Peace not allowed in St. Patrick Day parade

Frank Cordaro in chokeholdThis morning I got an email from Frank Cordaro, a friend of mine and member of the Catholic Worker movement. That’s him in the green t-shirt in the photo on the right after he attempted to participate in a St. Patrick’s day parade in Colorado Springs, Coloardo. Here’s an excerpt from his email:

We were part of the Bookman parade entry, a local book store that paid
its entry fee and was an accepted parade participant. The Bookman
people are peace folks and they have been part of the parade the last
couple of years. This year, as they did last year, folks marching with
the Bookman mobile wore green T-shirts with the peace sign on the back
and front. We also held peace banners.

All went well until we fell in line with the other parade entries, one
block into the parade. We were greeted by a man who identified himself
as a parade organizer who told us we were not a legitimate parade
entry. The police were immediately called into the fray.

Elizabeth Fineron was taken to Memorial Hospital for treatment on
scrapes and bruises to her legs and stomach.While most in the group marching with the Bookmans bookmobile dispersed when they were asked to do so, some chose not to do so because they had a parade permit (which the police never asked to see) and felt that they were being treated unjustly.

Elizabeth Fineron, an older woman who walks with the assistance of a cane, was dragged across the asphalt while children sat staring from the sides of the parade route. She ended up with bruises on her stomach and a nasty asphalt burn on her thigh. That’s her being loaded into an ambulance in the photos above. The Daily Kos has more photos and a longer write up of the incident. They quote from this article in the Colorado Springs Gazette. It says:

Political candidates are allowed to take part, but the parade has never allowed “social issues,” said parade organizer John O’Donnell, a condition to which participants agree.

“It is our goal not to turn this into a confrontational political atmosphere,” O’Donnell said. “It really is to come and have fun.
“A political message, ‘vote for me, vote Republican, vote Democratic,’ is OK.”

This is a reminder that for many in this country, politics has been reduced to support for one of two political parties and voting for that party once or twice a year in the polls. Anything else is rocking the boat too much. As one t-shirt I have says:

[Corporations] know democracy requires involvement before and after election day, do you?

In light of recent discussion here on YAR about the point of civil disobedience and peace witness, I thought it might be interesting to ask you all for your thoughts. Was nonviolently resisting in this situation appropriate?

I believe that it was. The group was actively resisting an attempt at censorship of the Bookmans float despite the fact that they had a parade permit and had marched in the parade with peace messages the previous year with no incident. Their action drew attention to inappropriate censorship. If they hadn’t sat down and refused to leave the street they would have allowed this injustice, however small, to quietly weave itself into the status quo as part of the larger quilt of silent repression in this country today.

The nonviolent vision of King and Gandhi revolved around making the violence of injustice visible in the snarling dogs on a bridge in Selma or guns of British soldiers.

Of course we can fall into the trap of citing King and Gandhi too glibly. The seven activists arrested were not part of a planned campaign. They did not go to the Parade planning to be arrested. Instead they responded spontaneously to a unjust situation that they found themselves in. Is this a legitimate application of Satyagraha?

Before you make up your mind on this one, read the comments of those folks from Colorado Springs who believe “Hippies ruin everything” on Colorado Confidential.

Update: There are a lot more photos in this visual time line of the incident.

Comments (9)

  1. Dan S

    I’m having a hard time figuring out the logic that political candidates and parties are allowed to march, but social advocates are not. I’m also guessing that they would allow veterens groups to march. So, the line is completely arbitrary, and comes down to “we don’t want unpopular sentiment to be expressed.” Among other things, this is completely against the founding principles of this country.

    I’m proud of the marchers for being willing to be arrested, and think it was entirely appropriate to march in the parade.

    Reply
  2. Skylark

    If they’ve been in the parade before under the same name and carrying the same message, it baffles me the parade organizers would not already know this and have discussed this with them prior to the event. I read no mention of this in the links provided, though my browser kept quitting when I tried to open the Colorado Springs Gazette link, so I couldn’t read much of that story. Perhaps they were asked not to come. If they came anyway, I could understand why an organizer would be upset. I do concur with Dan’s statement about the “completely arbirtary” line, though.

