Former Claremont mayor’s political sign of the times
by Steven Felschundneff | firstname.lastname@example.org
Regardless of one’s personal reaction, lately it’s been hard to miss a new political sign popping up all over Claremont demanding, “Stop Trumpism, Save Democracy.”
The signs grew from a grassroots effort by former Claremont mayor, Opanyi Nasiali and his wife Kathryn, who share a frustration with what they perceive as autocratic behavior from former President Donald Trump. Beyond that, the couple also want to declare their commitment to the democratic principles on which this country was founded, including freedom of expression. More on that later.
Many people in town know that Opanyi Nasiali immigrated to the United States from Kenya in 1970 to attend university. He stayed on, married, had a career and entered local politics, including two terms on Claremont City Council.
“Here I am 51 years later and I had the privilege of serving the city, first as a commissioner and then to be elected to the city council,” Nasiali said. “My service to the city was my way of saying to the country, and the community, how grateful I am to get this opportunity to serve a country that has been good to me.”
He became a citizen more than 30 years ago at a mass swearing in ceremony at the Los Angeles Convention Center. As Nasiali left the convention hall with a throng of newly minted citizens, he encountered a multitude of booths representing various American political parties, vying to register a host of new voters.
“And I walked straight to the Republican Party booth, and I have been registered as a Republican from that moment on,” Nasiali said.
The main attraction the GOP offered was the widely held philosophy, at that time, of limited government, in which Nasiali still believes today.
“Government should provide for citizens what it should provide. When it comes to what I do in my house, the government should have no bearing whatsoever. And I mean that in every sense of it,” Nasiali said, citing as an example his own mixed race marriage and a woman’s right to choose to have an abortion.
Nasiali’s commitment to democracy stems in part from his early years in Kenya, where at the time there was just one political party. He is ever watchful of countries where democracy has been subverted. “Those kinds of leanings toward autocracy scare me,” he said.
Citing the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Nasiali said President Putin invaded that country because he wanted to, and nothing more.
“I don’t want that kind of government in this country. And I think most people in this country would agree we should not have a government that is dictatorial, that curtails the rights of people, that says the freedom of the press should be curtailed. Calling the press the enemy of the people. These are the kinds of things I am very opposed to,” Nasiali said.
“I lived through the Trump years … and seeing the kinds of behaviors as a president he was involved in. That was not the essence of what I believe the Republican Party stood for and is really teetering on autocracy.”
And that was the seed for the sign campaign.
“My wife and I were having dinner and talking about all these things that are going on around us. The country’s divided, people can’t even listen to each other. So we thought, what can we do?” he said.
He considered writing a letter to the editor but chose a different path, electing to take the message directly to the people of Claremont. So, Opanyi and Kathryn had some signs printed — one with the anti-Trumpism message, and another that read “USA Democracy not Autocracy” and paraded them through the streets of Claremont during Village Venture.
After that, they took the message to the usual street corners where people stand with signs, namely Indian Hill Boulevard at either Arrow Highway or Foothill. As people drove by, those who agreed with the messages honked their horns, while some let their displeasure be known through hand gestures and nasty words.
“Then we decided instead of just standing on the street corner, why don’t we get the signs and actually engage other people in the community by asking them to put the signs in their yards. And so, we paid for the signs so that we could go around the community and ask fellow residents to put them up,” he said.
The Nasialis have given away about 50 signs so far and have more to distribute. Unfortunately some of the signs have disappeared, so they have also had to offer replacements.
The issue of the missing signs brings the narrative back to the concept of free expression. Nasiali believes the signs were stolen by people who don’t care for the message, which he finds frustrating and perhaps a bit contradictory. And that is certainly hard to argue with, considering how proudly some Trump supporters stand by their First Amendment rights, while decrying the “cancel culture.”
“There are signs for people who support Trump. I drive by and walk by [often]. I don’t go and steal it. The guy down the street thinks Trump should still be president, I respect that that is part of democracy, but I don’t think stealing the sign because you don’t agree with the message is the way to do it. So anyone who is stealing these signs, please stop it,” he said.
“I don’t mind having a contest between two points of view, but when we see this man not willing to concede his loss and move on, instead he begins to tell a lie that the election was stolen from him,” Kathryn Nasiali said, explaining why she wanted to start the sign campaign.
“The only reason I am political now is because of Opanyi. Before I met him, I would vote and so forth but I would not go out on a street corner and do this [waving signs]. But it’s important for each one of us who does not agree with lying as a way get your point across, we have to stand up and do something about it. And if it means having a sign on my yard, good grief I’ll do it, because we need to have this country here to stabilize the entire world,” she said.
Some locals have expressed reservations about displaying the signs because they fear doing so might trigger retaliation. Given that the signs are being stolen, there may be something behind that. But Nasiali says he is not intimidated, and is willing to do what it takes to protect democracy.