Anti-Racism Protest Shines ‘Stop The Hate’ Messages On State House
Above Photo: By Matthew Cole / BSMG
It was art as protest, or vice versa, as a handful of activists lit up the Maryland State House in Annapolis on Friday night with anti-racism messages.
The night sky and the facades of the oldest state house in the country were emblazoned with “Disable White Supremacy,” “Alt-Right is Wrong” and “Stop the Hate,” projected using stage theater lights powered by a small rented generator.
It was like 21st-century tech meets “This Little Light of Mine,” the church spiritual reworked into a civil rights anthem during the height of the movement for equality 50 years ago.
The effort was led by Phil Ateto, of Glen Burnie, a volunteer with the Backbone Campaign, an organization that spearheads and teaches creative protest techniques, like the projection stunt or mass kayak gatherings for water-related issues.
He has been involved with the Backbone Campaign for about five years, he said Friday night as he was adjusting focus on the State House.
“It’s a good way to get into good trouble,” he said. “We know we have to be the change we want to see. And doing it by engaging in nonviolent direct action, artistic action.”
The Backbone Campaign, divided up into a network of smaller groups called Solidarity Brigades, held similar projection protests across the country Friday in cities from Seattle to San Diego and Atlanta to Toledo, Ohio.
Here, Ateto and the few with him were prepared for good trouble.
It wasn’t but about five minutes after they started to project “Disable White Supremacy” over the front facade of the State House facing Lawyers Mall that Maryland Capitol Police turned up to check it, and them, out.
Officers asked Ateto what they were up to, and Ateto claimed it was an art project. True, but not the whole story. Police called it a protest which requires a permit on state property.
Ateto, joined by Annapolis resident Ted Weber, argued that it was an expression of First Amendment rights. Police answered that they could talk to the shift sergeant en route.
Maryland Capitol Police Sgt. Florio went back and forth with Ateto for a few minutes explaining that the group was on state property which requires a permit for a protest of that nature, noting police cannot restrict the group’s free speech but do have the right to restrict the time, place and manner of that speech.
Ateto and the rest pushed their point for a few minutes until Florio told them they could continue with the projection if they moved to the outer sidewalk of State Circle and off state property that includes the State House, Governor’s Mansion and the office building immediately adjacent.
“See where those cars are parked?” Florio said, motioning to a point on the circle half a block away. “Go over there and you can do what you want.”
With that, the squad packed up the generator and two theater spotlights into a small wagon and moved near the intersection of Maryland Avenue.
They shone messages on the side of the State House. “Stop the Hate” and others. Some were made harder to read in their entirety by trees on the grounds surrounding the site where the state of Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger B. Taney sat until being removed two weeks ago.
Several passersby stopped out of curiosity — two or three thanked them for what they were doing.