Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Out In The Anti-War Night-Reflections On The Saint Patrick’s Peace Parade-2015

From The Pen Of Peter Paul Markin


Funny Lenny Baxter had not seen Frank Jackman for few years, not since those halcyon days antiwar days in 2006, 2007 he guessed when they had met at a meeting over at U/Mass-Boston to plan an anniversary anti-war march around stopping the continuing Iraq war. Yes, now that he thought about it, it was 2006 since they had been planning a third anniversary march. Frank was closely associated with an anti-war veterans group, Veterans For Peace (VFP), and Lenny had been part of an ad hoc committee that was composed of a number of anti-war activists ranging from Quakerly pacifists (little old ladies in tennis sneakers his had called them, kindly called them, from some ancient mother mention about the type when he was a kid) to stanch anti-imperialists, and maybe a few old-time socialists and communists too. Since Lenny was a veteran as well, although of the first Iraq war back in 1991 not the second, he had gravitated toward Frank’s VFPers and had gotten to know Frank and his fellow vets pretty well although they were mainly from the Vietnam War era. They had worked together that year and through 2007.  Then things kind of just fell apart in the anti-war milieu and they had drifted apart. Lenny had subsequently had a few personal problems, a broken marriage, a small drug problem that might have gotten bigger had he not sobered up, and some injuries, mental and physical and so he had not been active since that period.

Not so Frank  as Lenny approached him at the Park Street MBTA  in downtown Boston  on the Saturday before Saint Patrick’s Day where he was passing out those never-ending flyers that seem to go with passing through the downtown territory. Lenny had not been downtown, at least on a Saturday, for a long time so he had forgotten about the mishmash of  cause barkers (with or without soapboxes like some old time Eugene Debs figures or Wobblie flame-throwers ), harkers (the “good word” people harmless Christian sect cranks), card-sharkers  (more nefarious hustlers, drifters, grifters, and midnight shifters, intermingled with the homeless who have historically made the area their “home,” and flat-out crazies released against all good caution from some institution ) and the like who populate the area in front of that station on any given Saturday. Frank was passing out flyers informing one and all that VFP and others, other peace and progressive activist groups, were staging a parade, a peace parade, the fifth annual one according to the flyer, and to Frank’s barking that information over a jerry-bilt mic system he had in front of him in South Boston before the regular Saint Patrick’s Day parade and was pitching that everybody was welcomed to watch or join in on that event the following afternoon.       

After Lenny identified himself to Frank and they shook hands Frank invited Lenny over for the next day’s event. Lenny, having been out of the loop for a while, asked Frank what the whole thing was about. Frank quickly pointed out that a couple of years before, maybe three, VFP had applied to the organizers of the official parade to participant as a contingent. They had been denied ostensibly because the organization was political or some such excuse. In reply they had quickly organized a counter-parade that year inviting other groups, notably the gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans-sexual community that had also been historically excluded from the official parade (Lenny knew some of the details of that exclusive from events back in the 1990s) and marched after the official parade. The upcoming event, with added details that Frank did not elaborate on and told Lenny to read about in the flyer, was a continuation of that new-found tradition. Frank pressed the issue of Lenny’s attendance along with any other people he might know from the old days to come and march. Lenny said he would try to make the event.    

As Lenny walked away from the station and headed toward Government Center to catch the Blue Line home he pondered whether he would go or not. He had not been politically active for some time what with this and that personal problem, had not followed what was going on much, and was not sure exactly the point of marching separately in a parade right before or after another parade because you had been excluded from that other parade. Why not just go elsewhere and have your own parade at your own time and  place like a million others have done, including many of those excluded groups signed up as sponsors for tomorrow’s event.  Moreover he was not sure, not sure at all, that he wanted to return to Southie, return to place where he had long ago family connections and where more recently, before he got sober, he had some drug deal problems. As he entered the Blue Line train and sat down he started to read the details of the history of the Peace Parade efforts. As he rode home some stirrings from the old days told him he should go the next day, and so he resolved to do so.

The plan according to Frank and the leaflet was for the Peace Parade to step off at 12:00 PM, a while before the official parade began (VFP and the others were under legal restraint to stay one mile in front of or behind the official parade per some judge’s order) from the corner of West Broadway and D Street. Lenny decided to go a little early to see if any of his old activist friends were still around and maybe march with them. (He felt funny about the idea of marching up front with VFP). As he headed down D Street from the Convention Center with throngs of people, most dressed in some form of patriotic Irish-flamed green attire, he noticed the VFP flags fluttering in the wind that told him he was at the staging area. If that sight hadn’t informed he could see and hear Frank, good old Frank with his VFP tee-shirt on and greens ribbons embossed with Easter 1916 on them, bellowing out from that same jerry-bilt mic seen the previous day at Park Street for one and all to get ready for the peace parade. He went up to Frank to “report in” and they again shook hands and knowing Frank was busy Lenny moved on. He thereafter milled around the crowd forming up to look for old faces.

As Lenny was milling around he did run into some old activists from the anti-imperialist committee who held a banner proclaiming No New War In Iraq and after introductions and chit-chat he decided to march with that contingent. March if they ever got going. He had been to enough marches to know that they never start on time, maybe on principle, maybe as a matter of karma, but in any case they were always late but this one was burdensomely so.   

While he was talking with his old time associates before the step off they informed him that the previous year’s march had been good, the day had been unseasonably warm, unlike this day, and the crowds or some substantial parts of them had stayed to watch the second parade. They had also told him that the first year there had been about five hundred participants (on short notice) and the previous year about two thousand with bands and other parade- type things. When the stepped off he looked back to estimate this year’s crowd he did not feel, at least to his eye, that there were that number here this day. (Frank had empathized at Park Street that they needed to increase the numbers this year to make a political point to the official organizers and to the city.) There were certainly not more than two thousand and he was a pretty good judge of crowd sizes from his pervious anti-war work. So he was feeling some trepidation as they stepped off.       

As they made the turn from D Street onto West Broadway he noticed that masses of people, mostly young people, were moving down toward the Broadway MBTA station which indicated they were heading home. He again felt something was wrong, or maybe not wrong so much as against the expectations he had told about. As they marched up West Broadway there were small clots of attentive by-standers here and there but mainly he noted people were moving either toward the bars, restaurants, stores, or to the side streets for parties and whatever is done on Saint Patrick’s Day by the faithful. That same, frankly, indifference, was felt throughout West Broadway and then down through East Broadway as well. Something did not connect, something was not happening, and he could feel it in the sullen manner of marchers as they passed the emptying streets as they reached the neighborhood section part to the march. What topped things off though was the walk down Dorchester Avenue, a wide thoroughfare toward the end of the parade, where there were very, very few spectators.

At the end the VFPers had formed up on each side of the street to thank the marchers and band members for coming and he ran into Frank and asked him his assessment of the event. Frank said, “We have to figure out another way to reach people, this thing was a failure, and will not help our message.”  Lenny told Frank he was glad he had marched although he shared some of Frank’s political estimate. Frank brightened at that remark a little as they shook hands again. Lenny as he headed toward the Andrew MBTA station starting thinking, thinking  about how and where the excluded might celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day more fruitfully next year. Lenny was back…          


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