It was “Deja Vu all over again” as the late great New York Yankees Hall of Fame catcher Yogi Berra mused–one of his many malapropisms. I refer to the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in downtown Cleveland on Thursday afternoon, March 17th. In an op-ed The Plain Dealer published on March 22, 2009 (“Bringing peace to the parade”), I reported being muscled out of that year’s parade because a parade marshal offended by my American Peace Flag said since I was not a member of organization on her parade roster, I couldn’t take part in the parade. A Cleveland policeman sided with her and escorted me to the sidewalk on the south side of Superior Avenue.
As was the case 13 years ago, the same incident happened at this year’s parade.
I was wearing my 55-year-old U.S. Army field jacket issued to me in the fall of 1966 at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Over the left breast pocket I had pinned six medals the army awarded me upon my return from Vietnam in July, 1968, including a Bronze Star. I wore my black embroidered baseball cap indicating I served with the First Infantry Division (“Big Red One”). (I was a reporter, then editor for the division’s newspaper during my year-long tour of duty.) I told the aggrieved parade marshal, “I have a permit” and reached into the left lower pocket of my field jacket and showed her a copy of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, with the words “freedom of speech” capitalized. It made no difference to her and I said, “Go get a policeman.” She beckoned to one but he did not move. Apparently he did not want to get involved in the dispute. The woman, who I think was the same one who pushed me out of the 2009 parade, said, “You’re a pain in the ass.” I said, “If I’m a pain in the ass, then what are you?” She said nothing. A middle-aged man soon joined the woman. Pointing to a peace symbol button on my field jacket immediately below my medals, I said to the couple, “Do you think the Prince of Peace would like my button?” They looked at it but didn’t answer. (The answer, of course, is “yes.”)
The good news is that there is a happier ending to this year’s saga. I heeded the couple’s order but as I started to walk along the sidewalk on the south side of Superior Avenue toward Public Square, a man walking in the parade rushed over and strongly urged me to join his group, which was on the parade roster. I said, “I was told I couldn’t be in the parade”, but he insisted. So I walked and talked with him until the end of the parade, receiving no further grief from the offended (and offensive) parade marshal or her comrade, while promoting peace to hundreds of onlookers. The gentleman said he had seen me promoting peace at Parade the Circle events behind the Cleveland Museum of Art and at the Blossom Festival Parades in Chagrin Falls. I added that I greet fans heading to Indians and Browns games with my peace message.
After the St. Patrick’s Day Parade this year I stood on the top step of the Old Stone Church, where congregants attend services to worship the Prince of Peace on Sunday mornings. I thought that appropriate. I wanted parade participants in groups following mine and passersby walking on the sidewalk below me to witness my peace message. It seems only fair to me that since there is always a militaristic, jingoistic beginning of the parade, there ought to be a counterbalancing peace message. Shortly after leaving the church steps, a young man walked to me, shook my hand and, pointing to the medals, said, “Those are all yours?” I said, “Yes,” and he said, “I noticed the Bronze Star.” He said he did two tours of duty in Iraq. I said, “I prefer peace to war” and he said, “I agree.”
Before next year’s parade I will seek out the parade marshal and escort her to a policeman. I will then show the two my freedom of speech permit (a copy of the First Amendment). If the policeman sides with the marshal, to keep me out of the parade, I will note his badge number and tell him I will go to the main police station and file a sharply-worded complaint about him denying me my First Amendment rights. That might change his mind.