On almost any Monday night when the General Assembly is in session, dozens, sometimes hundreds of Marylanders gather in a square in front of the State House to rally for workers' rights, an end to legal abortions, higher pay for public employees or - as last night's group did - education funding.
Some groups schedule months in advance for a specific Monday night, in hopes of catching a senator or delegate crossing Lawyers Mall on the way to the weekly evening session in the State House, says Anne Hubbard, a spokeswoman for the Department of General Services, which schedules the rallies and provides crowd control and security during the events.
Other groups call in at a moment's notice to set up an event almost any day during the 90-day legislative session.
Monday is a popular day because the Assembly holds its session at 8 p.m., when many residents are off work and able to attend the rallies.
Rallies and marches used to be held at a variety of places around the Colonial-era State House. But in 1996, a statue of the late civil rights leader and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall was erected in the mall just north of the State House steps and immediately became the focus of gatherings.
That is what the late Del. Howard P. Rawlings had in mind when he proposed the statue, said Edward C. Papenfuse, the state archivist.
Rawlings "wanted to do it in the interest of an appropriate memorial for a man who believed in pursing change in law," Papenfuse said. "Anyone coming to protest [on Lawyers Mall] does it in the shadow of Thurgood Marshall."
No one keeps track of the number of attendees at most rallies. But last night's protest, organized by political leaders, educators and unions on behalf of education funding, was expected to rank among the largest at the State House complex, state officials said.
Many of the biggest Annapolis rallies have been related to education and civil rights.
On April 24, 1942, a march on Annapolis drew a crowd of 2,000, Papenfuse said. The protesters gathered to protest police brutality, particularly in Baltimore, where there had been several shootings, and most victims were African-Americans.
"It was one of the first civil rights rallies at the State House," Papenfuse said.
Regardless of the size, the gatherings are often emotional.
But "they have very little impact," Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller said. "I think they provide an outlet for special interest groups to release their energy and demonstrate solidarity on issues."
"It does at least give a person a feeling that they are part of a movement," Miller said.
Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan said a sizable gathering such as last night's education rally, which he helped organize, serves notice to state leaders that people are concerned and want action.
"When you have one this big, it energizes a lot more people," he said. "They pay attention."