Cambrian: Opinion

Protests in Cambria: Reaction to Trump or something more?

Lynn Barnard of Cambria holds a sign that reads “Don’t Panic, Organize” as organizers gather Saturday morning at the Cambria Veterans Memorial Building before the Women’s March on Jan. 21.
Lynn Barnard of Cambria holds a sign that reads “Don’t Panic, Organize” as organizers gather Saturday morning at the Cambria Veterans Memorial Building before the Women’s March on Jan. 21.

When people talk about marching in Cambria, they’re typically talking about the bands that make their way down Main Street in the Pinedorado Parade.

The town has seen a few political marches before, but nothing like this year: In the space of just a few months, it’s witnessed back-to-back-to-back protests focusing on women’s rights, science and the firing of FBI Director James Comey.

What’s going on here? Has the advent of the Trump administration given rise to the situation all on its own, or is there a change of attitude in Cambria as a whole? Perhaps the protest march is a passing fad, but maybe the times they are a-changin’.

This year’s protests aren’t the first Cambria has seen. In March 2003, area farmers brought their farm equipment to town and filled up the dog park area, Shirley Bianchi remembered, “then marched and drove through town to a CCSD meeting at the Vets Hall.”

At issue was a desire by the Cambria Community Services District to have the final say on groundwater basins and watersheds from Villa Creek, south of Harmony, northward to Hearst Ranch. The marchers succeeded in getting the CCSD to back down, Bianchi said.

“The ag people stood in the back of the hall, 10-gallon hats and pointy boots, and chewing tobacco — or gum,” Bianchi said. “An impressive display, to say the least.”

Amanda Rice, current president of the CCSD board, remembered a movement tied to the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations in New York and elsewhere, in which a group of 10 to 30 people walked from the Veterans Memorial Building to Bank of America, then back, the second Saturday of every month for about three years.

“I really enjoyed those Saturday mornings,” said Rice, who also participated in this year’s Women’s March. “We talked about the growing Occupy movement and losses or privacy and civil rights. We also caught each other up on local issues and gossip as we walked across town and back. I learned a lot, and it kept me energized around an idea that ‘a better world is possible.’”

She also mentioned a protest by a group of women who stood silently, dressed all in black, at Main Street and Burton Drive to oppose U.S. involvement in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

Still, this year’s marches seem like something new.

“We are officially in the Age of Protest,” said Cambria activist Christina Tobin. “From Hillary Clinton to Donald Trump, no matter if you are a liberal or a conservative, the people are rising up and raising their voices.”

The women’s and science marches were national efforts that drew interest locally. Bianchi pointed specifically to a group called Together We Will-Cambria that has been involved in coordinating all three recent marches locally. The group has a Facebook page with 55 likes.

“I have seen smaller marches before, but very few, and not particularly attended,” Bianchi said, adding that she believes the Trump presidency “has fired up citizens to realize that they have an obligation to be better informed, and to become active. Cambria has for years been known to be a contentious community, but this is something entirely different.”

Whether the recent marches turn out to be a reaction to a specific issues raised by the Trump presidency or part of broader trend toward this kind of civic engagement remains to be seen.

Either way, they show something that has long been evident here: When Cambrians don’t like something, then let their voices be heard. And this year at least, they’re also doing their talking — and marching — with their feet.

Stephen H. Provost: 805-927-8896, @sproauthor