When the Nose heard that Association for Community Organizations and Reform Now (ACORN) members and American Home Daycare Workers Association members stormed a recent membership gathering of the Maryland Young Republicans, we thought it was just business as usual. When we heard that the protest involved a few jabs to the temple and some uppercuts to the kidneys--and not by any members of the Baltimore Police Department--we thought we would get on the phone and get the skinny. On April 11, the state's chapter of the national Young Republicans hosted a $25-a-head gathering at the Ropewalk Tavern at 1209 S. Charles St. YR members were going to have a chance to mingle and get the opportunity to chat with guest speaker Lt. Governor Michael Steele about issues such as slots and abortion. Just as Steele was about to begin speaking, about 75 Home Daycare Workers Association members--many who brought their children--and ACORN members stormed through a side door holding placards reading, FUND MARYLAND'S FUTURE and chanting "No More Cuts" into megaphones, much to the chagrin of a lot of networking, martini-holding folks. Demanding a little face time with Steele, they were protesting cuts to childcare workers and the possible reversal of funding of the Thornton Commission.
"We tried over and over to talk to them before they cut these funds," says Zattura Sims-El, an ACORN member, referring to the state's top Republican leadership. "They ignored requests to meet with us. We are working families who need our kids to be able to go to daycare. They are cutting $25 million from daycare workers."
Baltimore Young Republicans president Georgia Woerner, who said she had planned the ruined event for months, counters that if the activists had wanted to be heard, they should have paid their $25 just like everybody else.
As ACORN members continued chanting, blowing whistles, and displaying placards, they say it wasn't long before something of a melee began. Stuart Katzenberg, ACORN's lead organizer, says he was punched in the stomach and face. Sims-El says many activists and their children were being pushed and shoved, placards were being taken--in short, that it was Young Republicans gone wild. "They were a big, rowdy, out-of-control bunch of people," Sims-El said. "If this is the future of the Republican Party in Maryland, I am afraid!"
Of course, Young Republicans members say the same about ACORN members.
"They never tried to speak to Michael Steele--they were yelling and screaming. I was standing right next to [Steele], and he said 'Let them speak,'" says Woerner, who contends that ACORN members were chanting so loudly they probably didn't hear the Lt. Gov. say that before he was ushered out by security personnel.
Steele spokesperson Regan Hopper says, "I think it was an unfortunate situation when protesters try to be heard but things end up getting out of control. The Lt. Governor was not there. He was on his way out as the protesters came in."
It seems the only people behaving were Baltimore's Finest. ACORN members say the police department was extremely cooperative with them and helped to diffuse the situation. In fact, there may be no legal entanglements resulting at all. "We don't intend to press charges," Katzenberg says, though he hopes the Young Republicans "would clean house, if they have any integrity."