Marching on 

St. Paddy's Day Seven feel hope, hesitation as another parade approaches

click to enlarge Eric Verlo
  • Eric Verlo

Some are excited. Others view it as a duty. All of them are going.

The seven peace marchers who were arrested in last year's St. Patrick's Day parade will hit the downtown route again March 15, before heading a panel to address the 2007 incident and its aftermath at the Gay and Lesbian Fund for Colorado.

This time, they will be under the Pikes Peak Justice and Peace Commission banner, instead of that of The Bookman. After last year, when he and six others were arrested and later charged with blocking the parade route, Eric Verlo says his business didn't receive another invitation. He decided not to push the issue.

"It was best to go with the good news that the J&P were invited," he says.

J&P leaders say they received an invitation from parade chairman John O'Donnell, and have since worked closely with him to ensure everyone understands the rules. This year promises about 35 peace marchers (the limit for all groups), plus a decorated school-bus "float" packed with about 50 supporters.

O'Donnell said by e-mail he was too busy with preparations to comment for this story.

Frank Cordaro, one of last year's arrestees, will travel from his Iowa home to be in the parade. His big bellowing voice does nothing to conceal his jovial mood.

"Peace won out in Colorado!" the longtime activist says.

Cordaro says he has no fears about returning; other arrestees feel differently. Betty Kerwin and Elizabeth Fineron thought deeply before deciding to come back. The J&P invitation made the difference.

click to enlarge Bill Durland
  • Bill Durland

"To me, I'm hoping that was a learning experience for all," Kerwin says of last year.

Last year, peace marchers were removed on orders from parade officials, who objected to their "social message." The scene was chaotic as the large group, including families with children, disbanded. Those arrested who averaged 65 years of age appeared to be treated roughly by police. There were injuries.

The high-profile case, which made the national news, seemed to reinforce views of the Springs as intolerant. Following the arrests, blog posts and letters to the editor expressed anger at the marchers' peace message and said the arrestees got what they deserved.

But some local politicians expressed embarrassment, and some local citizens outrage.

Later, a jury proved as divided as the community; after it declared itself hung, charges were eventually dropped.

Legally, that was the end. But, says Pete Haney, director of J&P's Dynamic Peacemaking program: "Endings only happen in stories."

His organization will keep promoting peace, he says, and he hopes there are no conflicts with police in the future.

He's not the only one hoping. Dave White of the Colorado Springs Economic Development Corp. said the parade added to a national perception that the Springs is an unfriendly place to live, especially for the liberally minded. Some businesses looking to relocate since have chosen other cities.

Of course, most lingering effects are emotional. Some arrestees say they can't close the door on 2007 until police formally apologize. Police Chief Richard Myers insists the police did nothing wrong, and his planning for this parade reveals only fairly minor changes.

"The only thing that's different is that there'll be some more supervisory oversight, in that the command post will be there, and there will be, I believe, a lieutenant and commander that will be staffing the command post," police spokesman Lt. Skip Arms says. "But in terms of training and tactics, the same staffing model is in place, and there's no specific new training attributed to the special event."

click to enlarge Elizabeth Fineron
  • Elizabeth Fineron

City Councilman Jerry Heimlicher offers an interpretation: Police will be taking orders from the police command post, not parade organizers. He says he has high hopes that will help this parade run smoothly.

"Things happen," Heimlicher says. "So, it can happen again. But I'm just hoping that everyone will act responsibly."


St. Paddy's Day Seven panel discussion
Gay and Lesbian Fund for Colorado, 315 E. Costilla St.
Saturday, March 15, 5:30 p.m.
Free; share a potluck dinner. Call 632-6189 for more.

Seven thoughts
"Parade promoters are welcoming us this year, so we're all here to say it's a win-win situation for peace in Colorado Springs." Frank Cordaro

"I don't know what to expect, but I think that given that we were invited, and that the parade organizers are being very nice about it, that it will go well." Eric Verlo

"This is an opportunity for both sides to put closure to what happened at last year's parade, and hopefully start a new beginning with communication and acceptance, not just with peace groups but with diversity in general in Colorado Springs." Molly Eaves

"The upshot of [my] parade perspective could simply be stated as a severe regret since the very moment that the incident happened last year that the police still haven't apologized for their misbehavior."

Peter Sprunger-Froese

"I think it's a good resolution of what happened last year, and I think we should concentrate on the future." Bill Durland

"I think the general idea left to the public was that we had done something wrong. And I am going back to redo the event the way we wanted it to be."

Betty Kerwin

"I had to debate whether I wanted to be there this year ... I think it's important that we're there. And I think it's even important to John O'Donnell that we're there." Elizabeth Fineron

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