by Kitt Flynn July 20, 2014
Activism is, as it has to be in order to keep on keeping on, fun and exhilarating and a labor of love. But … anyone who has involved themselves in activist activities for any length of time has experienced some of the not-always-so pleasant aspects of ‘working for the cause.’ Preparing and building something behind the scenes can sometimes be thankless and tedious, bringing little or no recognition for the hours spent organizing, preparing banners, art work, flyers and pamphlets in order to end up with a final result that is effective, preferably fun for all participants and at least most witnesses, and brings substantial attention and interest to whatever the cause happens to be.
Oftentimes what comes with the territory of publicly demonstrating, or just passing out educational information, is derision, boredom, being shouted down, ignored or conspicuously avoided. And then, in some demonstration situations, there is the challenge to avoid being arrested, either in a mundane “routine” manner or, when confronted by overzealous cops, attacked and arrested violently.
Some, but certainly not all, of those negative aspects are to be expected by us activists when we take part in what is traditionally the so-called, “patriotic” infused 4th of July parades, which take place in towns and cities throughout the nation. The quotation marks around the word patriotic are because the word has a floating array of how it is defined and by whom.
A week or so prior to this year’s July 4th parade, I received a group email from Nevada County Move to Amend which said, in part, “We need 15 more participants who will each be walking and holding up posters naming the twenty-seven amendments.” I sent an RSVP in the affirmative. As it turned out we ended up with the twenty-seven sign holders – and the proposed 28th amendment sign holder – and we also had participants show up to carry several more signs which were reproductions of various corporate logos with the words, “Not a person” below each corporate logo.
Our parade contingent was lead by a flat bed pickup with speakers placed so as to face the crowd on each side of the street, airing a musical recording playing in a loop. The driver of the truck had — in folk music and activist tradition — borrowed Woody Guthrie’s melody of “This Land is Your Land” and had recorded himself playing guitar while singing original lyrics he’d written about Corporations not being people.
Our line of up to 60 sign-toting people traveled down the hill in a winding snake formation, followed right behind by another bunch of activists, many of them, to the crowd of spectators delight, young kids. They were from our local “Label GMOs” group, which is somewhat loosely affiliated with Moms Across America, (who were also quite active in parades and whatnot around the country on the 4th). Our local Label GMOs group even invited a car wearing a bee costume to take part in their parade contingent. Well, actually, one of the moms who I spoke with later told me that she and her seven-year old daughter were the most actively responsible for having worked together over a matter of weeks on making the costume for the car, lots of colorful banners, and doing other preparations for the parade, either from their house or at the Purple Moon art studio provided by Radical Art for These Times.
As far as I could tell from my insider vantage point during the parade the spectators lining both sides of the street and watching from the balconies were really enjoying each of our two activist group’s parade presentations. So much so that right away I had decided that I wanted to write something about the experience. But the very next day, before I got very far along on that, things began to take an interesting and surprising turn. Activists from Taos in the Arroyo Seco 4th of July Parade in New Mexico, the “Unsung Heroes: Activists, Whistleblowers, and Muckrakers” contingent, had their fine parade entry selected as “Most Patriotic Float!” “Wow,” I thought and wondered to myself, an activist group being recognized and awarded in the traditionally ‘Keep it Main Stream’ 4th of July parade? Then, on top of that, I later discovered that the wonderfully colorful, imaginative, educational parade entry of kids and adults from the Label GMOs group had won a 3rd place ribbon for “Best Marching Group.” Sensational, and so well deserved! And then, following quickly behind that news, I learned that our group of Move to Amend had won a 2nd place ribbon. As of this writing no one I’ve spoken with seems to know if that one is attached to any particular category, or if it’s a general all-purpose ribbon. It is a ribbon, and it’s red and says “Nevada City 4th of July Parade” on it. So that counts, for sure.
Admittedly, I’m not sure if I’ve just been missing something, and not noticing that sort of recognition for activists’ 4th of July parade entries over the last decade or so, but I’m pretty sure, or would like to believe, that we’re witnessing an extraordinary and overdue recognition of the importance of activism included into our traditional Americana 4th of July parades.