A Rule Broken and an Opportunity Presented
There will be no distributions or fundraising by any float applicant. No objects of any kind may be thrown, sprayed or otherwise distributed to spectators from any entry (i.e., candy, silly string, snappers, advertisements, etc.) Failure to comply will result in immediate removal from the parade.
I think it’s objectively fair to suggest that some ambiguity exists about who counts as an “applicant” and at what distance one ceases to be distributing materials “from any entry” (i.e., float). But let’s stipulate that a violation was made. #8 states that removal will be immediate. A subsequent summary states that the organizers may remove inappropriate or dangerous floats from the parade “before or during” the event.
The fact is that Float Committee Chairmain Jim Tavares was clearly aware of the distributions while they were being made. According to the Tea Party group’s posting on the parade (see extended entry below), no mention of the problem was made until days later, when Tavares issued the proclamation of a lifetime ban. If those are, indeed, the circumstances, then it appears that Tavares neither followed through with the prescribed punishment nor offered the group a cease and desist warning regarding the booklets, which is curious, given his concern for the public’s safety. Considering that the handout was a copy of our nation’s founding documents — very relevant to a 4th of July parade, I’d say — a lighter hand would certainly have been justified.
There’s a strong odor of political motivation — with a dash of small-town pettiness — to the verdict.
But look at what the various rules appear to suggest: Those associated with a float (apparently indicated by wearing the same t-shirt) cannot hand out literature, even if they walk along the edge of the road. Those who are “soliciting” must apply for licenses at $200 per “runner” or $300 per corner. It seems to me that, if the Bristol Fourth of July Committee does not recant the ban of the Tea Party from placing a float in next year’s parade, the group would be perfectly free to stroll the parade route handing out Constitutions, fliers about the controversy, leaflets about the endemic corruption in Rhode Island, and so on.
In fact, I’ll propose that we all set loose expectations that we’ll help out in the effort in July 2010. (Odds are good that a great many of us will be unemployed, anyway.) Imagine a Tea Party protest–sized group walking alongside every float in the parade, making distributions. Who knows but that somebody among the opposition will plan a counter-protest, and the event can follow the Parade Committee’s lead right into a chasm of politically motivated noise.
The Tea Party group’s account, from the Google cache:
As we informed you this week, the RI Tea Party float in the Bristol Fourth of July Parade (the oldest 4th July Parade in the country) was a HUGE success, with people in the crowd showing overwhelming support and enthusiasm for our cause. Although we expected a positive reception, the response of the parade watchers was beyond our wildest imaginations. We were proud to represent the freedom loving people of Rhode Island to celebrate our country’s Independence!
Today, we received news from the Bristol Parade Committee that the RI Tea Party is to NEVER apply to appear in the Bristol Parade again. We were told unequivocally that our group was “horrible”, “not to waste the stamp to send in an application in the future”, and that the Committee never wanted “those people” of the RI Tea Party to participate in the parade in the first place.
Why would the Bristol Parade Committee have such a negative response to our float when the crowd was so overwhelmingly positive? We are told it is because some members of the RI Tea Party passed out US Constitutions to the crowd. Apparently passing out the US Constitution on Independence Day is an egregious violation of parade rules. This is despite the fact that other floats passed out solicitations for their businesses, which is against the Parade guidelines, and these businesses have NOT been told that they are banned from participating in the future.
This clear discrimination by the Parade Committee was also evident as the RI Tea Party was rejected for sound on the float and was told the morning of the Parade by one of the parade committee inspectors that she “never heard of someone being rejected for sound” before and they were “probably afraid you would say something politically incorrect.”