The small business owners in Porterville are tired of being closed and they displayed their frustrations in the form of a protest on Tuesday afternoon in front of City Hall on Main Street.

Around 11:30 a.m., a small group of locals had gathered at Centennial Park to begin the protest. But as time went by, swarms of people joined in to call out Porterville’s City Council, demanding they allow small businesses to reopen. 

By noon, more than 200 people were outside of City Hall, lining the street and sidewalk with protest signs, whistles and a megaphone. Handling the megaphone was Jowayne Hardin, wife of John Hardin, who organized the protest. 

“We want to work,” shouted Jowayne into the megaphone as cars passed. “No government handouts. We are all essential. We want to be heard. Open Porterville.”

Jowayne, a well known hairstylist in town, seemed to be leading the protest, and cheered each time a car passed by her with the horn blaring.

“It’s all about my clients,” stated Jowayne. “It’s my Constitutional right to work and I need to do it legally.”

Before the protest was over, John Hardin shared a text message he had received from Dennis Townsend, the Tulare County Supervisor who oversees District 5, that morning. 

The message read: “We just voted 3-2 to open all the way through Phase 3 and override the public health order. My motion, Crocker second and VanderPoel joined. Shuklian and Valero against. Tell Porterville Tulare County is open.”

Townsend reported board members Kuyler Crocker and Peter VanderPoel voted to override the public health order while Amy Shuklian and Eddie Valero voted against.

When Townsend reported the vote was “to open all the way through Phase 3,” that would include such openings as dine-in services at restaurants at 50 percent capacity.

Many of the protesters urged passing vehicles to honk in support of small businesses. While most of the cars honked in support, some did’t and even mouthed angry words towards the protesters who responded by shaking their signs at them. One protester stated the protest was to push the city towards declaring sanctuary status for Porterville, just like the City of Atwater has. 

While the protest remained peaceful, four Porterville Police Officers were near to make sure the peace was kept throughout the entirety of the protest. Around 12:30 p.m., Channel 30 news arrived on-scene to cover the protest live. 

  “This was all my wife’s idea,” said John Hardin, Jowayne’s husband. “Basically, the Governor’s order is deciding who eats and who starves. How do you have ten people in a grocery isle and that’s okay, but a personal trainer can’t work one-on-one in a sterile environment with their client? Or a hairdresser can’t work one-on-one with their client? Hairdressers, salons, all those businesses, they specialize in doing things sanitarily and they will do everything possible to make sure it’s safe. Myself, as a consumer, if I feel uncomfortable I just turn around and walk out. I don’t need someone else making that decision for me.” 

John said some of the stylists in his wife’s hair salon hadn’t had a source of income in more than two months, since the shutdown forced the salon to temporarily close their doors. 

“For independent contractors and self-employed people, they just, about a week or so ago, were allowed to apply for unemployment, but still,” said John. “Single moms with kids have to eat. What we expect Porterville City Council to do is, like other cities around us are doing, to declare all businesses essential. So that’s what our goal is, to ask City Council to take the lead from everyone else and declare that all the businesses essential, and not to pick and choose who eats and who starves.”

Renee Hunter and Sheena Williams, owners and stylist at Salon Shae, had their entire team of stylists out at the protest. Some of the salon’s clients were also standing in support of reopening local businesses.

“Every single one of our girls are out here,” said Williams. “And some of our clients.”

“We have been faced with zero income so far, and zero aid,” said Hunter. “We are ready to go back to work. Stylists put in 1,600 plus hours of sanitation. We have made the essential changes that they are asking, some on our own even before they put it out there. We came together as a group to do this. We are ready to work. We would like all small businesses to be able to open so that we can support our families and make a living and contribute to the town of Porterville.”

Before the protest was over, John Hardin shared a text message he had received from Dennis Townsend, the Tulare County Supervisor who oversees District 5, that morning. 

The message read: “We just voted 3-2 to open all the way through Phase 3 and override the public health order. My motion, Crocker second and VanderPoel joined. Shuklian and Valero against. Tell Porterville Tulare County is open.”

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