Monday, March 10, 2014

In The Best Saint Patrick's Day Parade, Everyone Gets to March

“Rudeness is the weak man`s imitation of strength.”
--Edmund Burke: Dublin born Irish statesman and philosopher

Who doesn’t love a parade?

Especially a Saint Patrick’s Day Parade. Especially in Boston, the most Irish city in America, with 20.4 percent of its citizens claiming Irish heritage.  The parade!! You know: rosy cheeked Irish step dancers and patriotic military honor guards and spirited high school bands and shamrocks everywhere. Maybe even a first hint of spring in the air too.  When the parade steps off next Sunday, thousands of marchers will be cheered on by upwards of a million greater Bostonians, many directly descended from a people who first immigrated to the shores of Massachusetts in the 1700’s.

Everyone here is Irish on the 17th, right? Well…maybe not.

Ask members of the gay and lesbian community in Massachusetts if they’ll feel included on the 16th in the parade and they’ll say “No”.  They’ve been trying for years to gain the right to march: as veterans, as Irish, as Americans. Negotiations this year have gotten close to a resolution. But the parade organizer, The Allied War Veteran’s Council, has consistently said to these folks, “You need not apply”. The Council is so adamant in its opposition that they took their fight to the United States Supreme Court. In 1995 it ruled the exclusion legal, on the grounds that as a private enterprise the Council had a free speech right to just say “No”. Even though this very public affair takes place on three miles of public streets. Even though the city of Boston will spend more than $300,000 on police services for the parade, and thousands more for trash collection.

But here’s my lament, beyond any legal debates.  Why do my fellow Irishmen insist on a spirit of downright rudeness when it comes to “their” parade? Why the closed door? Why the parochialism? Why the inhospitality to fellow Irish folk, fellow Americans? Like those excluded and those included, I’m Irish too, and proud of that heritage. I’m fourth generation, the great grandson of an Irish immigrant who first made his way from County Roscommon to Boston in 1897.  I was born in Dorchester. I’m named “Fitzgerald” after Boston's own Irish-American U.S. President.

So this Irishman? I say just let ‘em in the parade.  Let ‘em in. Let them march. Let them be who God made them to be. Let them stand side by side with other Irish folks, and with other American neighbors, and all in a gracious spirit of welcome and inclusion. That’s the Irish way, at least in the clan I grew up in.

Irish—not the stereotype of corn beef and cabbage and (ugh!) green beer, which no self respecting Irish person would ever, ever drink, especially on the 17th.  No—real Irish. Irish: who know what it is like to be excluded.  To be kicked around by bullies, like the English landlords who watched as one million Irish died of starvation in the Great Irish Potato Famine of the mid 18th century.  Remember that Irish history?

Or the tens of thousands of Irish immigrants who fled that human disaster and landed in Boston, only to find “No Irish need apply” signs in most shop and factory windows. They were discriminated against the moment they got off the boat. They fought against virulent, often violent, anti-Catholic prejudice. Then the Irish lived on just about the lowest rung of the social ladder.  Yet in just a few generations, the Irish overcame that bigotry and today can march without fear and in full freedom for all to see. As Irish. As Americans. So how about extending a real Irish welcome to people who still face obstacles for full societal inclusion? We once faced unfounded fear based prejudice. Remember?

It is 2014 after all.  Boston is one of the most liberal, young and diverse cities in the country, not perfect, but trying. Chicago’s Saint Patrick’s Day Parade has welcomed gay and lesbian groups since the mid 1990’s and their celebration is one of the best in the country. So what’s the hold up?  What’s the problem?  I know this may be heresy to suggest but….it is just a parade after all. And for me, Irish and grateful to be so, I think the parade will  be that much better when its organizers finally stop saying “No” and start saying, instead, “Yes. Join us.  You are more than welcome.”

So from this Irishman: “Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!” The 17th is a day when everyone is truly Irish.  Everyone. No one left out. No one left behind. No exceptions. No one shunted so far back in life that they miss the march of inclusion. 

Now that’s a parade I could love.

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