Occupy at the Rose Bowl

A march looks a lot like a parade with demands.

Occupy the Rose Parade will present a presence–with floats–at the 123rd Tournament of Roses Parade on Monday morning in Pasadena.

The parade, patriotic and explicitly non-political, allows cause groups to follow the official parade, accepting without endorsing them.  The Occupy group has signed on, and has negotiated extensively with both local police and the parade administration to minimize disruption, but maximize the message.

One float is a large people-powered octopus, representing “the stranglehold that Wall Street has on the political process.” Local activists plan speeches and signs, and visits from at least a few well-known activists, including anti-war activist, Cindy Sheehan.  Although an Occupy spokesman has promised to respect the iconic, family-oriented nature of the parade, local authorities plan to increase the already robust police presence.

The planning for the event stirred some controversy within Occupy ranks, with some members of Occupy Pasadena participating, but the group refusing to offer an endorsement.   According to Occupy Pasadena participant, Paul Jenvey:

(Occupy Pasadena) was uncomfortable with disrupting the parade, whether intended by the organizer or not … undermining the community outreach we would like to do… (The Occupy Rose Parade) seems to be this vision of one person and the nature of the action was not decided by a democratic body.

Of course.  The consensus-style democratic deliberations that characterized the early phase of the Occupations made all kinds of negotiations with authorities next to impossible.  Someone decided to send an Occupy message at the parade, and when Occupy Pasadena temporized, he or she went ahead anyway, talked with parade officials and police to make the event work.  No one owns the Occupy name, and we’ll be seeing many competing definitions emerge in the next few months.  (This is exactly what happened to the Tea Party!)

The first Occupy float is number 44 in the parade, and there’s no news, at this point, about whether the television cameras and audiences will hang around to appreciate it.

Getting around the constraints of consensus is one piece of this story.  Here’s another:

Activists are not Occupying the Parade, but are putting an Occupy presence within it.  In negotiating an accommodation with authorities, they are making it easier for people to participate and get their messages out; they are also making those messages less newsworthy.

This is the characteristic pattern of institutionalization in American protest politics.  The Tournament of Roses Parade works much the same way as mainstream politics, making space for less disruptive dissent so they can get on with what they normally do.

About David S. Meyer

Author and professor of Sociology and Political Science at the University of California, Irvine
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