In Praise of Parade the Circle and Gathering as a Community

click to enlarge In Praise of Parade the Circle and Gathering as a Community
Courtesy CMA

A couple Saturdays ago I went to a parade. This now sounds shamefully silly because that same night the worst mass shooting in American history took place in Orlando, FL. The targets of this attack were members of the LGBTQ community who were trying to be together, and celebrate, in a place where they could, and should, feel safe. The deaths and injuries occurred thousands of miles away, but their effects ripple outwards in waves of sadness and anger and fear.

It turned out to be a bad week for good feelings. I alternated between trying to avoid news about the shooting because it’s so goddamn sad and then seeking out news about the shooting because it’s so goddamn sad that the least I can do is sit on my couch and cry about it. I emailed my members of congress. I posted impassioned statements on Facebook. I read other impassioned statements that come from the same place – one of sadness, and exhaustion, and fear – but argued for a wholly different and, in my mind, horrific response to the tragedy. I was sad.

Which is why I am so, so, so very grateful that on Saturday, June 11, hours before so many people would be murdered in cold blood while they were just trying to dance, I got to go to a parade. A parade, which sounds like such a trifle, such a small, meaningless experience when it appears in the same sentence as a mass shooting. But, as the LGBTQ community knows, parades have power. They can be a shining light that pulls us out of darkness.

Parade the Circle is held on a Saturday in June, and has been for the past 26 years. The parade rules are simple: anyone can sign up to participate, all participants must be in a self-created costume, any vehicles in the parade must be people-powered, and nothing in the parade may display written words. This event is a parade of community-created, living art.

In truth, I spent 40% of my Saturday trying to find parking in University Circle, along with tens of thousands of other parade-goers. But then parking was acquired, and myself, my husband, and our toddler son set off on the long walk to find a space to sit on the parade route. And we found a spot in the shade, underneath a large old tree, next to a family with four children, an older couple, two best friends, a group of families. Due to our spot on the parade route, it took a while for the parade to reach us. As we waited and waited for the parade to start we occupied ourselves petting police horses, petting husky dogs, petting anything a toddler can reasonably pet. And then a shout came up from the crowd, and we craned our necks and saw something I didn’t at first understand. A long, black snake with neon ribbons floating in the air, slowly curling towards us.

It wasn’t a snake, it was a dragon, but it wasn’t a dragon. It was six dragons. The dragons twirled through open space, dancing and spinning, bounding through the air. Their handlers, dressed all in black, moved as one. A child lead the way, face painted in rainbow colors, twirling a ribbon and performing acrobatic feats that I will never be able to do. I saw ten foot tall Egyptian pharaohs with long arms, reaching out to the crowd. Human jelly fish, clear umbrellas above their heads, long streamers flowing out behind them, slowly shimmying down the road. A rhinoceros with wings, charging at and delighting the children in the crowd. A steel drum band inciting everyone to get up and dance. A giant Andy Warhol with crepe hair and mirrored glasses, surrounded by people who formed a flotilla of pop art. Stilts, unicycles, ankle bells, a boy in a fish costume who does not want to be in the fish costume anymore, giant pieces of birthday cake rolling past with men and women high up in the air, walking on tall wooden legs, holding giant forks, offering us a bite. Flying squirrels swooping in silently, rolling skeleton bones, Frida Khalo, a large man in a larger bear costume, Kali, Ganesh, Keith Haring figures come to life and dancing, a toga party, dancers, musicians, magicians, professional artists, amateur artists, people who don’t think of themselves as artists at all but just wanted to be a part of something large and joyful and fun. So much fabric and paint and mirrors and crepe paper and planning and glitter and love.

I understand why so many people come to this event. It’s important. It creates a space for art and creative expression outside of commerce. No one is trying to sell you anything, no one is trying to put forth their agenda, everyone is just trying to make cool shit and show it off in a way that will make other people say, “Wow! That is some cool shit!” Volunteers wander through the crowd, offering to register people to vote. The crowd is in the tens of thousands and is diverse and holds within it every type of person, which explains my parking troubles. The mood was jubilant. Come to University Circle, find a spot on the grass, bring a chair or a blanket or none of that, sit and watch as art parades by before you.

Parade the Circle is a group of people coming together to share and experience art on a hot June afternoon. That hot June afternoon became a hot June night that brought with it fear and anger and sorrow and anguish. But earlier that day, during the parade, in the light, it was only joy. It was only love. Come here, come outside, sit with strangers that you trust not to hurt you, sit and appreciate what’s in front of you, sit and experience wonder together. I’m working to hold on to that feeling I had during Parade the Circle, because that feeling is making the rest of this week, the part where I feel hopeless and helpless and like there is no safe corner in this world for anyone that I love, bearable. A parade is powerful because it is able to acknowledge pain and then make it so much more. 
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