Thousands of supporters and opponents of President Donald Trump descended upon the Santa Ana Star Center in Rio Rancho on Monday night in anticipation of his first visit to New Mexico since the 2016 election. Nearly 20 miles away, the Democratic Party of New Mexico (DPNM) responded to Trump’s campaign speech with an event of their own.
The counter-rally, deemed a “New Mexico for All Community Event” by party organizers, featured a roster of New Mexico Democrats and drew a crowd of several hundred to Tiguex Park near Old Town. Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller, New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver (who is also running for U.S. Senate) and U.S. Representatives Deb Haaland and Ben Ray Luján (who is running against Toulouse Oliver) outlined their differences with the Trump administration and visions for the future of the country over the course of the evening.
With Trump nearly two hours away from taking the stage and much of the media attention in Rio Rancho, Keller kickstarted the evening by noting that the president’s visit coincided with Mexican Independence Day. The nod to New Mexico’s cultural diversity prefaced his rhetorical emphasis on the state’s unity against alienation and dissent and spurred resounding cheers from the crowd.
Keller went on to parallel the fundamental differences between Trump’s policies and Albuquerque’s leadership initiatives, juxtaposing the president’s wall-building and xenophobic rhetoric with his own administration’s more inclusive focus on building community.
“We know that leaders do not dehumanize immigrants,” Keller said, adding that, “leaders do not separate children from parents. Leaders do not personally attack women and people of color. Leaders do not make fun of the disabled. Leaders do not build walls that divide us.”
Haaland spoke during the demonstration as well, encouraging listeners to value and utilize their New Mexican heritage as a motivational mechanism to protect their inherent liberties.
“In New Mexico, we stand for truth,” Haaland said. “We stand for people of all races and colors. We stand for freedom of religion and the press. We stand for the freedom to fight against racism and bigotry.”
Haaland honed her focus on New Mexico’s role in politics further, discussing how Trump’s policies will and already have directly affected the state. She closed her speech with a final message:
“New Mexico, we have a choice: We can let this misogynistic and ego-driven president continue to destroy hard-working families, our environment and our way of life, or we can fight like hell to ensure he loses New Mexico in a landslide.”
The opposition party presented a unified front — if only for an evening. Although Toulouse Oliver and Luján are currently locked in a primary contest for the Senate seat being vacated by senior New Mexico Senator Tom Udall next year, intraparty sparring made way for an unambiguous condemnation of the Trump administration from the political rivals.
Toulouse Oliver called upon attendees to turn out in force for the 2020 presidential election and made the case that Trump administration policies stood in sharp contrast to the values of New Mexicans.
“We do not share the values of hate; we value love,” Toulouse Oliver said. “We care for the people in our communities, and we care for all of the different cultures that make up the richness of our community here in New Mexico.”
Luján echoed his predecessor on the podium, saying that Trump’s “hateful policies have no place in New Mexico” just after he received word that Air Force One had landed at the Albuquerque Sunport with the president on board.
“We reject racism, we reject bigotry and now President Donald Trump has brought his divisive worldview to our backyard,” Luján said. “He wants to divide and conquer, and he wants us to forget his lies and failure. But we won’t forget.”
The hundreds of counter-rally attendees were equally impassioned.
Christina Gonzalez, a retired federal employee, regarded the event as both a receptive platform for her opinions as well as a safer alternative to the potentially volatile atmosphere at the Santa Ana Star Center.
“This is a place where we can share our thoughts and feelings in progressive company,” Gonzalez said. “This turnout can explain to those who are afraid to speak up that there are so many people that disagree with the horrible practices going on. People may think we regard the president’s behavior as normal, but we don’t.”
Rio Rancho resident and retired New Mexico Corrections officer Tony Sanchez came with his husband, Bill Duncan, to protest the “backwards” nature of the Trump administration.
“We’ve had a lot of Republican presidents before, and I haven’t liked some of them, but it has never been like this before,” Sanchez said. “This president is taking us backwards.”
Duncan relayed the personal rationale behind his presence at the demonstration, saying, “(Tony and I) are very happy together, but we’re also afraid that someone like Trump and the Republican Party is going to take away our marriage and the life that we’ve built together. It’s important to us that we can maintain and enjoy the benefits that any other married couple can.”
Adrian Carver, executive director of Equality New Mexico, gave a speech that detailed New Mexico’s long history of fighting for LGBTQ rights. Carver said that the Democratic showing was crucial in upholding those values.
“We really want to demonstrate the difference between people in Rio Rancho who are celebrating hate and facism and oligarchy, and we wanted to make sure that people all across the state knew what our values are,” Carver said.
12-year old Sierra Blzza attended the event in accordance with her beliefs on human rights: No human being should feel the need to conceal his or her identity out of fear.
“There are people out there who hide who they are because they are afraid of hate. Specifically, I feel bad for the kids at the border; it’s not okay that they get separated from their parents.”
Daily Lobo beat reporter Alyssa Martinez contributed reporting for this article.
Andrew Gunn is a senior reporter and copy editor at the Daily Lobo. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @agunnwrites
Beatrice Nisoli is a beat reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @BeatriceNisoli