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I Occupy the Rose Parade January 10, 2012

Posted by homolog88 in Uncategorized.


When I heard there was a plan for Occupy supporters to march directly behind the official Rose Parade that had been worked out with the Rose Parade organizers and the City of Pasadena , I knew I wanted to participate. Because of previous travel, I had missed the mass demonstrations last fall sponsored by Occupy Oakland. This was an opportunity for me to show my support at the site of the town where I had grown up. And the fact that the organizers had negotiated the probably grudging acceptance of the march from the Powers That Be augured well for a non-violent event. I’d made my efforts to smash the capitalist state back in the 60s, and the escalating violence of the police response at that time convinced me that I was better off accepting my privileged position as part of the sated American middle class rather than trying to bring about the New Millenium for humanity.

Occupy the Rose Parade (OTRP) planned two public events, a forum and rally at the All Saint’s Church in downtown Pasadena on the afternoon of January 1 and a protest march after the parade on January 2. I attended both.

The forum was, by my lights, a slightly depressing affair. The speakers made the connections between Wall Street greed, corporate arrogance, the foreclosure crisis, and Republican intransigence. The discourse was reasonable, and there was even a bit of good political theater about the absurdity of granting personhood rights to corporations. (“I used to pay taxes,” one video interviewee confessed. “Then I declared myself to be a corporation and moved all my assets to a bank account in the Cayman Islands !”) But there were perhaps 200 people in the audience, which felt small for the space provided, and the atmosphere was suffused with the left wing/progressive/well-intentioned/lost cause vibe that makes these events seem sadly marginal. Fortunately, the protest march the next day, felt much more successful.

True to the City of Pasadena ’s deal with the devil, January 2, Rose Parade day, dawned warm and blue. I arrived at the municipal park which had been allocated by the City as a staging area at 8:30. The protestors were flowing in, and the three floats that had been prepared for the event were also being readied. The most elaborate of these floats was a corporate octopus of waving tentacles made out of recycled garbage bags.

Occupy octopus

There was also a huge hand-lettered replica of the first paragraph of the Constitution that begins “We the People.” A satirical twin reading “We the Corporations” detailed the rights and benefits that the corporations arrogate to themselves. Estimating crowd strength has always been difficult for me, but I would guess there were no more than 600 people at the staging area. But the atmosphere was upbeat, and there was a greater demographic represented amongst the marchers than there had been at the previous day’s forum. Furthermore, many of the handmade signs and costumes were witty and effective.

OTRP signs

At 9:30, we were summoned to march behind the final motorcade signaling the end of the official parade. We only walked ¼ of the parade route, ending our own itinerary at an area just west of City Hall. As we marched, our numbers swelled until the wave of protesting humanity surging down Colorado Avenue looked impressive.

OTRP apogee

Parade organizers over-estimated a crowd of 5,000; the police under-counted to 400—a ridiculous claim. I would say around 3,000 at the march apogee would be a fair number. We lost a good 4/5 of those people at the closing rally, but we put on a good showing for the march down the parade route. And there were still lots of people in the stands. Some gave us a thumbs-down; others were clearly welcoming. Most simply watched, bemused or amused. The Rose Parade is corn-fed Americana , as I wrote previously, so the masses watching the parade are not exactly ripe for radicalization, particularly the ones who could afford bleacher seats, but many thousands saw us in person, and we got some news coverage that evening and the following day.

All in all, the march was a success. Everything progressed peacefully, and we all felt the uplift of spirited protest as our signs and floats swirled down the parade route. The Billionaire’s Marching Band added some festive music to the occasion (“We’re In the Monday”), and even I, who am not much of a joiner when it comes to chants, could get behind the slogan, “The banks got bailed out; we got sold out.”

The post-march rally had a celebratory feel to it. The march’s principal organizer, Pete Thottam, was understandably euphoric. He acted as the Master of Ceremonies for a series of short political speeches, including one from the famous Iraq War protester Cindy Sheehan, followed by some musical acts. The overkill police presence in riot gear standing between us and City Hall made some people nervous, but the organizers assured us that nothing bad was going to happen, and nothing did. The Powers That Be hoped that we would remain contained in our little bubble, and that our perverse squeaks of dissent would be drowned out by the roar of celebratory consumerism. Bashing our heads in would have been counter-productive.


As a participant, I know that many thousands of people witnessed the march because I saw them with my own eyes. Anything amplified beyond that was dependent on the media. To the extent that the OTRP march was a news event, it got covered. How it got covered by mainstream media – the only media that has any sort of deep reach into the populace – was a mixed bag but a revealing bag.

Of course TV stations covering the parade live immediately switched their programming. Oddly enough, just to insure that our message would be literally drowned out as we passed the media stands, Glenn Miller records blared at top volume, providing a weirdly upbeat soundtrack to the protest march.

As might be expected, the local print paper, The Pasadena Star News, provided the most extensive coverage of the march preparations and its advent. The day before, the paper published a lengthy article, a bit of a hit piece, on the Pete Thottam’s, the organizer’s, checkered past and ideological disagreements with the Occupy movements in L.A. and Pasadena. However, that same paper provided the most even-handed reporting of the event itself the following day. (http://www.pasadenastarnews.com/news/ci_19660978) As for the all-important TV news, the L.A. version of the CBS network provided some pretty fair coverage. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5-zLhpedKj8&t=2m40s). I don’t know what channel 5, KTLA’s, ideological position is, but their coverage was somewhat hostile, saying in their evening program of the event that the protestors “tried to get their message across.”

And what of the scintilla of attention granted to the event by the powerful and prestigious Los Angeles Times?  Let’s examine how the coverage devalued the march by misrepresentation and context. Here are the first three paragraphs of their story.

Hundreds of Occupy the Rose Parade protesters marched down Colorado Boulevard in Pasadena on Monday after the real event was over, lining up behind police squad cars, tow trucks and the last official float to carry their message of economic inequality.

The reaction from the crowd, which was dispersing, was mixed, with some boos, but most people watched quietly or with amusement.

A member of a small group called the Bible Believers, which marches every year at the end of the parade, yelled to the Occupiers: “You people are no more than communist revolutionaries who destroy our country.”

Videos of the march clearly show that there were many more than “hundreds” involved. Then, of course, we were characterized as a sideshow to the “real event.” The reaction from the crowd ranged from neutral to negative. (I personally witnessed many cheers and thumbs up.) And, finally, while “our” message of economic inequality was referred to in only the most generic terms, a full quote from the Bible Believers (“communist revolutionaries”) was given way more news space. And, as a bonus, we got implicitly branded as the same kind of fringe-y lunatics that always march at the end of the Rose Parade.

Nice work, Fourth Estaters!



1. Marc Lee - January 14, 2012

I work with the Hayti Heritage Center which has one of the most successful Blues Festival in the country, the Bull Durham Blues Festival, as well as a awesome Film Festival Every February. We would love to show Ain’t Nobody’s Biziness this year if at all possible.
Please get in touch with me at Bluesradio@gmail.com

Marc S. Lee

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