TULSA, Oklahoma – The on-the-ground evidence in Tulsa is that the enthusiasm for the country and President Trump is still strong, despite or perhaps because of the events in recent months related to the COVID-19 shutdowns since March followed by the unrest going on across the country over the past few weeks.
Once President Trump announced on June 10 his first rally since the “invisible enemy” changed life around the world, people started camping out two days later to hold their place in line at Tulsa’s BOK Center for the event.
By Thursday, there were an estimated 125 people eagerly anticipating the rally in the 90-degree heat, even after they were moved earlier in the day from the BOK Center.
Rally-goers were not deterred and, in fact, told The Tennessee Star they agreed to move ahead of when law enforcement had originally scheduled the relocation in accordance with the Tulsa Mayor’s imposed curfew largely due to the planned counter protests.
As Thursday turned into Friday, numerous folding chairs, shade canopies, tents and a wide variety of patriotic and Trump decorations could be found along with the peaceful, but festive atmosphere of the full city block.
Several of the attendees said they had been supported by strangers who showed up to drop off items like bottled water and donuts. Also, another person ordered a dozen pizzas for the Trump supporters waiting.
Friday morning started with a heavy rain shower, which not only didn’t deter those who were already there, but the group of rally-goers only expanded to wrap around the block’s corner.
While many attendees said they are from the Tulsa area, one woman said she drove through the night from Wisconsin, arriving early Thursday morning. One Tulsa native who now lives in Boston flew in. Another man, who wasn’t even registered to vote in 2016, flew in from San Diego.
The group has supported each other through a kind of bartering, taking turns keeping an eye on each other’s belongings and sharing what little resources they have.
A sense of family has developed between everyone, from the individuals attending alone to the groups of all sizes.
In talking with a group of three entering a hotel on a nearby street, they told The Star that they hadn’t even met before coming to Tulsa from Texas.
Yet, the woman who had hotel accommodations invited the young couple to her room to shower.
There is quiet talk of some potential protesting, although one hotel employee told The Star, that’s not the way of Tulsans. Even though riots have broken out across many cities across the country, there wasn’t much of that here, she said.
While a previous Trump rally held at a major hotel chain in Texas gave what the general manager called a “Trump bump,” it isn’t all that easy for businesses to accommodate the rally in the wake of COVID-19.
Because of the coronavirus, hotel employees have been out of work for three months. Thursday marked their first day back, and it was still on a smaller than usual scale.
Anyone who has been in business can understand the challenges in going from 7 percent capacity to 100 percent and back down again in a matter of just a few days. As the hotel general manager pointed out, the wide range of demand comes on top of three months of being out of practice from not working.
While there is a lot of attention to the divisions in the country, there has been very little to indicate that on the ground in Tulsa.
Hand-made signs hang in the windows of The Adams, a beautiful, early 20th century, art-deco style hotel-turned-apartment building that appears on the National Register of Historic Places, facing toward and apparently directed at supporters of President Trump.
Yet, what everyone who talked to The Star said, is that they agree more than disagree with the messages on the signs, and that it’s time for more love and unity.
President Trump’s rally is scheduled for 7 p.m. Central Time, June 20 in the 19,000-seat BOK (Bank of Oklahoma) Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
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Laura Baigert is a senior reporter at The Tennessee Star.