Protesting, demonstrating and marching are regular occurrences this time of the year.
It is community members of south Belair (Harford County) standing on the corner of Route 924 and Plumtree Road handing out bumper stickers and adding signatures to their petition telling Walmart to stay where they are and not build a new store on another site. It is more than 1,000 gun supporters flooding the Maryland Senate, where a bill they opposed was being heard. As Ammoland Gun News bragged to its readers, “We (gun owners) shut down the Senate Building.”
Or, it is Maryland farmers in 22 huge tractors parading around Annapolis. Members of the Cecil County Farm Bureau and their supporters protested the potential loss of land value and asked the General Assembly not to support Gov. Martin O’Malley’s (D) proposal to restrict the development of big homes on land that requires septic systems.
The public demands the right to be heard and the decision makers pay attention to what the people want. Usually, the aim is to stop change from happening. Some interesting new efforts are occurring that are seeking change and also are trying to re-orient the mind-set of public opinion.
Casey Anderson, spokesman for MD Against Gun Violence, says, “We are focused on organizing.” He talks of the gun-control issue having long ago come to a “dead stop,” and no major effort has been made for years to mobilize the public. “We need to have people change their behavior,” he goes on, “to see this issue as more personal and important and one they are willing to act on by demonstrating, sending emails and lobbying their elected officials.”
MD Against Gun Violence supporters participated in the national march against gun violence outside the Capitol a few weeks ago. They also attended the Annapolis Senate hearing with the pro-gun protesters. They came to testify and did not disrupt the process by shutting down the building.
On Feb. 14, they delivered 400 handmade valentines to the members of the General Assembly. Their message was “have a heart,” and show us you care by curbing gun violence. Anderson said they will be supporting the governor’s anti-gun violence bill as well as other gun-control legislation before the legislature.
They also look to counterbalance what they say is the undue influence of the NRA and other pro-gun supporters who continually lobby legislators in the anterooms of Annapolis and in personal meetings. I’ve seen the pressure. I’d call it coercion most of the time. With its large number of supporters, huge bankroll to fund advertisements and support elected officials’ opposition and its in-your-face approach, the pro-gun lobby has been mostly prevailing in Annapolis with fear and intimidation for years.
“We are looking to avoid conflict while stressing reasons to vote for gun control,” Anderson says. He said in the realm of what gets legislators re-elected, “it is not smart to get too far to the right on guns,” as former Sen. John A. Giannetti Jr. (D-Dist. 21) of Laurel, who opposed an assault weapons ban, learned when he was defeated by Jim Rosapepe (D), who supported the ban in 2006. Rosapepe, of College Park, now serves as District 21’s senator.
Just last Sunday there was a massive rally around the White House on another major effort, this one in support of the need for action on climate change. Nancy Soreng, president of the Maryland League of Women Voters, talks of buses of supporters coming from Harford, Baltimore, Frederick and Howard counties and from Hagerstown, Annapolis, Baltimore city and as hundreds driving into D.C. on their own.
“It was so very cold,” she says, “It was heartwarming to see so many thousands of people.” She talks with pride about the turnout from Maryland and says the league’s immediate aim is to broadly work with other coalitions and to see passage of efforts to stop natural gas fracking and the governor’s wind-power bill.
Gina Angiola, a climate change activist, says, “Climate change is the most important issue of the day, and it is not getting appropriate attention from the media.” She was impressed with not only the large turnout at the rally but also the “diversity and passion of the crowd and the large number of young people who came.”
Like anti-violence and gun-control proponents, climate change advocates are looking for an American mind-set change. Angiola, a retired physician, believes the public will get on the bandwagon when it comes to understand that dealing with climate change is “doable if government will emphasize efficiency and the use of renewable energy while reducing the use of fossil fuel.” She said the public will learn the positive economic and jobs benefits of dealing with climate change as well as the “major negative health effects if we don’t.” Climate-change advocates have a major obstacle to overcome in their efforts, however. “We have to circumvent the extraordinary power of the fossil-fuel industry,”she says.
There will be an increase this year in demonstrations about personal economic issues, such as the Walmart and farmers’ examples, as business and government resources continue to be stressed. However, the gun-control and climate-change endeavors stand out as efforts of revolutionary effect. And, advocates are working to defeat the lavishly financed, longtime lobbying groups on the other side of the issues — a major undertaking.
Gail Ewing of Potomac is a retired at-large Montgomery County Council member. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.