’ picnic: Make America Great Again march draws hundreds to Sacramento, offers surreal glimpse at Trump’s dwindling fan base
Peaceful event raises funds for veterans’ issues and car vandalism
Potholes and loose gravel constitute the narrow strip of road that leads to the VFW hall in Fair Oaks, where a scheduled press conference failed to bring out the press on Friday.
Perhaps it was the last-minute invitation, but SN&R was the only media outlet to attend the March 24 conference, held to promote a Make America Great Again march the following afternoon at McKinley Park in east Sacramento, where hundreds were expected to show their support for veterans, police, first responders and, most of all, the least-popular president in modern history.
But if Saturday’s march was inspired by Donald Trump, its organizers didn’t feel the need to follow the president’s example.
Avoiding the commander-in-chief’s penchant for “fake news” conspiracies, lead organizer Alicia Peterson and volunteer Ashleigh Ford didn’t lament the miniscule media turnout as proof of the industry’s liberal bias. Instead, the two women adapted the stagey proceedings into an informal chat, making the case for why they felt the need to organize one of 40 MAGA marches scheduled nationwide.
“This is the heart of our state,” Peterson reasoned. “If you’re going to use your voice, there’s no better place to do that.”
The fact that Trump and his supporters feel the need to organize less than three months into his term is remarkable in itself.
In his first 100 days, Trump has inspired the largest protests on record, his Muslim-focused travel bans have been blocked in federal court—twice—and his signature campaign promise to repeal the Affordable Care Act fizzled last week after the Republican-led Congress snubbed his endorsed replacement.
In short, it’s been an inauspicious start, one that’s put Trump’s supporters in a counterintuitive bind: Their man won, but owns a dismal 36 percent approval rating, according to Gallup, the lowest for any first-term president since at least 1953.
Sacramento’s MAGA event was organized, in part, to course-correct the narrative. More than 500 people were expected to march the route between McKinley Park and Sutter’s Fort, while social media channels buzzed with uncorroborated rumors of counterdemonstrations and neo-Nazi sightings. What followed was a peaceful, if slightly discordant, gathering of people who weren’t always on the same page when it comes to the 45th president of these United States.
Motivated by the frustrations she faced as a mom unable to make the trek to a pro-Trump rally in Southern California, Peterson set to organizing the event two months ago with the help of Ford.
For Peterson, her concern for returning veterans is what motivated her organizing.
“That’s one thing that made me really vote for Trump: he promised that veterans would not be forgotten,” Peterson said.
Detailing the event, Peterson and Ford promised an assortment of speakers, from veterans to political hopefuls.
That mix sometimes divided Trump’s supporters.
One scheduled speaker, Nicole Stallard, caused some of the more conservative MAGA groups to drop their support of the Sacramento event. Stallard is the head of the San Jose chapter of the Pink Pistols, a gun-rights and LGBTQ advocacy group; Stallard is also transgender.
Ford defended Stallard’s inclusion in the march. “We don’t welcome anyone that’s going to have an issue with anybody, you have to be open-minded,” Ford asserted. “This is not about party, this is about coming together without prejudice.”
The Sacramento Rainbow Chamber of Commerce, meanwhile, is one of many LGBTQ rights groups that have criticized the Trump administration over its stances, including its rollback of federal guidelines that allowed transgender students to use the restrooms of their choice.
That schism between Trump’s actions and the more tolerant philosophies of some of his supporters isn’t new. Peterson, for instance, said she was bringing her 80-year-old grandmother, who marched for civil rights decades ago. “She personally walked with Martin Luther King in the ’60s because she believes that everybody has equal rights as an American,” Peterson said.
But would the pure intentions of the organizers be eclipsed by opposing sides antagonizing one another?
The MAGA march was originally set to take place at the Capitol building, but the permit was revoked amid concerns over what happened the last time Trump supporters and protesters clashed at that location.
On June 26, 2016, 10 people were injured, including seven who suffered stab wounds, when demonstrators confronted skinheads and neo-Nazis who were attending a rally for the Traditionalist Worker Party, a white nationalist group that supported Trump.
The vibe on March 25 was vastly calmer.
