On the back porch of Mr. Lucky’s restaurant in Pleasant Hill about 12 people have ordered drinks and are eating chicken fingers and onion rings with ranch dressing.
This group of Trump supporters has been meeting a couple of times a month, creating what Tracey Lindsey calls “a safe space for them to talk.”
Lindsey, a business owner, she says she supports Donald Trump because he stands for issues that matter to her. “My top issue, especially as a woman, is safety and security, on our nation, kids, in our schools, the border," she says. "And the second one is the economy, I feel that Mr. Trump is the best one that can deal with those two issues for me.”
Lindsey and her husband sit in front of the group leading the discussion. She says it’s important to create these safe spaces because outside of them, she feels targeted -- even just for having a Trump bumper sticker.
“We’ve had people, I don’t know if I can say this on the radio, say “f**k you,” she says. At one point, this was written near her bumper sticker.
“They put dog poop in bags, next to the windshield wiper near the bumper sticker,” she adds.
Time to strategize
In today’s meeting Trump supporters talk about the best strategies for helping their candidate win by focusing on how to defend him. They didn’t allow me to record; Lindsey tells me that the media hasn’t treated her fairly in the past.
“This isn’t going to be spun differently?” she asks me. “I’ve noticed that sometimes [the media] slant it in a direction and I want an accurate depiction."
When the meeting starts, Lindsey asks each person to explain why they support Trump. The answers vary: because he’s a straight talker, a good businessman, he says what he thinks, and he supports the military.
The Trump supporters say they’re facing two obstacles. A big one is how to engage the kinds of people who might be more likely to put dog poop bags on their cars than vote Republican.
“It isn’t that we want to make trouble or cause fights, or anything like that,” says Mark Barnes. "That’s what I was hoping you would see, that we are just a bunch of people who are concerned and love the country and want the country to be safe.”
Something in common
“I find that even though they say, ‘I’m a Bernie supporter,' often we have a lot in common," Lindsey says of some people she's talked with. "They’re concerned about the economy, they need jobs, they're concerned about national safety like I am.”
In the meeting, she demonstrates ways for people to point out the things that Trump may have in common with those who oppose him. Like explain that Trump wants to create jobs, that he has strong family values, his kids all support him, and he’s not a racist, he just wants to secure our borders to secure our jobs and our safety.
Mark Barnes says that he thinks a lot of people could find some common ground with Trump.
“I’m more independent and conservative and I’m my own person," he says. "That’s one of the things I like about Trump. I see myself in him, to be willing to say things, maybe be provocative.”
Barnes lives in Martinez, a place he describes as very liberal, and being a supporter of Trump there is tough.
“I kind of feel all alone, as a matter a fact,” he says.
But this Meetup group is not so alone, at least not here, in Contra Costa County, where census data suggests that just under a quarter of the voters are Republicans. In neighboring Napa, that percentage is even higher.
Carol Millard is another supporter, who drove here today from Dublin. She says her issues are security and controlling the borders. “He wasn’t saying immigrants, he was saying illegals," she says of Trump's controversial comments on immigration. "There’s a big difference.”
Some people are coming here for the first time today -- that’s part of the reason I was asked not to record. Lindsey told me she didn’t want people to feel intimidated by media being present. Joseph Mclennan, a construction worker who came today from Vallejo, says he has no problem telling people he supports Trump. He’s a supporter because he believes Trump is a self-made man who’s figured it out.
“I’m morally against envy. Someone’s wealthier and worked harder than me, maybe he did the right things, maybe used his head and education to get ahead. If I’m poor that’s my fault,” says Mclennan. “That’s not their fault that I’m poor. I don’t blame someone else for my problems.”
Mclennan has worked with unions and says things would change if California electronically verified citizenship like some other states do. Although U.S law requires companies to hire only workers who are legal to work in the country, it’s actually not mandatory for them to verify it.
“The best thing you can do for anyone is give 'em a job,” he says. He says he’s seen how what he calls “employment verification” could work, in places like Texas, where he used to live.
“County sheriff runs around , they uphold the Constitution of the U.S., and make sure no one’s breaking the law.”
Work and straight talk. It’s something that comes up a lot today with this group. The need for there to be more employment opportunities for U.S. citizens and the need for more straight talk. Like a woman named Rachel, who didn’t want to use her last name.
“I am this American who pays my taxes, but I’m afraid to have a Trump sticker. I’m afraid to say my name,” she says.
Rachel says she doesn’t agree with the way Trump talks, but she can get over it. “He actually is a nice person but, I don’t know why he says some stupid things, I don’t know,” she says.
Many people here today say they consider themselves independents or conservatives. Others have registered as Republican only to vote for Donald Trump, who they hope to call their next U.S. president.