Saturday, July 18, 2020

Main Street

The term Main Street has come to have a particular meaning in the American experience. It begins with an assumption that “Main Street” is the principal street in a small town, and moves to a larger, symbolic meaning which may denote “small, independent businesses” (Main Street vs. Wall Street) or even “the values of middle class America.”(Main Street values.)

The Main Street most of us know is in Old Ellicott City. It means something a little different to us. Yes, it is a collection of small businesses. But the “Main Street values” we think of when we think of Old Ellicott City have more to do with bravery, resilience, and surviving in precarious times than any generic “Middle Class Values.” Main Street in Old Ellicott City May be EC Strong but it is also fragile. One more flood could be its end. The financial damage from COVID-19 may be the last straw for businesses struggling to make a comeback. 

All this is a preface to saying that, while I understand why local groups may want to use Main Street as a backdrop for protest, I wish they wouldn’t. I took a dim view of the ReOpen event a while back, for a variety of reasons. Today there is going to be another protest where participants will walk down Main Street. While I have some sympathy with the concerns of the protesters, I still wish they had chosen to have the event somewhere else.

The event: 

HOWARD COUNTY, MD — Community members are invited to join formerly detained individuals, immigrant families, CASA, HoCo for Justice, Howard County for Immigrant Justice, Indivisible HoCoMD, Audelia Community Response Team and others in a march from Howard County Circuit Court through Main Street that starts at 6 p.m. Speakers will take the stage at 7:15 p.m. outside the George Howard Building in parking lot 3430. (Ellicott City Patch, Kristin Darnley-Greiner)

Truth in advertising: I have mixed feelings about this particular issue, which is why I haven’t written about it yet. Certainly from what my readers know about me, it is safe to assume that I’d have more in common with this group of protesters than the maskless “ReOpen” group who used the same space. And yet I shrink from the thought of Main Street being used for protest right now, no matter who is doing the protesting.

Those small, independent businesses are struggling to stay afloat. The thought of the area being flooded with protesters could very well keep dinner patrons away. While I’m pretty sure that today’s group will wear masks and do their best to respect physical distancing guidelines, I do wish there were a better place for them to bring their message right now.

And yet. Main Street is Main Street. Ellicott City is the County Seat and the protest route leads to the County Courthouse. Where else would you stage this kind of protest? Am I really defending the interests of commerce over the First Amendment rights of citizens to protest? 

I’m clearly troubled by the whole thing. I do feel that, if we don’t support and protect Main Street, it will cease to exist as the entity we all want it to be. Then what significance would there be to protesting there? If it is no longer alive with restaurants and businesses, what role would it play in fostering County unity and promoting County history and tourism? 

The HoCo 4 Justice March and Vigil followed a route in Columbia that was easily able to accommodate an influx of participants. Ellicott City Main Street is hanging by a thread. I see a difference between the two locations.

Is it reasonable to want to protect Main Street while it is fragile and struggling, or is the concept of Main Street being the right and proper place for citizens to assemble serving a greater good?

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