More than one thousand people joined the Saint Patrick’s Day Peace Parade, marching through South Boston on Sunday, March 18.
Many of these marchers had originally sought to partake in the city’s traditional St. Patrick’s Day Evacuation Day Parade. However, its private sponsor, the South Boston Allied War Veterans Council, rejected their application. The council characterized the group’s message ––peace, equality, jobs, social and economic justice –– as “too political,” according to Al Johnson of Veterans for Peace.
Vietnam veteran Bob Funke, recalling his time in combat (for which he received three Purple Hearts, two Silver Stars and three Bronze Stars), found it “horrific” that Veterans for Peace would be excluded from the main parade. “We’re just as good a people as anybody else,” he said.
Local LGTB groups agree. “Keep the Gae in Gaelic!” one sign read. Another, carried by a local Catholic LGBT group, bore the “political” message, “Dignity.”
Many consider the exclusion of peace and equal-rights supporters antithetical to the heritage of Ireland and Christian sainthood. “Whatever the mythology may be,” Al Johnson told Occupy Boston TV, Saint Patrick “was a man of peace in his time, and it’s kind of ironic that his name has been appropriated by those who would––let’s face it––glorify war.”
Police held back the Peace Parade for a while after the official parade had finished. The delay lasted longer than participants expected, but did not demoralize Debby Colgan of Friends Meeting at Cambridge. Those “interested in social change for the betterment of all have been very patient,” she told the Occupier. “And if it takes us a long time, it takes us a long time.”
Next to her spot in the parade, a marching band played melodies, and not far off a group of drummers beat out a rhythm of their own. Several puppets slithered next to the drummers––symbolizing the snakes which St. Patrick purportedly banished from Ireland. The puppets wore nametags: Militarism, Racism, and Homophobia––reptilian qualities that activists wish to similarly banish from our own shores.
Between the serpents and the drummers stood the iconic landmark of Occupy Boston’s autumn encampment at Dewey Square: Mahatma Gandhi, a statue honoring the nonviolent resister of English imperialism, now roused from his winter hibernation.
“Get England out of Ireland today!” chanted Edward Childs of the Hotel and Restaurant Workers Union Local 26. He likened the historical struggles of the Irish to those of oppressed African Americans. People “unite under the same spirit,” he reasoned, which is “inclusive of every ethnicity” and resists violent imperialism.
Indeed, as marchers walked along East Broadway, many onlookers cheered the “alternative” parade and flashed peace signs. Several even joined the march.
Mélida Arrodondo attended the parade in honor of her two sons: Alexander, who perished in Iraq in 2004, and his grieving brother Brian––an Occupy Boston activist––who passed away this past winter. The mother traveled in a car with a gold star on its hood, signifying a “family of the fallen.”
Supporters of Green Party Presidential Candidate Jill Stein dressed in solidarity with both their political party and the holiday. Wes Nickerson explained that Stein “is for peace, she’s for the 99%.” Stein proposes a “Green New Deal” for Americans, which would “end the Oil Wars” and restructure the U.S. economy by “creating millions of jobs in green energy, manufacturing, agriculture and public transportation.”
While most spectators cheered or politely tolerated the peace parade, some voiced their displeasure. “Hey Occupy…you suck,” an obese, green-shirted celebrant shouted from a porch before draining a bottle of Bud Light. Another inebriate was overheard telling a child, “These people are going to take your tax dollars. These people don’t know how to work.”
As the parade continued down Telegraph Street, an enraged inquisitor repeatedly shouted, “Do you got a job? Get a job!” “I have a job!” “I have two jobs!” answered marchers. “I’m a nurse,” one woman shouted back. The man sipped from a red cup and did not coherently reply.
Children treated the Peace Parade with more respect. Many eagerly collected the free stickers and pins handed out by Occupy activists.
As the parade finished its course near the Andrew Square T stop, marchers chanted “No hikes, no fees; public transit should be free,” and distributed fliers for Occupy’s National Day of Action for Public Transportation on April 4.
Pat Scanlon––a veteran, activist, and musician who helped organize the event––thanked Occupy for coming out. “It was a wonderful day,” he told the Occupier. “We love Occupy and we loved having you guys.” Three bagpipers skirled Celtic harmonies. The neighborhood crowd cheered loudly, and people raised their drinks in a toast.
For more information on why the St. Patrick’s Day Peace Parade and Veterans for Peace, check out this episode of OBTV hosted by Doug Enaa Greene.