Demonstrators are planning an hour-long event Saturday in Carroll County to protest the restrictions still in place throughout Maryland due to the coronavirus pandemic, the latest in a series of rallies around the region held in support of more action toward reopening local economies.
The Carroll County Freedom Rally is set to begin at 11 a.m. at the Westminster branch library, with guest speakers ranging from state delegates to small business owners to the founders of Reopen Maryland, which created a Facebook group in mid-April that now has more than 26,000 members.
“We would hope that the local businesses would come forward and start opening up, start easing restrictions on their own because it’s their right,” said Tim Walters, co-founder of Reopen Maryland. “And we would hope that the county executives and the county council would see this and say, ‘OK, we’re not on the right side of this.' These people are asking for … things for the harms that the government has done to them. There has been a great injustice.”
Walters, who lives in Anne Arundel County and plans to attend Saturday’s event, helped create Reopen Maryland, which pursues “peaceful, law-abiding advocacy for public health measures that respect Marylanders’ civil rights, economic well-being and educational access,” according to its Facebook page. Walters said he has seen recent events create change in various counties, and he’s hoping the same happens for Carroll.
“A lot of it is simply political pressure, but by in large the biggest part is that businesses know they’re not alone,” Walters said. "And people know they’re not alone. ... So we just to reopen things up and protect those that need protecting ― our nursing homes, and our elderly, and those with compromised immune systems.
“We’re America. We can do both.”
Hampstead resident Ciara Avina is an organizer with the Carroll County chapter of Reopen Maryland. Avina, a small-business owner, said the goal of the rally is to encourage a “full and immediate reopening of Maryland.”
“We’re comparing the statistics, and lack thereof, of numbers of coronavirus cases versus numbers in [Carroll County], and it just doesn’t make sense that hundreds of businesses and their poor families are struggling to keep their businesses open, put food on their tables,” she said.
Avina said her income has been cut by more than half because of the coronavirus pandemic. She wasn’t one to dabble in politics, she said, but the current situation has made her angry. “And then I got involved,” she said.
Walters and Avina both said families are encouraged to come out for the rally, and handmade signs are allowed (no sticks or poles). Social distancing and guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will be in place, and Avina said the Westminster Police Department has been contacted to help handle safety measures.
At least one county commissioner and two state delegates are slated to be at the rally to show support and say a few words.
“We need to be there to listen to their concerns,” said Commissioner Eric Bouchat, R-District 4. “We are a Republican county. I find it absurd if no one from our county government is there.”
Carroll County Government issued a news release May 29 refuting an event flyer that said the event would be held in partnership with the county commissioners. The release did not name the event.
But Commissioner Stephen Wantz, R-District 1, said this was in reference to the Reopen Maryland rally planned for Westminster. He said the group has since corrected its flyer.
Though his colleague will be at the rally, Wantz does not plan to be there.
“I happen to think our governor has been doing an excellent job” in regard to reopening, Wantz said.
Bouchat said he wants to attend the rally to support the business community. He would like to see restaurants permitted to continue to-go alcoholic beverage sales after the state of emergency has ended. Bouchat also suggested allowing businesses to set their own policies on when people need to wear masks.
Delegates April Rose and Haven Shoemaker, both District 5 Republicans, are also expected to attend the rally.
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Rose said she has been visiting local businesses in the county over the past few weeks to learn how they are preparing to reopen. She visited a Jiu Jitsu studio in Finksburg on Wednesday and was pleased to see how the owner is ready to instruct students while allowing for social distancing.
“Our business owners are being very responsible,” Rose said. “They are taking great steps. I am so impressed with their plans to reopen safely.”
She said many owners are adding sanitation stations and taking other measures at the expense of the business to ensure customers are protected.
“Everybody needs that chance to move forward and stay a viable business,” Rose said.