Activists Ask City to Take Over Memorial Day Parade

Having drawn the ire of parade organizers, Marin Peace and Justice Coalition wants City Hall to take ownership of parade and let them in.

Nearly two dozen anti-war and free speech activists implored the Mill Valley City Council last week to take ownership of the annual , saying that the event’s organizers are preventing them from participating this year.

At issue is an ongoing conflict between the Marin Peace and Justice Coalition (MPJC) and the I Love a Parade Committee that has been putting on the popular Memorial Day event since 1992. Mill Valley resident and MPJC member Alan Barnett has led the group’s participation in several previous parades, often drawing the ire of parade organizers for banners that alleged war crimes by the United States or Israel.

“Alan Barnett manipulates the system for his own agenda without any regard for the city of Mill Valley and the residents of Mill Valley that he might offend,” said Larry “the Hat” Lautzker, the president of the parade committee, saying that the coalition has broken several agreements with parade organizers over the years to keep their message focused on peace and not war or alleged war crimes.

“He’s been given every opportunity to follow the parade rules and not use the parade as a soapbox for his own agenda,” Lautzker continued. “That’s why we’re keeping them out of the event.”

The parade committee has a landmark 1995 U.S. Supreme Court decision on its side.

In Hurley v. Irish American Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Group of Boston, the court ruled that private citizens organizing a public demonstration may not be compelled by the government to include groups who impart a message that the organizers do not want to be included in their demonstration.”

Barnett, a 48-year resident of Mill Valley, said his group was well aware of the court ruling and had sought the advise of the Marin chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which determined that the only way around the court ruling is for the city to sponsor the event and issue permits to all groups that want to participate in the parade.

“The city government has granted a permit to the I Love a Parade Committee knowing that it insists on censoring the organizations that it allows in the parade,” Barnett said. “Instead, the city could declare that the parade is an official city event and could grant permits to any groups that want to participate.”

Former Mill Valley Mayor Bob Burton said that while he often disagreed with Barnett, his group had a right to participate in the parade, as does any group wishing to exercise its right to free speech.

“Maybe somebody would like to go in the parade and carry a Nazi flag,” Burton said. “That would be very repulsive to me, but I respect their right to do so.”

Part of the free speech debate is a result of the parade being on Memorial Day, which commemorates U.S. soldiers who died while in military service. Local resident Lorraine Norby said those rights included free speech.

“So how could this happen?” she asked.

But Lautzker said that the Mill Valley parade was never intended to be a traditional Memorial Day event like those in the Presidio in San Francisco or at the Marin Civic Center in San Rafael.

“It’s a celebration of all that is Mill Valley,” Lautzker said. “It’s not to say that we don’t honor the men and women who died for our country, but we also honor the people who lived and died in our community, hence the theme of this year’s parade .”

City Councilwoman Shawn Marshall said the city has encouraged the parade committee to incorporate some traditional Memorial Day elements but can’t require it because it is not a city event.

At the council’s meeting last Tuesday, City Attorney Greg Stepanicich said the Hurley decision does indeed allow a private group to have a parade and decide who gets in and who doesn’t, regardless of the event's connection to Memorial Day.

He also noted that because a permit has already been issued to the I Love a Parade Committee for the 2011 Memorial Day Parade, this year's parade must go on irrespective of the current debate.

Stepanicich noted that any group could apply for a permit for the same day as the Memorial Day Parade and decide, for instance, to march at the end of the parade separately.

Marshall said that tack was the coalition’s best move.

“I know that is not the solution that the MPJC would like to see happen here, but it is a solution that allows then to do what they want to do,” she said.

Marshall said that while it might make sense for the city to evaluate the possibility of sponsoring the Memorial Day Parade in the future, doing so would raise a host of additional questions.

“That adds major potential resource impacts on the city at a time when all cities are buckling down and having to make serious priority calls about what we’re able and willing to spend our money on,” Marshall said.

Scott April 29, 2011 at 05:20 PM
Alan, the banners you posted last year were as highly offensive and bigoted as they were wrong. (While not seeking to engage in political debate, blaming Israel for the mid-east's problems are show mind-numbing ignorance or willful, and therefore bigoted, neglect of the facts. Truth is were the palestinians to lay down their arms, they'd have peace. Were Israel to lay down its arms, they'd be dead.) I saw your banners and was furious that such mis-informed protests were ruining, at least for me, the parade. Had you been allowed to do so again this year, I can personally guarantee you there'd be other, more vocal groups in the parade setting the record straight. Since you'd be instigating and inciting vocal protests, your appearance in the parade would, therefore, be responsible for turning a nice, fun, family event into chaotic political protest. This is what will happen if the city were to take over the parade.
Frank Gold May 03, 2011 at 01:45 AM
I remember when Mill Valley was a progressive leader in the Bay Area and a major advocate for peace and justice. I recall when Mill Valley was one of the first municipalities to adopt a resolution against the American War in Vietnam and when hundreds of citizens marched down Miller Avenue protesting the extension of the war beyond Vietnam, and I recall that this parade controversy has gone on and on without resolution. What has become of Mill Valley? It is absurd to deny participation to the Marin Peace and Justice Coalition and it is time the city stopped perpetuating this afront to free speech and directed the inclusion of the MPJC (if they request it) as a condition of granting a permit. Failing that, let the city take over the parade.
Fritz Bathelt May 19, 2011 at 08:49 PM
The parade organizers shouldn't be able to call it the" Mill Valley Memorial Day Parade " and exclude participants and stifle free speech. If they want to do that they should call it the " Famous for our Looks, I hate free speech parade." Fritz Bathelt
Frank Lurz May 20, 2011 at 08:24 PM
Zealots and true believers — in their naive, arrogant and narrow-minded thinking any limitation of their imagined right to deliver "THEIR MESSAGE" is a priori a denial of "free-speech." It just ain't so, and MPJC knows it! They're not being denied a right to speak, they're being denied the privilege of joining someone else's party. I remember the Vietnam War too, and participated in some of those protests. In particular I remember attention-hungry, anti-war zealots who crashed the party, got in everyone's face and ended up alienating the very people whose support they could have enlisted. Those people didn't give a damn about the war. Like spoiled children they just used it as an excuse indulge their egos and vent their hostility.
Another Citizen May 30, 2011 at 04:32 PM
As a parade-watcher last year and as someone who knows that the British soiled the Middle East and as someone who supports a Palestinian State, I didn't like the banners and don't wish to see them this year or next. The corner of Camino Alto and Blithedale is a perfect spot to set up shop, as others currently do in order to exercise their freedom of speech.


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