Friday, June 08, 2007

Don't rain on our parade

In the cherished words of The Saratogian, “the annual Elks Flag Day Parade has featured everything from veterans to Boy Scouts. There is only one thing it has never had.”


That was until last year, when the Saratoga Peace Alliance apparently invited themselves to the Elks’ 38th march down Broadway. Eugene Cole, chairman of the Elks’ Board of Trustees, claims peace alliance members merely showed up at last year’s parade and in the confusion, were allowed to march alongside the mélange of brass bands and aging vets as they made their way toward Congress Park.

“It’s by invitation only and always has been,” he told the Daily Gazette Thursday, explaining that some members feel the peace alliance doesn’t “honor and have the same beliefs the Elks have.”

But in a letter to the Elks, peace alliance member Joe Seeman claims it’s a parade commemorating Flag Day and that everyone who sits beneath Old Glory should have a chance to celebrate during the parade. The peace alliance has been Saratoga Springs’ most vocal and longstanding opponent of the war in Iraq, as well as hostilities in Afghanistan. For more than four years now, they’ve been a veritable fixture at the post office each Saturday at noon. This weekend, they’ll be gathering a half-hour earlier to greet the Elks’ parade as it winds through the city proper.

Certainly, there should be some tension as the geriatric flag bearers of yesteryear are greeted by gaggle of placard-waving pacifists chanting “it’s our flag too.” Obviously, the war-veteran laden Elks’ membership is about the direct antithesis of a bunch of bongo-playing peaceniks. So alas, there’s appears to be yet another small thunder cloud hovering over the Lake Avenue intersection with Broadway.

By snubbing the peace alliance, the Elks have opened the doorway for the type of atmosphere any peacenik loves: lots of people, lots of cameras and lots of visibility. On the other end, the peace protesters will certainly look like a bunch of nitwits if they decide to harass the 89-year-old World War II veteran the Elks plan to wheel down Broadway in an army jeep.

In reality, both sides should capitulate a bit. While the Elks certainly should have some discretion as to who marches, they do close up a public thoroughfare and should therefore be open to any group willing to march behind the stars and bars, provided they’re not blustering some political message. Conversely, the peace alliance members could easily assure the Elks they have no intention to bust out anti-war banners or chants out from their “hey-hey ho-ho” playbook.

Still, it’s strange how the American populace remains deeply divided in their sentiment and utterly unwilling to hear the other side more than four years after the hostilities touched off. And it’s odd how the symbolism of a supposed icon of liberty can be frivolously disputed on an occasion that has little to do with war.


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