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Last Night Parade: Community-Building Event or Police Pariah?

Whitney Wilde writes an op-ed about the New Year's Eve parade—its history, the myths surrounding it and its future.

Every New Year’s Eve for the last seven years, the Last Night Parade has marched down Pacific Avenue. Is it the anarchist rebellion that the police say it is, or is it a town celebrating itself? Is it an event hosted by an organized group? Are there meetings to organize? 

The simple answer is yes. Yes, the parade is all those things, because it is different things to different people. That is the essence of DIY: you make it whatever YOU want it to be.

Where did this parade come from?

As you probably have read, the Last Night Parade was created to take the place of the First Night celebration that went bankrupt after 11 years. But before there was First Night, there was a community celebration in the streets of downtown, just like there was at Halloween. I never asked if there was a permit. As far as I knew, it just happened—a bunch of people wanted to celebrate in their downtown.

Seven years ago, after hearing there would be no First Night event, a couple of people got together and decided they still wanted a community celebration, so the Last Night Parade was born. I happened to be downtown when that first parade marched up Pacific Avenue. It was small but gained momentum, as people from the sidewalks joined and the parade grew as it progressed down the street.

Busting the myth

Once and for all: These days, the parade has no official meetings and no official organizers. The extent of organizing is that you invite a couple of friends and maybe get together to make costumes or art for the parade. Every year, I show up wondering if I will be the only person there, and I am overwhelmed. This town has never let me down.

The Last Night Parade starts early—5 p.m or sunset. There have been no arrests, no violence, no drunk in public citations, or any of the other “triple fines” that have been threatened. The parade does not leave behind litter that needs to be cleaned up, unlike the city-sponsored fireworks the same night. (Last year, three days after the New Year’s Eve fireworks event, there was still tons of confetti in front of the post office.) Two years ago, three people—out of the thousands who were there— were cited for participating in the parade. Santa Cruz police Sgt. Michael Harms claimed he cited those he recognized. I guess he didn’t recognize the two City Council members who were also there.

Much fuss is made by the city that there are no permits for the parade. Because it is DIY, there are as many reasons not to get a permit as there are participants. Some do it to thumb their nose at authority; some do it because they feel it is our right to use public property; some just like to have fun and don’t care about the politics of permits.

The reality is that there are no permits for the celebration on Halloween, so what is the difference between a community celebration in October and one in December? The city sees that for 11 years, they got permit money from the First Night organization, and now they get nothing. They claim the parade costs the city, even though they do not close the streets (until hours later), do not put up barricades, do not have to clean-up and, until last year, there was minimal police participation.

The police claim it is irresponsible for people to parade without their help. They claim children will be run over in the street. Since the police know the parade will happen (as police spokesmen have stated in the media), isn’t it irresponsible of the police not to shut down the streets and “protect” the public from all the things they are afraid will happen?

As far as being hit by a car, I think only a complete moron or mentally unstable person would drive their vehicle into a huge crowd of people like this. In fact, last year the biggest danger I saw was when a police officer drove his squad car into the shoulder-to-shoulder crowd of thousands, coming dangerously close to hitting them. There was no emergency; it was a tactic to break up the crowd. If I did that, it would be called assault with a deadly weapon.

The future

For the last 34 years, Pasadena has played host to the Doo Dah Parade. It was started as a farce, an alternative anti-Rose Parade. It has become a wonderful community event that attracts almost as many people as the Rose Parade. Why doesn’t Santa Cruz embrace the Last Night Parade and showcase our city’s diversity and creativity? Why not use it to attract visitors and bring in tourism dollars? Don’t we need that money?

For me, the Last Night Parade is like a giant holiday present—it slowly unwraps, and I never know what I will see. I love the silent peace march, the bag pipers, drummers, harmonica player, opera singer, dancers, crazy bicycles, wild costumes, stilt walkers, girls on unicycles, hula hoopers, and especially the sense of humor and play that everyone brings to the celebration. I am moved to tears that I am lucky enough to live in this special town, and I love you all for giving me such a wonderful gift.

Hope to see you there!

