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.
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!