By Sharmina Manandhar
WASHINGTON – When President Obama takes the microphone to talk about health care reform at University of Maryland, College Park Thursday, some traditional protesters will skip the event, but that doesn’t mean emotions won’t run high.
In an official statement, UMD College Republicans said the group “will not be in attendance” and that any College Republican who decides to protest does so without the support of the group.
The decision was in “no way in response to anything,” said Clyde D. Thompson, the vice president of public affairs, when asked if it was influenced by the House sanction against Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., who heckled the president during his recent speech to a joint session of Congress.
The College GOP joins the Maryland Society of Patriots and FreedomWorks in taking an official pass on protesting the president’s talk, which is scheduled for 11 a.m. in the university’s Comcast Center.
But experts said the anger and confusion present at congressional town halls and other forums on health care indicate the University of Maryland event won’t be a quiet one.
“Protests have accompanied most town hall meetings over the summer and some of the protests have become very heated,” said Shawn J. Parry-Giles, director of Center for Political Communication and Civic Leadership and assistant professor at the Department of Communication at University of Maryland, College Park. “Such contentiousness could be visible tomorrow as well.”
If UMD rhetoric and political culture senior Michael Ross has his way, student criticism of the health care reform plan will be heard all the way inside Comcast Center.
Ross said he expects a minimum of 47 people at the rally he’s organizing in front of McKeldin Library beginning at 7 a.m. The group will move to the Comcast Center and remain until 3 p.m.
Society of Patriots members are planning to join that student protest rally, according to founder Sam Hale.
Around 50 Maryland Young Republicans members are also expected to attend the Obama rally.
“This is not a protest, this is a youth inquiry of Obama’s position (on health care)” said Moshe Starkman, the group’s chairman. “We are standing there to ask questions, not protest. If he has good answers, we will go home.”
FreedomWorks, chaired by former U.S. House Majority Leader Dick Armey, is willing to rest on its recent success.
“There will be no protests from FreedomWorks,” said Adam Brandon, the organization’s vice president of communications. “We are still wrapping up from the March on Washington on Saturday and don’t have the resources at the moment to organize another protest.”
The timing of the event could also be one of the major factors depressing group attendance.
“It’s a tough thing as the event takes place middle of the day,” said Hale. “Most of our members work full time.”