Whitney Wilde January 02, 2012 at 10:23 PM
My issues with authority come from a lifetime of government lying to the public. IMHO, EVERYONE should have issues with authority and we, as responsible citizens, should question authority to keep it honest. Part of how we got where we are now, with a corrupt system that is used by corporations instead of representing the public, is because we were complacent and did not question enough. You should be questioning your city government why they are not embracing a peaceful celebration that has been going on for over 30 years (that I know of first hand). This is not a drunken brawl - it is a community event for all ages. The city-sponsored celebration at midnight is too late for families with young children. xanthippe, come to the parade next year and see for yourself that it is a community event. You do not have to leave the safety of the sidewalk to see that. I'll even help you make a fun costume. all of my costumes are made from recycling found objects so they cost very little. xanthippe... Get off your duff and have a viewpoint that comes from first-hand knowledge (as I do)!
Xanthippe January 04, 2012 at 04:28 PM
Hi Whitney - the organizing that happened in previous years included meetings that the public was invited to. (Wes and Robert can't complain about the SCPD showing up when the public was invited but those guys'll complain about anything). Organizing includes advertising, and the DIY parade has been advertised on many websites. It even has its own website. I've been to the parade. I don't think it's that big a deal, looks like a bunch of people having fun. What I can't understand is why the people who participate year in and year out can't come up with the fee for the parade - or even partially pitch in. How much is it? Alternately, if one believes that a fee should not be necessary for any parade, why not work to get rid of the parade fee altogether? That would be a mature, responsible approach. How about partnering with the city to make it a sanctioned event? Aside from that messing up Wes's anarchist cred, that is. I don't like capricious authority or government corruption any more than you do, but I fail to see evidence of either with our local parade rules. Now, if some other parade happens that doesn't require a fee (that is not sponsored by the city, in which case it would be robbing Peter to pay Paul), please let me know. Regarding corruption via corporation, I agree, but don't see how that has anything to do with the DIY parade or Santa Cruz. Got evidence of malfeasance? Let's hear it.
Whitney Wilde January 04, 2012 at 08:48 PM
There WERE meetings and promotion for the parade in its early years, but for the last couple of years, the parade has sustained itself with no promotion. Yes, the Last Night Parade has its own website... and if you look at it, you will notice it has not been updated in a few years. When I google "Last Night Parade", I don't see any links I would consider PR, do you? I see news items and old youtube videos. The Sentinel interviewed me at the parade this year, probably because, IMHO - I'm quite a sight in these crazy outfits I come up with out of recycled materials. My point: this parade has been going on as long as I can remember - just like at Halloween (there are no permits for Halloween and it is not city sponsored). This community just likes to celebrate together. It's part of what makes this such a joyous place to live. In this op ed piece, I suggest the city embrace the celebration. Why didn't the city require permits for the parade that happened BEFORE the First Night celebration came into existence? It is not a bunch of punk kids thumbing their noses at authority. My friends that attended are definitely not kids and would NEVER consider themselves to be anarchists (it has been an interesting subject of conversation between us many times).
Whitney Wilde January 04, 2012 at 08:49 PM
Part of why I wrote this piece is because of the outright lies that the SCPD tells in interviews. I laugh when they talk about the "organizers" since I know there aren't any. Don't you feel lied to when an SCPD spokesman talks about the anarchists that are running wild in the streets on NYE? For 7 years, there have been no arrests or violence associated with this community parade. SCPD claims they have to spend money putting up barricades for the parade, yet they also claim you aren't safe because there are no barricades. SCPD claims they have no idea where the parade will go, but it has gone the same route for 7 years and is the same route as every parade downtown. They are using scare tactics - doesn't that make you feel manipulated? It makes me wonder what else they are lying to me about. My comment about corporate corruption was aimed at us as a nation, but the complacency is at all levels. There are inconsistencies at every level of government - inconsistencies between how citizens and corporations are treated. It happens locally... but that is a huge subject and will just have to wait for another op ed piece.
Xanthippe January 05, 2012 at 01:59 AM
Now, Whitney, you're being disingenuous. Wes Modes aka Rico Thunder aka Wren Tucket has been beating his drum, so to speak, about the DIY parade since the beginning. Wes Modes and Robert Norse continue to hysterically spew about the "surveillance" of the DIY parade because when meetings _were_ held, everyone was invited, and some cops showed up out of uniform. Modes and Norse continue to hyperventilate about this every single year but I don't see you complaining about that. Remember the May Day "dance party"? That started as an anarchist event also but didn't end up being benign (not that it was ever meant to be). What's the permit cost - $200? You and your friends who like to parade down Pacific can't scrape that up? You won't work with the city, even though it should be fairly easy to make this event sanctioned. Why won't you? Wes Modes and the other self-styled anarchists are sticking up a giant finger to the city with this parade. I know it, you know it, everybody knows it. It's political theater with a big ol' innocent "what, I'm not doing anything!" from Modes, who cries and whines like a baby when attention finally does get focused on him. He begs for the attention so he can whine and cry more. I'm trying to figure out how or why you brought up corporate corruption in the first place when we're talking about Santa Cruz. But ok, say no more. I will await your next editorial with bated breath. Finally, what lies has the SCPD told in interviews?

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