The noontime scene at McKinley Park, the staging area, resembled a Fourth of July picnic. People displayed and wore American flags, sung patriotic songs and chowed down on scores of hot dogs. There was also a man dressed in a knight’s full armor, and another with a shield, as if they had wandered into a LARPing adventure.
Two women wearing the knitted, pink “pussy hats” associated with the massive women’s marches stood about a hundred feet away, watching.
“We offered them hot dogs and to join us,” Ford said, pointing them out. While the mystery-meat olive branches weren’t accepted, Ford seemed unfazed. “We believe it’s their right to stand there and it’s our right to be here, too,” Ford said, looking away.
Neighbors stepped out of their large houses to take in the spectacle.
“Usually people are just here for fun, not to make a statement,” said Dan Gregory, an east Sac resident out walking his dog. “And this is quite a statement.”
After some songs, the crowd of approximately 300 marchers, mostly families and older folks, convened by the walkway on 33rd Street and applauded the roar of the approaching motorcycles of the 2 Million Bikers group readying to escort the marchers on their brisk walk.
Only a handful of people opposed them. A young man on a skateboard yelled “Fuck Trump”; another flipped off the crowd as they marched back toward the park. There were no heated confrontations like sister MAGA marches in Center City, Penn., where the event was shut down by antifascist protestors, or Huntington Beach, where Trump supporters beat a protester.
Once back at the park, the speeches began—and they illustrated the somewhat divided state of Trump’s union.
A few of the brief talks were concerned with Senate Bill 18’s potential impact on gun rights. SB 18 is a piece of legislation from Democratic Sen. Richard Pan and is informally called the “Children’s Bill of Rights.” The correlation is unclear other than guns are dangerous and this piece of legislation is meant to keep children out of harm.
Jennifer Lynn gave the most sobering speech of the afternoon. She spoke of the struggles facing female veterans in and out of the military; from being more likely to become homeless than their male counterparts, to sexual assault being on the rise.
“And these women are forced to face their perpetrator on a daily basis,” Lynn said as she highlighted the need for an outlet for them to report without retaliation.
As the speeches continued, a moment of concern eventually did present itself.
A man introducing himself as Dan approached the podium to announce that two people had their tires slashed. “They’ve been arrested already,” he claimed of the culprits. “So let’s give a big thank you to the Sacramento PD.”
Police confirmed the arrests to SN&R.
Ford said that $600 was collected to replace the tires.
Later, Andrew Blanch, who is running for governor of California as an Independent, delivered a confused speech. A visibly nervous Blanch greeted the crowd first by saying, “Hello, San Diego,” mistakenly referred to ICE as “ISIS” and, before wrapping up, said “God bless Texas. I mean, California.”
While Blanch would most certainly benefit from a GPS, he may also want to review his business cards, which state that he is running for governor on the 2019 ticket, when, in fact, the race is in 2018.
Kyle “Based Stickman” Chapman, who was arrested after allegedly taking part in a March 4 melee during a pro-Trump gathering in Berkeley, spoke of “not taking shit from these people anymore.” Announcing another rally occurring April 15 in Berkeley, the 41-year-old, who was arrested on charges of felony assault with a deadly weapon, assured the crowd that the purpose was to “peacefully assemble.”
State Assemblyman Travis Allen followed with a speech that consisted mostly of the Huntington Beach Republican repeating his own name.
But perhaps the most surreal moment was when an elderly man who didn’t identify himself walked up to the podium. Pointing to his wife seated a great distance from the crowd, the man informed them that “she thinks everyone hates her because she’s a Muslim.”
“I’ll tell you something, I don’t care too much for Muslim stuff,” he revealed to the dwindling audience. “They’re backbiting people. … I’ve had Muslims tell me, ’You can’t trust a Muslim.’”
“We all prefer our own tribe,” he continued.
At this point, his middle-aged daughter, who had been holding onto him, told him, “We have to stop,” and led him away.
It was 3:57 p.m. The event was slated to end at 4 p.m.
“Not sure who that guy was, he wasn’t on the speakers list,” Peterson said shortly after the event wrapped up. “We were not feeling it either.”
In all, two truckloads of tangible items—such as clothes, blankets and toiletries—were collected for veterans and donated to Sacramento’s Stand Down organization.