In years past, the Rose Parade has been a straightforward and politically uncomplicated celebration of the New Year, featuring celebrities riding vintage cars, carriages or beautifully decorated floats down Colorado Boulevard.
But, since the early 1990s, local and national groups have used the parade as a stage from which to protest against such volatile issues as the inhumane treatment of animals, human rights abuses in China, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the selection of a descendant of Christopher Columbus to serve as grand marshal of the 1992 parade. In the early 1990s, community activists derided the tournament for the lack of female, African-American and Latino representation on the Tournament of Roses Association board of directors.
“I think the reality is the parade, from time to time, has dealt with serious issues. There is always an environment of that potentiality,” Pasadena Police Chief Phil Sanchez told the Weekly. “But what the parade represents acts as a great governor and establishes a clear expectation for parade-goers. People use a lot of resources to get here and many of us who live nearby forget that sometimes. … The parade shouldn’t be used as a platform for political statements and divisiveness.”
This year, members of the Occupy movement, who camped out in front of Los Angeles City Hall for seven weeks in a demonstration against social and economic inequities in American society, will be walking behind the parade.
Pete Thottam, spokesman and organizer of Occupy the Rose Parade, told the Weekly the group has planned four protest phases, including two "floats" to display at the end of the parade, one being a giant octopus made of recycled bags, and a 250-foot replica of the Constitution called “We Are the 99% Float.”
A “Human Float” will be led by Cindy Sheehan, who has been chosen as the Occupiers’ “NON-Grand Marshal.” Picketers also plan to carry banners bearing slogans such as "Corporate Money Out of Politics" and later hold a press conference at City Hall called “Occupy 2.0 People’s Summit on Economic and Social Justice Issues” to talk about their plans going forward.
Sanchez said the department is more concerned about a “fringe element” that is not part of any particular group attempting to make a name for him or herself during the parade.
“We don’t want some disenfranchised individual to disrupt the parade and act inappropriately on behalf of Occupy, even though Occupy may not support that individual of the message,” Sanchez said.
No one will say exactly how many officers will be on the 5.5-mile parade’s path, although there will be hundreds of Pasadena officers, Sheriff’s deputies and Highway Patrol officers — in and out of uniform — patrolling pre-parade activities and the event itself. Police will also be all over the Rose Bowl Game later in the day.
“We don’t get into the numbers or what our plan is, but we will have federal, state and local law enforcement officials in town,” said Pasadena Police Lt. Phlunte Riddle. “Once the parade is complete, we will have the four police cars that patrol the parade drive by, and then anyone who wants to get a message out or fall in behind the police can do so,” Riddle told the Weekly. “But the Occupy movement is not part of the parade.”
Neither is the right-wing Tea Party, which has opted to scrap ideas to respond to the Occupy movement’s plans with a walk of their own behind the parade.
“We really believe America is entitled to one day without politics, and that includes a day without the Tea Party,” said Michael Alexander, head of the Pasadena Patriots, the local Tea Party affiliate.
“The Rose Parade is iconic, because it is one of those days on which people of every faith, color, nationality and economic background come together to celebrate the New Year and have a good time,” Alexander said.
Thottam said he thinks the real reason the Tea Party canceled its counter-demonstration plans is because they don’t have the numbers that the Occupiers do.
“The Rose Parade has already become politicized, that’s for sure, by virtue of its increasing corporatization and militarization,” said Thottam. “But we consider the Tea Party as brothers in arms, not our enemies. We welcome them and think they have a lot of legitimate concerns about the big banks and how Wall Street influence has spun out of control. We have more in common than we both realize, so we welcome them to join us in marching on Jan. 2.”
Police officials said there was one trend they hoped continued this year — over the past several years, arrests have steadily dropped between 5 p.m. New Year’s Eve and 5 p.m. New Year’s Day. Last year, just 45 people were arrested for public intoxication.