Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Politics on Parade

On Saturday, the eldest son and I marched in the Golden Valley Days parade with his Cub Scout pack (my wife and other boys watched). It was an great opportunity to participate in a local civic event and, to capture, however briefly, that sense of community that seems so elusive to grasp on to these days. It was a muggy, mostly sunny morning when we started off and the pleasant weather attracted a decent crowd of onlookers. There were many families with young children which wasn’t surprising considering the 9:30am kickoff. Those sans kids were probably still sleeping off their indulgences of the previous evening.

At first, the parade was an almost Norman Rockwell like experience, with us marching behind a classic Ford pickup and the uniformed Scouts waving miniature American flags. It was great to see our neighbors and other residents of the city come together to watch the parade and witness their enthusiastic reaction to the Cub Scouts as we went by. Then, something started to bother me. I noticed that some of the people on the sidelines, my neighbors and fellow Golden Valleyites were sporting stickers touting the reelection of Amy Klobuchar. Further on, I began to see green Keith Ellison stickers and finally, although in lesser numbers, stickers advocating for gay marriage (although like the pro-choice pretension, they weren’t nearly that straight-forward instead proclaiming something about preserving the “right to marriage” as if their position wasn’t the radical one).

Now, I realize that local parades are the mother’s milk of retail politics and they have long been a place for politicians and their supporters to troll for votes. But once the political component was introduced on Saturday, the parade lost some of its appeal for me. When I looked out into the crowd, I was mostly seeing unfamiliar faces. I didn’t know who these people were or anything about them. Other than that they likely lived in or close to the same place as I did. So they were part of the same community and, for a brief moment during the parade at least, this community connection was being recognized and celebrated.

However, once I saw the Klobuchar, Ellison, or gay marriage stickers plastered to people I couldn’t look at them the same way. They were choosing to label themselves in a manner that was inviting separation and division. Instead of seeing neighbors, I was seeing people proudly displaying politically (and even religious) viewpoints that were diametrically opposed to my own. Part of the angst I was experiencing was probably due to the fact that there was absolutely no Republican or conservative presence whatsoever to counter the liberal labeling. And part of it could be the timing. It’s one thing to see the open partisan politicking at the State Fair in late-August or early-September. I didn’t really expect to encounter it in May at a local community celebration.

But I also believe that there should be times and places where we can truly put politics aside. It wasn’t as if Amy Klobuchar, Keith Ellison, or a gay couple dressed to wed were actually marching in the parade or shaking the hands and kissing the babies of would-be supporters. The stickers were being doled out by their lackeys. I doubt whether such efforts will materialize into much when it comes to changing minds or winning votes. They did however diminish my ability to enjoy an event that should have been about bringing us together based on what we have in common instead of dividing us by where we differ.

UPDATE: Apparently Keith Ellison was in attendance at the parade. I didn't see him since he was up front and were in the back end.