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Adventures in Government - Juneteenth and Pride

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Any excuse to visit Cochise County, I say.

Last weekend, I attended two events in Cochise: the Juneteenth Festival in Sierra Vista and the Pride Parade in Bisbee. Each event was very different, but I ended up seeing a lot of the same faces at both. It all seemed like one long celebration of diversity.

Juneteenth Festival

For those not familiar, Juneteenth celebrates June 19, 1865, the day Texas abolished slavery, and it’s since become a celebration of the end of slavery in the United States. To me, though, it’s more of a celebration of just the first step in the right direction. We’ve taken more steps in the right direction since then with the Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. And, of course, we still have more steps to take as we continue to fight for criminal justice reform and against income inequality, as prisons and poverty both continue to disproportionately affect black communities. And while racial discrimination is technically illegal and each new generation is becoming more comfortable with our country’s racial diversity, as a culture we still exhibit a fair bit of both casual and overt racism here and there.

Still, Juneteenth was a start. And that’s worth celebrating.

When I arrived at the park for the festival, I was told that the crowds had kind of died down already. Apparently the mayor had given a speech, and afterward people had begun to trickle away.

Even so, there were a fair number of people still there, including a few political candidates. I saw Billy Kovacs and Mary Matiella talking to people as I started to make my rounds.

I had a long conversation with representatives of the Southwest Associations of Buffalo Soldiers, a group that keeps the history of the Buffalo Soldiers alive. The Buffalo Soldiers were an all-black cavalry regiment sent out to the frontier to fight Indians. (Which sounds about right. Pitting other races against each other has been a favorite pastime of white folks for centuries, after all.) The Buffalo Soldiers, originally the 10th Cavalry Regiment, was the first peacetime regiment composed entirely of black people, in the wake of the Civil War. There’s a monument in their honor at Fort Huachuca.

I also met a shirt vendor, who I felt I could relate to as a fellow peddler of shirts. He only just started his shirt business a few months ago and, frankly, I feel like he’s got his act together better than my company did when we were just a few months into it. I hope he can grow as steadily we did.

I also spent some time chatting with members of the NAACP as well as the Cochise County Democrats, both of whom had tables set up. I spoke and listened to all of them at length, which was pretty fulfilling.

Eventually a few more politicians showed up: Steve Farley, candidate for Governor, and David Schapira, candidate for Superintendent. They chatted briefly, I shook Steve’s hand, and we all took a picture. It was all pretty quick.

Afterward, I had to move on. I had to get to Bisbee in time to join the parade, so I said my farewells, got lunch in Sierra Vista, and headed out.

Bisbee Pride Parade

I have a proud history with parades. As a Louisiana native, I’ve attended and participated in more parades than I can remember. I’ve served as a duke twice, which would be more impressive if parade royalty weren’t all about nepotism. Regardless, parades are in my veins.

That said, it did feel a bit weird to march in a pride parade. Though I consider myself an ally to the LGBTQ community, that doesn’t change the fact that I’m not a member of that community. Given that, it was a bit uncomfortable to be marching in this parade, as if I was stealing something away from the people the parade was actually meant for.

I took solace in the fact that I was there with the Cochise County Democrats, who were clearly invited to participate in the parade.

I arrived in Bisbee pretty close to showtime. Unfortunately, I parked at the bottom of Old Bisbee, which meant that I had to run uphill to get to the parade’s starting point. Luckily, the temperature in Bisbee is lower than the temperature in Tucson, so when I reached the starting position I was only winded, not dying from heat exhaustion.

Once there, I got into the spirit of the event by unbuttoning my signature hawaiian shirt and revealing the Beautiful Boy shirt beneath it. (What? I’m still a nerd.)

There I also met all of the other politicians I saw earlier that day: Billy Kovacs, Mary Matiella, Steve Farley, and David Shapira. Mary Matiella kindly offered to have me hold the other end of banner she was displaying: a blue dove on a white field, if I remember correctly; a peace symbol. Which is, of course, a message I can get behind.

The other candidates had banners, signs, and flags as well, but once the parade started most of them abandoned their posts and began working the crowds rapidly, handing out cards and introducing themselves like they were in a contest to shake the most hands. Which maybe they were, I don’t know.

After even Mary handed her end of the banner to her assistant so she could also go and talk to people, I ended up feeling a little duped. There I was, holding a banner and not introducing myself to anyone like some kind of chump. I was committed to that banner, though, so I held my head up high, smiled, and waved at the crowds as we passed.

I don’t really feel bad about it, though. I was there to support the parade, and that’s exactly what I did. As is so often the case, the event wasn’t about me, so I didn’t attempt to make it about me. I imagine that kind of humility loses elections, but it helps me sleep at night.

What I do feel bad about was my lack of planning. This was a parade after all, and my heritage was screaming at me to throw stuff to the crowds as if I were on a float in New Orleans.

Next time? I’m bringing beads. Rainbow beads. And some roses to hand to children and kind-looking old ladies. After all, if you can’t make someone’s day with cheap trinkets, what’s even the point of being in a parade?

Anyway, Bisbee is a great town for festivals, and the crowd at the Pride Parade was especially energetic. I’m glad they invited me to be a part of it.


(Also, here are a couple of pictures. And if you see Steve Farley's pictures from the day, I kinda photobombed a lot of pictures of him shaking hands with folks.)

Photo from Steve Farley's Facebook page

Photo from Steve Farley's Facebook page