Ocean City, M.D., is like the Jersey Shore for D.C., area residents. Visitors can indulge in the beach, boardwalk ,food and souvenirs, and entertainment from street performers. However, that’s changing as new regulations kicking in with regard to street performers.

Ocean City implemented a new system to assign performers to designated spaces along the boardwalk along with a litany of other regulations about what entertainers can do and the spaces they sign up for each week. Face painters, musicians, and everything in between are affected. 

The street performers says this is an unjust  way to limit their ability to host shows or entertain crowds and that the regulations they face feel more like a limit on free speech than a way to keep order. For out of town performers, the new regulations also present new burdens. They are protesting in front of city hall.

Not surprisingly, city officials see no big deal. However what seems like no big deal to local bureaucrats is a big deal when it affects the livelihood of performers and their ability to express themselves or even engage in therapeutic performances that add to the culture of the Ocean City boardwalk.

The MD Coast Dispatch reports:

On Monday morning, performers lined up at City Hall signing up for designated spaces to perform on the Boardwalk Monday, Aug. 3, through Thursday, Aug. 6. However, a group of street performers have become disgruntled over the Town of Ocean City’s newly implemented street performer regulations and later that afternoon gathered in front of City Hall to protest.

On Monday, the first day the ordinance went into effect, performers gathered outside City Hall wearing T-shirts reading “Free Speech Prisoner” and holding up signs stating “Expression not Suppression.”

Young singer Connor McAllister’s father, Doug McAllister, who served in the U.S. Army and is a retired police officer, agreed with Gilbert in the sign-up process being inconvenient for those who live out of state.

“I fought for freedom. I have done everything I could for freedom of expression,” he said. “We came all the way from Gettysburg to find out that everything has changed since last year. We weren’t aware of anything going on. We thought we could come back and set up on the Boardwalk. As long as you’re not bothering anybody you should be able to perform.”

Spray paint artist Mark Chase, who served on the Boardwalk Task Force, participated in the protest.

“I was against most of it [regulations],” Chase said, as he pointed out he was the only performer who served on the Task Force. “The system they implemented is not working whatsoever … It has segregated us to the point of first-come, first-serve. People are showing up at midnight and sleeping in front of City Hall just to be allowed to express themselves. That is excessive and over burdensome. It describes everything that free speech is not.”

“There has been talk of it off and on but we are hoping it will be resolved first,” Chase said. “We want the city to notice we are a decent group. We are Americans and when we see our freedoms being stepped on we band together. That is what America is all about.”

We often report on how states, cities and towns hoist burdensome and unnecessary regulations on small businesses and entrepreneurs. When these are the engines of our economy – generating the bulk of jobs in our country – what we don’t need more of are misguided rules that make it harder to start and costly or difficult to continue.

 While not as big as Uber or AirBnB, these are people who may be earning a living or freely expressing themselves in a fun and appropriate way to visitors – contributing to the character and fabric of this beach community. Obviously, we don't want to see street performers become public nuisances like New York's squeegee men who used to intimidate drivers. But we also don't want to see smalltime theatre entrepreneurs driven out of business. We'll keep watching this situation.