    If, as the “Hippies ruin everything” commenters attest, the peace activists wanted to make a scene and get arrested, or the older woman behaved herself disrespectfully, I would have a problem with that. It’s very different to go into a situation having already talked with the police and saying “This is my nonviolent statement. If it gets me arrested, then that’s OK with me,” which as far as I can tell is what the CPW resistors did. In the Colorado incident, if they were trying to create a fiasco to make them look good and the police look bad, then the negative reactions are appropriate. I’m not sure we can ever know each person’s true motivation. A videotape of the events would sure help.

    As usual, I have more questions than anything else.

    Reply
  3. TimN (Post author)

    Here’s a follow up story by the The Colorado Springs Independent Newsweekly:

    Reign on our parade: Nursing fresh wounds, the city wonders what’s next

    Reply
  4. Mark Lewis

    To fill in a couple of questions: we had a permit just like the year before. Same message of peace, different banners. The banners we used the year before, “Peace on Earth” and “Goodwill Toward all Mankind” were destroyed by vandals. We assembled for over an hour with all banners displayed, but took several and stored them in back of the van, as we thought they were inapproporiate.

    We had no plan to protest, disrupt, or in any way cause any problem. A couple parade marshalls and a couple cops caused all the problems.

    The 1st amendment is not suspended arbitrarily because the parade calls itself a “private’ parade. Private is a term abused as much as the “no social comments” rule, when there are social and political comments all over, and the city subsidizes the parade with free police services.

    Reply
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  6. Kaleigh O

    I know this is an old issue, but to inform you, the group that was arrested was not properly registered when they entered the parade. They were entered as a marching group under the name of a local “bookmoblie” company and did not divulge their intention to march with political signs. Also they stopped the parade and tried to sit on the ground which was illegal because the parade is a privately owned business. To explain that further the business that runs the parade pays to rent the streets of Colorado Springs for a short period of time making it private land, not technically but in a sense, for a temporary period of time. Under the Constitution you do have the right to protest but, because the streets were “private” that day the protesters, who were asked to move several times before force was used, had no legal rights, just like a fast food joint can refuse service. I would also like to state that I was there when it happened, because if you look in the background of the photo you will see the, then current, principal of Palmer High School, and I was carrying his banner. Also I am familiar with the rules and regulations that the parade states to each and every entry, and to clarify that point further, each political candidate is required to register under the official name of the candidate so that they will be correctly identified. What these protesters did was an act of fraud for starters and also a blatent act of disregaurd for safety and the law. If they had sat down in the middle of a busy street, or any street for that matter they would still get arrested because it would not have been a peaceful protest and that same rule applies here

    Reply
  7. TimN (Post author)

    Kaleigh,

    Thanks for providing this eye witness account. I’d be interested in hearing more about the signs they were carrying. What made them “political” in your mind? My understanding was that this group had marched with peace t-shirts in the parade before, but perhaps this was the first year they carried signs?

    Reply
  8. Tim B

    Interesting. I think it was wrong of the bookmobile to bend the truth about what they would be representing. If you put on the application that you deliver children’s books but show up with anti-war signs that, in my mind, would negate the application. So while Mr. Verlo may have had the permit, it seems certainly duplicitous.

    But, with that said. Promoting peace shouldn’t be seen as a social issue. Not wanting to kill people should be applauded. And the amount of violence committed against the protesters seems a tad excessive. Of course, this kind of violence is exactly what Dr. King needed for his movement to work.

    I think the right type of peace movement looks less like criticism of war and more about showing love to our enemies. If the signs say “End the war in Iraq” I don’t think that’s a great witness. But if the group promotes building schools for girls in Afghanistan, that’s a peace witness that people just can’t argue against.

    Reply
  9. Pastor Frantz

    Sad and tragic story.

    Reply

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