In my previous two articles on July 4th (1,
2), I said that
the meaning of that holiday was gradually being lost. But on July 4th of this
year, I participated in our local Monterey parade and found that some of it
either hadn't been lost or was being rediscovered.
My friend Lawrence Samuels, an energetic local libertarian activist, sent
out an e-mail asking libertarians to show up at the July 4th parade and march
with Libertarians for Peace and Code Pink. The last time I marched in a parade
was – never. I'm more into watching parades. In high school, I helped organize
our freshie day parade but, because I was an organizer, I got to travel in the
RCMP car that headed the parade. But,
because Lawrence has put so much more energy into libertarian and pro-peace
activism than I have, I decided to support him. So I headed off to the parade
wearing blue shorts and a red and white shirt. I also carried, to put on at
my option, my T-shirt from the Bizet opera Carmen that says on the front,
"Free was I born and free shall I die!"
I met Lawrence, and we walked to our assigned spot in the parade. The bad
news is that we were the only two libertarians to show up. The good news is
that it takes only two people to hold each end of a banner, and Lawrence had
brought our Libertarians for Peace banner.
But there was other, much better news. In the slot ahead of us, I saw about
five to eight people wearing red, white, and blue and carrying signs with shortened
versions of each of the 10 amendments that make up the Bill of Rights. I was
pleasantly shocked. What was this group? Perhaps there was a local branch of
the Constitution Party and I
had been unaware of it. That seemed unlikely; I pay a lot of attention to local
politics. Who were these guys and gals who were willing to carry all
10 of the amendments and not just cherry-pick the ones they liked? There was
an easy way to find out: ask. I approached one of them and asked what group
they were part of. He answered, "We're the local Democratic Party."
"Wow," I said, "that's great." I asked, "Are you planning
to carry all 10 of the amendments, including the Second?" He smiled, clearly
understanding why I asked. "Yes," he said, "if I'm going to support
the Constitution, I have to support even the ones I'm not excited about."
He introduced himself as Thom Diggins, president of the Democratic Club of the
Monterey Peninsula. I gave him a high five. I talked to various Democrats and
found myself liking them and not even disagreeing with them about most of the
political issues we talked about. For one thing, they seemed more antiwar than
most of the candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination. I told them
I was glad that no one was carrying a sign for the Sixteenth
Amendment, the one giving Congress the power to impose an income tax.
We also talked about freedom of speech. I told them that I hadn't brought any
antiwar signs or "Impeach Cheney" signs because I had understood that
such signs would be banned. But some of them had attended the City Council meeting
where this had been discussed: some city workers had wanted to ban all political
expression from the July 4th parade, but the City Council, in response
to citizen outrage, had relented. At those meetings, the Democrats told me,
they had learned that pretty much any non-obscene expression was all right.
If only I had known.
There was a festive air among all the various groups. I wandered around talking
to many of them, including a man dressed up as Groucho Marx. Everyone seemed
to understand at some level that July 4th is about celebration, and, just by
being in a parade in which they expressed what was important to them, they were
celebrating their freedom. Also, and maybe this just reflects where we were
in the parade line, I didn't see a huge display of the U.S. military.
When the parade started moving, Libertarians for Peace and Code Pink got in
line behind the Democrats with their Bill of Rights signs. I heard someone in
their group say, "We've lost one of the amendments." I answered, "We've
lost more than one." Then, I realized that she meant that the person carrying
the First Amendment had disappeared. A moment later, he came running up and
all was well. One of the heartening things was how many people along the parade
route applauded for the Bill of Rights.
At various points in the parade, a city official stood by a microphone and
announced the various groups going by. When our group showed up, the official
announced "Code Pink." I caught his attention and pointed to our sign.
He looked at the sign, looked at his list, presumably saw that only Code Pink
was listed, and didn't say anything. At the next two announcing points, though,
after the officials had announced "Code Pink," I went through the
same routine and the official added, "and Libertarians for Peace."
One of them went on to announce the subtitle on our sign, "Antiwar, anti-state,
At one point in the parade, one man on the sideline saw our banner and said,
"The last bastion of free thinking." I gave him thumbs up, and he
Later on, after the parade, something disturbing happened, though. George Riley,
a member of the Green Party, which is part of the Peace Coalition of Monterey
County, had brought a number of signs, including signs that said, "Bong
Hits 4 This Parade" and "Bong Hits 4 Free Speech." He was told
by a city official that he could not carry such signs. That was astounding.
Here was a low-level city official making major judgments about what kind of
speech would be allowed and what kind wouldn't.
Now, you might say that it was kind of silly to bring such signs. Why mention
bong hits? But I don't think it's silly. One of the ways to test whether you
really have freedom of speech is to push in certain directions and see what
happens. I think that's what this person was doing.
One last bright spot. While Lawrence and I were walking from the end of the
parade to the picnic at City Hall, I recognized the man in the crowd who had
said we were the last bastion of free thought. I went up and said hi, and he
said that he had seen Ron Paul on TV and that he was glad people like that were
The main lesson I learned was that it makes sense to take the most important
pro-freedom U.S. holiday and use it to give a pro-freedom, antiwar message.
Next time, I'm going to try to get 10 libertarians out there carrying the Amendments
and the "Impeach Bush, Cheney, Pelosi" banners, upping the ante on
© Copyright 2007 by David R. Henderson. For permission to reprint,
please contact Antiwar.com.