It began with an attempt at fundraising for Catonsville’s 4th of July Celebration Committee, which puts on a smashing and beloved July 4th celebration every year. People come from all over Maryland to join us. We take pride in the ridiculousness of how chairs appear to line the parade route weeks before July 4th, just to save coveted spots to view the action. The fireworks at night last 45 minutes, and have no rival. The Committee (all volunteers) works hard all year long to raise money to make this day spectacular for our community. The “Reel Snowman Display” was designed to be another creative way to make it happen. The Committee put out this announcement:
“A unique way to promote your business, club or organization while supporting the 4th of July parade & fireworks. Sponsor a Snowman made from recycled wooden wire reels and decorate in the theme of your business or however you see fit. The Snowmen will be displayed on the lawn of the Knights of Columbus from November 25th – January 6th. A great team building opportunity. $250 per snowman. Limited quantities. XXX-XXX-XXXX for more details.”
Meg Christian and Marybeth Graf-Brohawn – realtors in Catonsville for over 20 years – are fixtures and pillars of our community. They show nothing but love for Catonsville. Our biggest cheerleaders. Of course they and their business, The Beacon Home Team, participated, donating labor and money to make a snowman to display. He’s adorable – his name is Snooki, and his message was simple: “No Hate in 21228.” That’s our zip code, you see. NOT the year Snooki was aiming for there to be no hate, as many of my non-Catonsvillian friends wondered…although at this rate, Snooki may be right about the timing. Optimistic, even.
The entire display was adorable and cheerful, and if my rudimentary math skills still function (a big “if,” I admit) raised close to three thousand dollars for Catonsville’s 4th of July celebration. Which was the goal, right?
It’s not like the Committee or the Reel Snowman participants were setting out to mend family rifts, cure cancer, solve the Israeli/Palestinian crisis. Just spreading a little cheer, raising a little money for a great community cause, right? Not so fast. Apparently, there were complaints. Meg and Marybeth were notified Snooki’s message was “political,” and the Celebrations Committee has a rule against promoting any political messages of any kind. Snooki would have to go. The realtors denied their snowman’s message was intended to be political in any way, but agreed to remove it.
Meg and Marybeth sadly informed us in a FB post that Snooki needed a new home, and wondered if their Facebook community had suggestions. Of course, many offered up their lawns and businesses, and were more than a little upset such a message would be construed as political. Then, in an apparent attempt to stem any bad feelings about itself or a negative effect on fundraising, the Committee asked Meg and Marybeth to remove their FB post asking for a new home for Snooki. Let that sink in.
Meg and Marybeth did remove the post, but were transparent about why they did so in their follow-up post. Cue Catonsville community uproar and disdain. The Committee responded by not only removing Snooki, but the entire “Reel Snowman” display. And because this is apparently the world we live in, the Committee informed the businesses that they would not be getting their wooden snowmen displays back. #FreeSnooki became a thing.
I know. It is ridiculous on its surface. But stick with me.
Many in the community assumed that complaints about Snooki’s message came from the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic organization, which is not a wild or crazed assumption – it was being displayed on their property, after all. The KoC denied any involvement in the decision, though. From the Knights of Columbus Patapsco Facebook page post about the matter, however:
“The snowman display was a project of the Catonsville Celebrations Committee to raise funding through sponsorships of the snowmen for the Fourth of July Parade. It was the decision of the Committee to remove one of the snowmen for its political nature. While the message “No Hate in 21228” is not a political statement on its own, the slogan was adopted by a local political action group; therefore, the slogan indeed has political overtones. The Committee does not permit any type of political statements as part of its programs, and one snowman was removed from the display. Further, the Committee then made the decision to remove the entire display to avoid any further controversy.”
I asked a few questions on that post, including which political group they were referring to, and got no response. In fact, they deleted the entire original FB post with their explanation, along with the many comments and conversations community members were engaged in.
