Exposing Juneau's own un-American committee

Posted: Friday, July 16, 2004

A parade is an event in which fast cars go slowly while clowns honk horns as people who for some reason know how to ride unicycles prove it. What were we celebrating again? Oh. Right. Men in skirts. Those guys are everywhere, aren't they?

At such a somber, sanctified event, I suppose I can see why some wholesome Americans would recoil when somebody walks by in a mask mocking the president. Here they've just come down to watch some high school cheerleaders bounce by and then - bang! - the un-Americans have tossed all that's true and good asunder. They've upset the road-apple cart.

Well then. Times that try men's souls also try their nerve, and the Juneau Fourth of July Committee has plenty of the latter if none of the former: Folks in presidential mask will not be invited back next year. There will be a review of parade entries to weed out the "distasteful" and the "volatile political" statements.

This is because someone in a Bush mask held a sign that said, "I think I served. Commit troops. Cut benefits." This is the sort of anarchist who, if left unchecked, could scuttle our government and way of life tomorrow, or at least make someone frown.

A parade, the offended say, is not a political forum, but a celebration. Don't get smart.

None of this means anything to me, except that it's funny. I haven't been to a Fourth of July parade since the '90s, and then only because I was with children at a festival near the route and they got curious enough to migrate to the curb and accept candy from politicians. From many politicians. From people who'd been walking in the footsteps of people who'd been spreading their messages every Independence Day for decades upon decades upon decades. I care not: The Fourth of July is a free pass to drink before noon; little chance of wayward messages striking bone.

It's been well-stated by many in Juneau this week that political satire is a long-established and healthy tradition in our country. The opposing argument that there's a time and place for such satire ignores the fact that a parade is a public event, on a public street, where there is an unquestioned constitutional right to expression.

Parades are inherently political. Their message of national and civic pride in itself is political. I once saw President George W. Bush walking in a St. Patrick's Day parade blatantly politicking. He was walking in a heavily Democratic city, next to its Democratic mayor, to shore up his bipartisan credentials. This was to be expected. Every politician who was anywhere in the vicinity was expected to walk or face questions about where they'd been. The nearer they were to the head of the parade, the clearer the picture that they had the mayor's blessing. Messages.

There are various levels of distasteful messages, and apparently I and many in Juneau would not agree with the committee's standards. A bestiality float might offend me. Someone throwing Molotov cocktails might scare me. A mask doesn't.

A marcher who makes me laugh, snicker, roll my eyes or even yell something snarky doesn't warrant censorship. The Juneau Fourth of July Committee should rethink its position.

• Brandon Loomis is city editor of the Juneau Empire and can be reached at brandon.loomis@juneauempire.com.

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