The aims and methods may seem to be the same as those embraced by the social protesters of the 1960s, but the Tent City Coalition, a group that last week sponsored four days of antipoverty activities in Annapolis, feels that it is quite different.
Next to the U.S. Naval Academy football stadium, the activists staked out a series of green Army tents to form Tent City -- to "dramatize the plight of Maryland's poor people," according to Carl Snowden, spokesman for the coalition.
"The trouble I have with electoral politics and with the revolutionary-type politics of the 1960s is that they are out there," said David Kendall, a 28-year-old student at the University of Maryland school of social work, as he gestured into the distance. "But in the kind of coalition community organizing, you're dealing with your home and your neighbors. It's close to you."
Kendall -- who works with one of the coalition's sponsoring organizations, the Baltimore rent control campaign -- acknowledged the turnout was less than expected: 45 people slept in the tents on Friday. Organizers had hoped for 100.
"The numbers don't matter that much though," said Kendall. "People -- ordinary people -- are coming together from all over the state, letting each other know that they have support for what they're trying to do."
The Tent City was dismantled on Sunday, after a religious service and prayer breakfast. Activities during the four-day event included one-mile marches to the State House by about 40 protestors both Friday and Saturday to hear speakers including Rep. Parren J. Mitchell (D-Md.). After the Saturday speeches, Snowden and others met with Gov. Harry Hughes and his aides to discuss a 13-page antipoverty proposal drawn up by the Tent City group.
Hughes declined to grant the group's main request to make the elimination of poverty the top priority of his administration, but said he would respond in writing to the formal proposal within two weeks.
"We believe the governor still has a long way to go to appreciate the difficulties that poor people in this state are facing today," said Snowden.
"The record of this administration shows a commitment to improving the lot of poor people," said Hughes moments later. "But we can't ignore the political realities that mean we can't do all that we would like."
Tent City residents reiterated the belief that day-to-day activism matters more than marching in the streets and meeting with political leaders.
"During the 1960s, I was doing what I guess a lot of people are doing now: sitting on the sidelines and watching," said Elizamae Robinson, an Outreach worker at Annapolis' Community Action Agency, staying at Tent City.
Now Robinson, a middle-aged black woman who wore a shirt that read "I Support Tent City," says she joins as many antipoverty activities as possible.
A 13-month rent strike in 1975 by tenants of the housing development in which she lives drew her into community activism.
Skeptics who say that efforts such as Tent City will never help the poor "will never convince me," said Robinson. "I have seen protesting and organizing work in my own community.
"One small effort alone isn't going to change anyone's mind, but I believe that consistency will eventually pay off. That's why I come back again and again. Any effort the poor make to become more visible encourages me."
Wendy Henton, a vice president of the state NAACP, said she had been an activist since she was 10 years old because "I just don't like to see people get abused."
"I've had people say to me, 'Wendy, why do you continuously . . . try to help people who don't want to help themselves?' People do want to help themselves," said Henton, who manned the Tent City's only telephone. "Lots of times poor people just don't realize what is happening to them."