I attempted to reach the KoC via Facebook messenger, comments on their official FB page post, and phone (leaving a voicemail message.) None of my attempts were successful. They replaced their original post with a similar, though slightly longer version of the same post on December 1st. I left one question on THAT post. Not answered. The question was simple: “What is the political action group you’re talking about?” I returned the next day to find, surprisingly, NO comments at all on their post.
“Hmmm. That’s funny,” I thought. “I am pretty certain I left a comment yesterday. Where did it go?” They mightn’t have deleted the individual COMMENT, might they? I’m sorry, I still cannot get used to the notion that public organizations simply delete entire conversations that take place online with no comment, hoping no one would notice – especially when there has been significant community involvement and investment in those conversations – but because that is apparently something that happens sometimes, I left my comment again. This time, I took a screenshot of it, just in case.
GUESS WHAT, PEOPLE, THEY DELETED IT AGAIN. Here is a screenshot of the page as appeared on Monday afternoon, December 4th, 2017, devoid of my (or any) comment.
They did make sure, though, to end the post by encouraging community members to follow Jesus’ commandment to love our neighbors as we would love ourselves. Ahem.
According to both KoC statements, the decision lay solely with the Catonsville Celebrations Committee, and the Knights of Columbus had absolutely nothing to do with the decision or the complaints whatsoever. It did seem, however, to be perfectly comfortable acting as the Committee’s mouthpiece, explaining the Committee’s reasoning and backing it up. Not completely satisfied with that as a resolution, I continued to try to contact the Celebrations Committee. None of my attempts were successful. I attempted email, phone, and private Facebook messages, to get their statements about their reasoning regarding their objections to Snooki, and the decision to remove him, then ultimately the entire display. No response.
A reporter from the Baltimore Sun had the same experience. Yes, this had made it all the way to the Baltimore Sun. People here were THAT PISSED about it.
So, since this is all we have to go on, let’s break down the argument as we know it.
What might the objections be to “No Hate in 21228?”
Is it political?
What “political action group” has adopted that slogan? The closest thing I know of is a group in Catonsville called Catonsville Indivisibles (of which I am a very inactive member.) The group does organize to resist the Trump agenda, but has not adopted a slogan, so far as I know. There used to be bumper stickers available for sale, but they said “No Room for Hate in 21228,” and as far as I can tell, no one bought them. I’m not even sure they were officially connected to Catonsville Indivisibles (still waiting to hear on that,) but they looked like this:
The Catonsville Indivisibles site was recently redone, though, and I don’t even think there is merchandise available for sale from it. And the slogan seems to be “Resisting the Trump Agenda.” Which doesn’t even rhyme with “No Hate in 21228.”
Will it turn people gay?
Everyone knows The GAYS use the slogan “NOH8.”
Sorry, seriously, most thinking people in Catonsville made the assumption that THIS might, indeed, be the true objection of at least some who raised the stink in the first place. Nothing displayed on Catholic grounds could be seen as endorsing THE GAY AGENDA. But, come on. Please. Even the Pope is getting himself right with the LGBQT+ community. Slowly…sloooowwwlllllyyyyy…but he is.
And, as Meg and Marybeth pointed out, it is codified into their practices as realtors that they must not practice discrimination against members of the LGBQT+ community, or ANY minority community in their jobs. It is the law. And again…they have stated often and loudly that their snowman, Snooki, was not intended to make any political statement whatsoever. Just a hope for the season, and their beloved town. Does no one believe them? Do their voices not matter?
Don’t. Answer. That.
I know. They’re women.
It Might Be A Response to Charlottesville.
