Absent from the lineup at this year’s Fourth of July parade in Santa Barbara, Calif., will be the city’s Veterans For Peace chapter, whose request for a float was rejected by parade organizers.
Ron Dexter, a member of VFP’s Santa Barbara chapter, said the group was given only a vague reason for their float’s rejection. However, parade organizers briefly cited a confrontation between the peace advocates and event volunteers at previous parades, he told a local newspaper.
Paul Lamberton, one of the parade organizers, told the Independent that VFP was not allowed in the parade because the group has distributed handbills and flyers in the past, even though they were told it was against parade policy to do so. He added that it costs about $1,000 to clean up after the parade and said if the group “wanted to absorb that expense then perhaps an exception could be made.”
In response to Lamberton’s statements, Dexter said just one peace activist had distributed the material and added that the individual would not be involved in the parade this year. Dexter also said he believed VFP was excluded for political reasons.
Though VFP activists from Santa Barbara have participated in the Fourth of July parade before, they had never sponsored a float. For its first float, the group says they planned an anti-war theme that would include 28 crosses with names, medals, rosaries and flowers. But since the group’s request to participate has been denied, they’ll probably have to save the float for a different year or a different parade.
While this is the first time the Santa Barbara chapter has been banned from a parade, it is not the first and probably not the last time a VFP group has been banned from a parade.
Last November, the VFP chapter in Auburn, Wash., filed a lawsuit with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union after the group was told it would not be allowed to march in the city’s Veterans Day Parade.
The group had participated in the Veterans Day Parade for the previous six years.
Auburn City Attorney Dan Heid said the decision to exclude the group from the parade was two-fold: Someone had to be cut to limit the length of the parade, and VFP didn’t fit in with the other participants.
“The parade’s mission as written — and they’ve been provided it — is to support and give honor to the military veterans and current military and their missions of defending freedom around the globe,” Heid said. “That is inconsistent with the mission of the Veterans For Peace. Veterans For Peace has taken the position that members of the military should disobey orders to go to foreign areas because of illegal wars waged by the country.”
“When you say things like ‘End the War Now’ and ‘The loss of life and the cost of the war is not worth it’ that demeans the service of those people who are put in that position of having to serve in those conflicts,” Heid said.
The Auburn-based VFP chapter fought their case in court with the help of the ACLU. The day before the parade, a judge ruled the group should be allowed to participate in the parade and called the group’s exclusion an issue of free speech.
After the ruling, Veterans For Peace member and Vietnam veteran Mike Dedrick said he was glad the judge realized the group wasn’t doing anything radical but was “marching like everybody else.”
“We carry a peace flag, which is an American flag but in place of the stars is a peace symbol,” he told KIRO Radio. “At the head of our formation is an American flag. We don’t solicit the crowd, we don’t hand out anything. We just have our presence there to make our point.”
While the group does its best to maintain a peaceful presence at parades and receives support from community members, Dedrick says the group has been booed at by parade attendees and has seen groups of uniformed soldiers turn their backs as the VFP activists walk by.
“Almost everybody will clap or wave, come up to us afterward and say, ‘Thank you for being here,’” Dedrick said, adding, “That was particularly so this year. Everybody knew about the issue. Even if they didn’t particularly agree with our point of view, they agreed with the point of view that we should be included and our voice should be heard.”
“I think that Veterans Day has been so politicized and so hyped that it has lost what it’s original intention was,” Dedrick told KIRO. “It was Armistice Day, which was a day partially dedicated not only to veterans, but also to discussions and furthering the cause of world peace. I don’t see how you can talk about veterans without talking about peace.”
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