Saturday’s straight pride publicity stunt turned out to be mostly a dud.
Organizers hoped news of their rally, or parade, or whatever they hoped to stage, would draw hundreds of supporters from the woodwork. Such had happened before, with devastating violence, in places like Berkeley and Charlottesville, Va.
The prospect of a big clash was fanned by co-organizer Don Grundmann, who early on announced that the Proud Boys, a hate group, would support Saturday’s event. That seemed entirely plausible, as the Proud Boys’ chauvinistic mantra meshes with the newly organized National Straight Pride Coalition’s promotion of straight whites, at the exclusion of others.
The Modesto Bee’s coverage soon spread to news agencies from coast to coast, all warning of potential violence and giving publicity-seeker Grundmann, who has craved attention of any stripe for many years — he once ran for president, among several political campaigns, succeeding in none — more than his due 15 minutes of fame.
Some media felt it necessary to describe the cultural landscape here, regurgitating terms employed in past reports. The Los Angeles Times, for example, in its Essential California newsletter, called us “a conservative agricultural town in the heart of lefty California” where “big talk about free speech and white supremacy” could be fertile ground for a good fight between the Proud Boys and Antifa leftist militants. Never mind that the Proud Boys denied having agreed to attend.
But these days, Modesto is not nearly as conservative or agricultural as it used to be. And it’s a real city, with 213,000 people.
Yes, we have conservatives. Republican candidate John Cox drew nearly 51% of the vote for governor in November in Stanislaus County. But on the same ballot, Democrat Josh Harder unseated eight-year GOP incumbent Jeff Denham for a House seat, and two years before, Donald Trump received 3,153 votes less than Hillary Clinton here.
And yes, we’re proud of our agricultural heritage and the farming sector that continues to play an essential role in our economy. But agriculture these days accounts for 8.4% of Stanislaus County’s gross domestic product, behind other sectors like health care (12.6%), government (13.6%), finance (12.8%) and even retail (9%).
The point is, we’re not exactly the redneck hotbed that some make us out to be. We’re a lot more diverse than some west of the Altamont or south of the Grapevine want to think.
We can smell a rat, when one comes around. And we’re learning to change the narrative.
On Thursday, the newly formed Modesto Nonviolent Collective drew 50 attendees.
On Friday, 250 showed up for a diversity vigil at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.
On Saturday, 250 came to Enslen Park for speeches.
All gathered in direct opposition to straight pride, whose organizers quietly tricked a property owner into letting a few dozen use his barn near Salida on Saturday, before he learned who they were and kicked them out. About 20 then went to Planned Parenthood, which wasn’t even open to witness their protest, and where they were met by a much larger contingent of counter protesters. (A Sacramento TV news station reported that Planned Parenthood is on McHenry Street; it’s McHenry Avenue.)
Police were more than ready, and nothing terrible occurred. Thankfully.
Our community successfully shifted the straight pride narrative.
No longer was it about “we’re better than you” exclusion. Faced with the prospect of achieving infamy through hate, Modesto simply said, “You aren’t the story; we are.”
Now that’s something to take pride in.