There was a Unity Rally that took place in Catonsville after Charlottesville. It was, indeed, organized by a member of Catonsville Indivisibles. But it was hosted by the Immanuel United Church of Christ on Edmonson Avenue, and attended by many who wanted to speak out against neo-nazism and racism: philosophies frighteningly being received again with openness and consideration by “Americans” who think there are “good people” on both sides of the ovens and nooses. This rally was indeed attended by some local politicians, but both major parties were represented. And schoolchildren attended. And local clergy of a variety of faiths. And adults from a variety of professions. And some canines, too, if memory serves. From the Baltimore Sun’s coverage:
“Linwood Jackson drove 40 minutes from Dundalk to be at the Catonsville rally.
“It’s important because I’m a Vietnam veteran and I know how important unity is,” Jackson, who is African-American, said…
Kara Ferguson said she brought her 9-year-old son, Matthew, who is biracial, to the rally so he could see that Catonsville is “an accepting community.” She said that the racism she has seen emerging in the country makes her fear for her son’s safety…”
“U.S. Rep. John Sarbanes, D-Dist. 3, made an unscheduled appearance, taking the podium to declare: “There is no place for white supremacy in civilized society. Period…”
“Radke, of the Catonsville chapter of the Indivisible progressive movement, said that though she had not heard about recent hate crimes in Catonsville, she hoped the rally would help prevent such crimes.”
Are these the “political” messages to which the CCC objected so strenuously? Unity, preventing hate crimes and opposing white supremacy? Is that the hill the COMMITTEE THAT ASKS FOR MY MONEY TO CELEBRATE OUR COUNTRY’S INDEPENDENCE wishes to die on?
Yes, Catonsville Indivisibles is resistant to the Trump agenda. The Church that hosted is accepting and welcoming of the LBGQT+ community. Meg and Marybeth attended the Unity Rally. So did many others who love Catonsville, and wanted to support our community from careers of all stripes, all races, religions and politics. It was one of the most moving and beautiful reflections on Catonsville I’ve witnessed, and it was enriched for the diversity of the people in attendance – including Republicans. Does the Committee truly want to take the side of the people that have a problem with that message?
“No Hate in 21228” on CARS!
There ARE bumper magnets that say “No Hate in 21228” and they look like this:
I bought one at a local Catonsville coffee shop. Could THEY be political??? They’re for sale at a couple of stores in Ellicott City, too. I called around to find out where the proceeds for THOSE bumper magnets went. I got some different answers, depending on who I asked and no one seemed to know for sure, so like a cross between Miss Marple and Columbo, I went to work. I noticed the magnets had the logo of a local printing shop on it.
I called the shop and asked who commissioned said bumper magnets. The owner, Dan, was appropriately protective of his client’s privacy, and after being reassured I was not anti-hate, promised to give my info to his client. If the client was so inclined, he could reach out to me.
The next day, I got a call from Jim Himel – bumper magnet benefactor extraordinaire. I was, indeed, he, who commissioned the bumper magnets, and funded them out of his own pocket. A Catonsvillian himself, he is a retired forester and city planner who heads up the non-profit Tree Canopy Project. In the span of 8 years, the project has planted 800 street trees in Catonsville. (How political.)
He attended the Unity Rally mentioned above and was inspired to have these magnets printed. There was not enough space on the magnets for “No Room For Hate in 21228,” though, so he removed the words “Room For,” and that is how the magnet came to read “No Hate in 21228.”
Jim paid for 500 magnets, and gave them (for no cost) to businesses who wanted to sell them, and the businesses donated those proceeds to whomever they wished. One business donated the sales to the same UCC that held the Unity Rally. Another donated the proceeds to the Catonsville Emergency Assistance program, which helps low-income residents have food, and keeps their utilities from being shut off. Some proceeds went to a local Presbyterian Community Outreach program. All went to 501(C)(3) organizations – which, by definition, can not be political. None of the proceeds went to Jim’s own volunteer organization, the Tree Canopy Project, so as to avoid the appearance of a conflict-of-interest. A second printing will be available this week to businesses at cost to use for charity fundraising as well.
