When we heard that there was going to be a large Re-open Oregon Businesses rally happening on Saturday May 9, we thought we would tag along and get the scoop for our readers. When the two of us arrived at the Lighthouse Square shopping center in north Lincoln City we found Lincoln City Police Department (LCPD) cruisers and a group of vehicles festooned with American flags, Trump 2020 banners, “Thank You” signs for frontline works and handwritten signs urging businesses to re-open. Police Chief Jerry Palmer and Lincoln City Councilor Riley Hoagland were there along with rally organizer Carol Leek, working through the details of the drive through Lincoln City. The organizers, Oregon Women for Trump, had spoken with the LCPD and Hoagland before coming to town to coordinate the event in an effort to reduce disruption to traffic.
The group arrived in Lincoln City from various areas of Oregon and says they have organized many of these convoys, rallies and “flag waves” in communities across the state recently, including a Keizer-to-Salem convoy of about 100 vehicles on May 2. Leek told us she and her organization were here in Lincoln City to patronize and support open businesses as well as those that want to promptly re-open.
Saturday’s convoy included about 15 vehicles from Portland, Salem, Bend and other cities and towns, driving along Highway 101 from the Lighthouse Square to Siletz Bay in Taft. They welcomed locals to join the convoy and invited people to support the movement or bring their own signs and flags. We spoke to a few locals at the starting point of the rally, including Deniece Lebrun.
“Our rights and freedoms are slowly being stripped away due to a virus that has a 99.6-percent survival rate,” she said.
Another local participant said she was happy to see the group here and feels that Lincoln City needs to “open up because it was built on tourism and the businesses are suffering.”
During the down-and back drive through town, participants honked their horns, yelled their support and even played music over a bull horn. After the drive, ralliers were encouraged to visit local businesses to support those that were open and welcoming of their group.
Many local residents and business owners told us that while they feel groups like Oregon Women for Trump has the right to rally, they are frustrated about Saturday’s event for a variety of reasons. People feel that the rally was misrepresented as being a “Thank You to Front Line Workers” or a protest of the statewide shutdown of businesses. They expected encouraging slogans and cheers for hospital workers and grocery stores. Instead, they tell us, they saw what felt more like a political rally for the Trump 2020 campaign.
Local residents Kerry Glauser and Kevin Peters expressed their concern that a worldwide pandemic that affects everyone has seemingly become a political issue in our country and in our community. They feel strongly that we could work together and concentrate on the health aspects of COVID-19 and how to get past the peak of the curve without being so strongly divided over the economy.
This sentiment resonates strongly with local Karla Fisher as well.
“It’s not about Trump,” she said, “it’s not about Governor Brown.”
Fisher said it is about community and how we come together right now in our small area to care for our businesses and residents. She reminds us that “we are graded as a community and must concentrate on the ‘we’ rather than the ‘me’,” even if that means we individually struggle more than we are comfortable with.
“I think that the county and this town have respected things more than probably other places,” said Bijou Theatre owner Keith Altomare. “I think that people are very respectful.”
This community has worked together to donate to businesses, deliver food to those who do not have it, and because of our fast, socially distanced responses we have succeeded as a group in keeping our infection numbers low.
Another frustration that has been expressed is that most of Saturday’s rally included participants from out of our area, at a time when we are being encouraged to stay close to home and not travel unless it is essential. Being a town that relies heavily on our out-of-town visitors, it has been a difficult process for many to accept that a resource they feel should be open to all — such as our beaches — must be kept to locals only for the greater well-being of our community. Even within our local population, the divide has been noticeable as those who want to ensure our tourists always feel welcomed here are clashing with others who feel we need to strongly encourage people to stay away for now. Oregon Women for Trump founder and Saturday’s event coordinator Carol Leek expressed that even before the pandemic locals didn’t seem to want them (outsiders) here and that, coronavirus aside, they don’t feel liked by the general populace of the area. During the course of writing this series of articles, we have spoken with many local business owners and are business owners ourselves. In our experience, the town welcomes tourists and their patronage, but as Karla Fisher points out, the data supports limiting recreational travel and indicates there is a direct correlation between our low case numbers and restricting travel into our small community from outside areas. The resounding consensus, no matter which side of the close-vs.-open debate you fall on, is that locals want this town to continue to be a tourist destination that people flock to when restrictions are lifted.
We have refrained from editorializing in these articles previously, however, as business owners we feel as though we have a personal stake in this disagreement. We fall somewhere in the middle of the road, as single moms caring for children and immune-compromised family, we fully see the need to continue this bubble of safety we have all managed to place around our precious home. However, as business owners who have struggled through application after application, and are seeing our reserves run dry with no government support to date, we fully understand the pressing need to allow the roadways leading to the ocean to reopen to others. Without the tourism industry, we, along with many other small businesses you know and love, are going to disappear. We hope that a compromise can be reached; one that somehow manages to prioritize the health and safety of our residents, friends and family, but also allows businesses to thrive in a currently unforgiving economy.
In addition to being professional photographers, Krista Melone and Rachel Baird are co-owners of Tah•Lume Curiosities & Gifts, which offers online commerce at www.tahlume.com.