Protests At The Port
As early as this winter, organizing demonstrations at Baltimore’s World Trade Center could get a lot easier.
Delegate Sandy Rosenberg (D-41) is leading an effort to edit the Maryland Port Administration’s guidelines for protests and rallies at the iconic Inner Harbor building that he said could be up for review by the end of the calendar year. The move is a result of complaints from the community about the difficulties demonstration organizers face under the administration’s current code.
“Government decisions are to be content-neutral,” said Rosenberg. “That’s why you have regulations.”
A few years ago, Jay Bernstein, host of Shalom USA and an active member of the Baltimore Zionist District, sought to organize a BZD protest at the World Trade Center against shipping companies that the group had learned were trading with Iran.
“After a lot of back and forth, we were not given permission to demonstrate in the plaza in front of the World Trade Center,” said Bernstein. Eventually, the group settled on a nearby location belonging to the National Aquarium.
About a year ago, Bernstein said he again faced challenges obtaining permission from the Maryland Port Administration to arrange a demonstration on World Trade Center property. This time, the protest was against John Mearsheimer, author of the book “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy,” who was scheduled to speak in the building. Again, Bernstein said, the process for obtaining permission was long and arduous and required assistance from Rosenberg and the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of Bernstein and two others who wanted to hand out leaflets near the building.
The biggest modification, should the changes be adopted, is that there will now be set official requirements for organizing peaceful protests at the WorldTrade Center. In the past, there were no formal guidelines to help demonstration coordinators through the process. Instead, they relied on writing letters to officials at the Port and waiting for a reply telling them what the administration had decided.
With the adaptation of new, looser regulations about where and when people can protest in Baltimore, Bernstein said the atmosphere in Baltimore is gradually warming toward public demonstrations. However, in years past, he said, “the atmosphere was very unwelcoming.”
Often, organizers wouldn’t know who to contact in the first place to begin the process of obtaining permission.
In October, the city agreed to allow groups to demonstrate or pass out leaflets at any of the city’s parks and 10 other designated locations without obtaining a permit so long as the group did not exceed 30 people. That regulation was years in the making and resulted in a city payment of $98,000 to the ACLU to settle a federal lawsuit over the rights of protesters in the city. Rosenberg doesn’t expect this regulation to be nearly as difficult to sell.
“I would anticipate that this wouldn’t be very controversial,” said Rosenberg. “The ideas have to make their way in the marketplace of ideas.”