So, how exactly is “No Hate in 21228” political? It isn’t. And by forbidding it, the Committee makes it political. It removes the phrase “No Hate” from the vocabulary of anyone who wishes to speak it in earnest and with conviction. It assigns it a single, narrow definition from which no one can deviate because a small number of narrow minds have a negative association with it. Which brings me to some questions for members of the Catonsville July 4th Celebrations Committee.
- Why, if you are not a political organization, do you insist on interpreting “No Hate in 21228” as a political statement? And why is your insistence that it is political any more valid than Meg’s and Marybeth’s assertions that it is not?
- Why, if you are concerned about the effect this would have on your fundraising, would you ask Meg and MaryBeth to remove their Facebook post asking for Snooki to have a new home? What right do you have to give even the impression that you are limiting what they can and cannot write on their business’s Facebook page? They took it down, though, because they want nothing but the absolute best for our community. Are you comfortable as the committee charged with shaping our Independence Day celebration to be seen as limiting free speech? Though, believe me, no one who knows Meg and Marybeth labors under the misconception that they can be pushed around or bullied.
- Why, if you were concerned about your public image, for a week after you decided to dismantle the display, did you say you would not return all the snowmen to the businesses worked so hard to create (and paid $250 to the CCC as a donation)? Again, were you concerned their being displayed elsewhere would be an “insult” to you? Or make you look bad? I cannot for the life of me figure this one out. Are we in a sandbox, here?
- Why, if you are so against any hint of making a political statement, are you not similarly averse to making a religious one? You chose the Knights of Columbus for your “non-political” display, when there are other quite secular stretches of land along Frederick Road. Did you approach any of them to see if they would mind hosting the snowmen? Or did the KoC offer, and you accepted, not giving it a second thought? “No politics, but religion is fine.” Is that your message, even subconsciously? You go out of your way to find (or at least buckle under the assertion of) politics in the most benign statement such as “No Hate in 21228,” and yet you completely overlook the overtly religious setting in which you choose to display your fundraising snowmen? I mean, for god’s sake, you hold your July 4th patriotic concert every year in a church, and no one says boo. I’ve lived here for 22 years, and never once objected to that…but in light of this? You’ve got to admit. That’s pretty hypocritical.
Just to drive the point home…these snowmen were displayed on Knights of Columbus (genocide, anyone?) property, next to a symbolic gravestone for aborted fetuses (political AND religious!) in front of which sit two benches, the construction of which were an Eagle Scout project (LBGQT+ issues) and the Celebrations Committee’s problem with “No Hate in 21228” was that it was political???
Finally, after failing to reach the July 4th Committee (as I mentioned, I tried for a week via phone, email, and Facebook messaging) I left a comment on their Facebook page. I asked, in a very friendly tone, why they decided not to return the snowmen to the businesses that had created them.
They deleted my comment, though, just as the KoC had done.
This is a super patriotic, non-political group. NO SPEECH ALLOWED. However…
I learned the next day that the Committee decided they would, indeed, return the Reel Snowmen to the businesses that created them, AND refund the money donated by those businesses. But in the letter informing businesses of this Christmas miracle the CCC mentioned, again, that it was a non-political organization. Just in case we were wondering.
The Baltimore Sun wrote a follow-up article about the development. They’d also, apparently, continued to be unsuccessful in reaching the Catonsville Celebrations Committee for comment. Normally, the press will report that by saying something like, “Efforts to reach the Committee were unsuccessful,” or “The Committee has not returned our requests for comment as of this printing,” or some such.
Not this time. The Baltimore Sun’s reporter went out of her way to write the number of times and ways she attempted to reach the CCC. “Eight attempts to reach members of the Fourth of July Committee for comment over the past week — by telephone, email, text message and Facebook messages — have been unsuccessful.” EIGHT ATTEMPTS. I swear, I understand this is a volunteer gig, and a lot of hard work. At the same time, the CCC is not exactly the Illuminati or the Robert Mueller Legal Team. Would it have killed them to return a call to the Baltimore Sun??? Or to make a statement about it on their FB page? Would it have killed them to say, “Oops – we really screwed this one up – sorry! Here are the snowmen and the money – onward!”
