I participated in my first 4th of July parade today in Amhert, MA. I have recently become involved with a group of Vets for Peace and Iraq Vets Against the War. These two groups had signed up to march in the Amherst’s 4th of July parade and I joined them.
Amherst has to be one of the most liberal town in the most liberal state, yet there is still controversy over who can march in a 4th of July parade – crazy!!! I live is a neighboring town, but I do pay some attention to local politics in Amherst. It turns out that the parade is funded by local business, so it is considered a private event and they can decide who can march and who can not. The business community in Amherst is more conservative and they are more likely to support conservative agendas, which means peace and anti-war groups have not been welcomed to march in the parade. The citizens of Amherst are know for speaking their mind at town meeting so this question of who can march has been a heated debate. This year, as best as I can understand, groups with a political message can march under their banner, but can not carry any signs expressing a political opinion.
So the Vets for Peace and Iraq Vets Against the War were granted a place in the parade. There were about 8 marchers and we carried banners announcing our groups. From the very beginning of the parade we were getting cheers, clapping, and V signs. I had a feeling that we were getting two reactions from the crowd. One was for us showing up and saying we were there and we do not support the past war (Viet Nam) or the present war. The other reason was because we were there despite the effort to keep us out. There was one final effort to keep us out. At about the center of Amherst a police officer approached us in the middle of the parade and told us we were being video taped and if we were not officially in the parade we would receive a court summons. I informed him we had been given permission to be in the parade. I saw one man turn his back to us, but we received a very warm welcome from most of the people in the town.
After the parade we discussed what had happened and we all agreed that the support was quite a surprise. We all felt that the police officer was heavy handed. We must have passed 10 parade officials, all with orange shits, who wished us well.
July 4th should be the day of the year when citizens are encouraged to speak their minds, not silenced to commercial interest.