Opponents of a Montgomery County law that would displace hundreds of Takoma Park renters, buoyed by support from advocate for the homeless Mitch Snyder, began yesterday what they said will be a series of public protests to fight the evictions.
HOME (Habitants Opposing Mass Eviction) pitched a tent last night on the lawn of the Potomac home of County Executive Sidney Kramer. Fourteen members of the group, including three small children, stood in the cold night air with lighted candles, sang protest songs and vowed to bring their so-called Takoma Tent Towne to the homes of other county officials.
A spokesman for Kramer said earlier that the executive planned to go about his normal schedule and probably would not be at home. There was no answer last night to a reporter's knock on the door. At one point a police car with one officer cruised past the house.
"Legitimate avenues of political expression have been cut off from us," said Marty Novicky, a member of HOME who said she faces eviction from her Takoma Park apartment when a provision of a county law goes into effect March 23. The law, enacted in 1978, gave the owners of illegal apartment buildings 10 years to comply with zoning laws permitting only single-family houses through much of the city.
The County Council, following Kramer's recommendation, has refused requests by tenants and the Takoma Park City Council for a one-year delay of the law and for a public hearing on the issues.
"If people have to take to the streets to be heard, we will. And if people have to be arrested to be heard, we will," said Novicky. Nine persons protesting the issue were arrested Feb. 16 during a demonstration at a City Council meeting and about 50 residents gathered Wednesday night to hear Snyder, of the Community for Creative Non-Violence, lecture on winning through protesting.
Snyder, whose appearance had sparked some criticism from county officials as a media hype, chided and challenged the audience while also expressing his support. "I am not here to give you a pep talk," Snyder said. "You either have the energy for this fight, or you don't."
Snyder's message was simple: If he and other CCNV members could get the president of the United States to back down in the celebrated fight to establish a shelter for the homeless several years ago in Washington, then Takoma Park residents can get the county executive and council to change their minds. It all depends, he said, on how serious the Takoma Park opponents are.
Snyder said it makes no sense to convert the houses to single-family use at a time when there is a crisis in providing affordable housing.