Instead, they said this – and only this – and only to the businesses who participated in the contest:
Furthermore, in order to get their snowmen back, the businesses had to sign a release.
“( ) does here accept the receipt of the “Reelman” as ownership and all responsibility of this item. The Catonsville 4th of July Committee does not make any assertions, claims or the suitability the use of this item. The undersigned below accepts the terms and they are fully understood and voluntary accepted for the purpose accepting of this item for their exclusive personal use and not to be used in conjunction with the Catonsville 4th of July Committee.”
It sounds to me like the Committee wants absolutely nothing to do with these trouble-making wooden snowpeople ever again and their dang “No Hate” slogans. BECAUSE WHO NEEDS NO HATE SNOW PEOPLE SMILING AT US IN THIS NEIGHBORHOOD, I ASK YOU??? I’m sorry. I keep vacillating between sympathy for the volunteers on the committee and laughing at the absurdity and feeling anger at the closed-mindedness.
Let’s summarize. The Committee:
- sponsors this fundraiser for July 4th celebration
- targets one participant for “No Hate” message
- asks participant to remove completely legit, gracious, inoffensive FB postings (participant complies)
- allows/lets stand Knights of Columbus statement explaining their position
- refuses to answer questions, deletes comments on FB page
- refuses to return snowmen to participants
- continues to make no public statements for a week
- displays outward concern only with the impact this will have on its fundraising
- displays no outward concern for the impact on the participants or the people hurt by removal of “No Hate” message (Um, oh, I don’t know, let’s say, every single member of every marginalized group or person who is not a white, cis, Christian male?)
- ultimately returns Snowmen and money raised, only if businesses sign release form, and only after intense public pressure from local residents and businesses
- wants all of this with clean hands, clean unsullied reputation, no negative repercussions on fundraising and zero accountability
Now, the good news is, there WAS intense public pressure from local residents and businesses. As I mentioned earlier, hundreds of residents left comments in support of Snooki, many offered their front yards, were upset, bewildered, and disappointed about the behavior and decisions of the Committee. A bunch of Catonsvillians created their own versions of Snooki and put them up in their own front yards.
Quite a few assumed the complaints came from the Knights of Columbus, but with the KoC statement laying the blame squarely at the feet of the Catonsville 4th of July Committee, and the Committee choosing to remain completely silent about the entire episode, we are unable to draw any definitive conclusion.
Unfortunately, the logical conclusion is too difficult to avoid, here. Damage done. No more donations from me, I am afraid. Bullies and mean people do not win. Silencers don’t get supported. No more. Not in my orbit. Not with my wallet. Apparently, a lot of people in Catonsville agree with me.
It is not too late, however, for the Committee to make amends, or a statement that it indeed embraces the non-political nature of the “No-Hate” message. After issuing a public apology to Meg and Marybeth, and the Catonsville Community for its mishandling of this incident, and the hurt feelings it caused, the July 4th Committee could humbly request Snooki’s presence at the famous and beloved Catonsville 4th of July parade.
As Grand Marshal.
And as a BONUS FOR YOU WORTHINGTON POST READERS:
***BREAKING NEWS EXCLUSIVE!!!***
Jim Himel gave this amateur investigative reporter/sleuth an exclusive for you all!!!
He and Edward Williams (famed and beloved Catonsvillian muralist) have designed Snooki yard signs!
They will stand 24” wide and 30” high, and have our “No Hate” snowman on a rainbow background. Like the bumper magnet Jim designed, these will also be for sale, with the proceeds going to various Catonsville charities. They are in production, and will be available starting Wednesday, December 13th. And if the July 4th Committee takes me up on my suggestion, I would be happy to make them one of the charities to which I occasionally donate again, too. Looking forward to seeing these yard signs all along my wonderful chosen hometown!!!