Editorial: Some Bristol parade spectators are out of bounds

Posted 7/12/19

Congratulations to Bristol Fourth of July Parade Chairwoman Michelle Martins, her parade team and the entire Fourth committee for another outstanding effort. The nation’s proudest Fourth of …

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Editorial: Some Bristol parade spectators are out of bounds

Posted

Congratulations to Bristol Fourth of July Parade Chairwoman Michelle Martins, her parade team and the entire Fourth committee for another outstanding effort. The nation’s proudest Fourth of July celebration lived up to its reputation, and Ms. Martins did her best to overcome an obvious setback and make the best of a bad situation.

Lacking the high-quality drum corps that typically bring world-class music to the parade, Ms. Martins and team supplemented with floats, singers, eclectic bands, cartoon characters and anything she could to keep the parade fun, upbeat and family-friendly. It all worked.

A year ago in this space, we called this the “people’s parade,” testament to a new atmosphere developed over the last few years, where spectators and marchers mingle, high-five, hug, kiss, pose and generally have a great time — together. Most of the time, the new culture is fun and well-intentioned, giving the parade a uniquely personal feel that could not be replicated in larger cities or in less intimate communities.

But the new atmosphere has developed organically, with no rules, guidelines or authority monitoring what it means and where it goes. Throughout this year’s parade route, we witnessed …

• Intoxicated adults hugging every other marcher, frequently stopping the parade in its tracks;

• Young children on scooters riding alongside massive trucks and floats.

• Children rushing between cars to high-five or hug their favorite cartoon character or mascot;

• Teens running into the street to pose for selfies with the sharply dressed military men;

• And thousands of spectators who never seemed to find a seat, spending two hours roaming throughout the route, walking past those trying to watch, and interfering with marchers as they pass.

The connection between marcher and spectator remains the essence of this parade. When people rise to applaud the veterans or step forward to shake hands and thank active-duty military personnel, even the most hardened curmudgeon can find a tear welling in the corner of his or her eye. But there is a delicate line, somewhere, and too many people are beginning to cross it.

That line is difficult to define, but it exists, and the basic barometer is the average person’s common sense.

Okay to hug a veteran or high-five a Marine? An enthusiastic yes!

Okay to send 6-year-olds out in front of moving trucks? Hell no.

As they reconvene soon to pack up this celebration and look forward to next year’s, parade organizers should consider this new culture and what could or should be done about it. A generation ago, the parade was marred by “silly string.” It was hitting marchers and floats and destroying costumes.

The committee worked with the town to create a prohibition, and silly string was banned. Within a few years, the new standard took hold, and silly string was eradicated. It did not require arrests or heavy enforcement, just a set of standards, communication and awareness.

We suggest the same approach could deter some of the dangerous behaviors that have infiltrated this magnificent celebration. Let spectators engage with marchers within three feet of either curb. If the marchers want to hug, high-five or say hello, they can do so at their own discretion. Outlaw anyone going into the middle of the route, approaching with 10 feet of a moving vehicle, or letting kids roam free, whether on foot or vehicle.

With so many people, vehicles, security forces, noise and revelry packed into such a small space, this parade flirts with disaster at every turn. It would take just one horrific incident, accident or tragedy to spin this whole celebration in a new direction. That’s a day no one wants to see.

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Scott Pickering

Scott Pickering has been on the East Bay Newspapers team for more than two decades, since starting as a reporter for the Sakonnet Times. He's been editor of most of the papers, was Managing Editor of all the papers for many years, and became General Manager in 2012. Today he can be found posting to EastBayRI.com, steering news coverage, writing editorials, talking to readers, working with the sales team, collaborating on design, or helping do whatever it takes to get the papers out the door. Reach him at spickering@eastbaynewspapers.com.