No matter what side you were on, there's no doubt that the removal of peace marchers from the 2007 St. Patrick's Day Parade was an ugly scene. Marchers, many of them gray-haired seniors, were put in restraint holds or dragged from the scene. One woman, Elizabeth Fineron, suffered some nasty abrasions.
It was hardly the type of incident one would expect at a parade celebrating leprechauns and four-leaf clovers.
No one wants it to happen again. Not the peace marchers. Not the police. And not parade chairman John O'Donnell.
This year, O'Donnell has issued new parade rules. The rules include a limit of 35 marchers per group, unless the group is a marching band. They set a limit of one "lead sign" and two "sponsor signs." A large release from liability says marchers cannot hold O'Donnell & O'Donnell LLP, the St. Patrick's Day Committee, the city, any other governmental entity, or anyone working for them responsible for just about anything.
O'Donnell says the group limitations are about keeping the parade shorter and more themed around the holiday, instead of looking like a "logo parade." The liability part, he says, is all about the insurance guys.
"When the weather's nice, this is one of the biggest events in town and you need to be covered," he says.
None of it, O'Donnell adds, has anything to do with the scene last year, and everyone is welcome to apply to be in the parade. The Pikes Peak Justice and Peace Commission even got an invite in the mail. Jeff Briggs, executive director of the group, says a meeting with the O'Donnells in advance of the parade went well.
"They were very gracious, and they were warm, and said they wanted us in the parade," Briggs says.
Briggs says he thinks members of the PPJPC are excited to take part in the parade, but he says he can't speak for everyone. There may be a few who don't want to attend in light of last year's incident.
"The reason I'm going back this year is the reason I went last year," he says. "You know, this is our 30th year in this community. The Pikes Peak Justice and Peace Commission is a part of this community too."
Not everyone will be back. Some people haven't been re-invited to the parade because of bad behavior, O'Donnell says.
Eric Verlo didn't get his invite this year. He led last year's ejected peace marchers alongside his Bookman van. Whether the lack of mail was a snub or an oversight, Verlo says he'll still consider applying to enter his Bookmobile in the parade. But he may just march with the PPJPC group. He says the important thing is that a message of peace is represented.
"Here we have an opportunity where there are thousands of people together, so it's an opportunity to reach them with a positive message," Verlo says. "We've got to assert our right to express ourselves, and our right to be part of the mainstream."
On the other hand, he says, those new rules will limit their presence. He fears the new limits on the size of marching groups may make it look like peace is a less popular message than it was last year, when an estimated 45-50 marchers took part.
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