With Dwight Yoakam and Buck Owens’ “Streets of Bakersfield” blaring in the foreground, about 300 people took to those streets downtown on May 5 to protest the shutdown of parts of the local economy and churches.
The rally was organized by the Kern Liberty Coalition and took place in front of the Kern County Administrative Center and along Truxtun Avenue.
Chad Vegas, one of the rally’s organizers and a pastor at Sovereign Grace Church of Bakersfield, said the rally was originally supposed to be a call for the county to lift the local health ordinance. With the county already having done so May 2, Vegas said the rally shifted its focus to thank the county for doing so and to send a message to Gov. Gavin Newsom to allow the county to reopen on its own accord.
“I’ve expressed my concern to (the Kern County Board of Supervisors) to make sure that they have taken an oath of office to defend the Constitution, not Newsom,” Vegas said.
Vincent Estes, a local substance abuse counselor, said he was in attendance to stand for businesses impacted by the shutdown as well as those in isolation struggling with mental health and substance abuse. He said that he has seen “mass relapse” and an “increase in suicidal ideations and attempts” in his clients throughout the pandemic.
“The main thing we tell people (struggling with addiction) is, ‘Don’t isolate,’” Estes said. “Telehealth works, but it’s just not the same. To anybody struggling, help is still available.”
Ed Tomlinson, owner of California Keyboards Music Center, said he came to the rally to stand in solidarity with other businesses. His business had laid off 27 music teachers and furloughed 10 other workers in the past month, according to Tomlinson. However, he said a loan his business secured through the federal Paycheck Protection Program will likely help them get by.
“I fear for the restaurants,” Tomlinson said. “(My business) can open tomorrow. We can wear masks and socially distance. We’re not reckless. We’re not lunatics. I don’t want my neighbor infected, but I don’t want my civil liberties taken.”
Eighth-grade student Jocelyn Byers said she came to the rally for her friends who wanted to walk at their high school graduation ceremonies as well as fight for her religious freedom.
“I just really want to go back to church,” Byers said.
Rev. James Hunt from Apostolic Lighthouse Church of Oildale said his church closed its doors for seven weeks, but decided to reopen recently.
“We’re not a rebellious group, but we don’t want the government stepping on our toes,” Hunt said.
In Newsom’s four-phase plan to reopen the state, religious services will be allowed to resume in the third phase, which — according to Newsom in April — will likely take “months” to reach.