The day before Independence Day, while thinking about independence and how many of our rights have been stripped of us under the neo-con fascist regime, otherwise known as the Bush administration. Out of this pondering came my idea for an outfit to wear in my local parade: wearing a red bra and panty set (with equivalent coverage to that of a modest bikini bathing suit,) a white garter belt holding up sheer red nylon stockings, white shoes, a grapevine wreath adorning my head, complete with ivy and a peace dove . . . while holding a sign which read: America: Stripped of Her Rights - Happy Independence Day?
Yes, admittedly, the thought of wearing this amount of clothing in public did cause this middle-aged woman with a lifelong desire for a flat stomach a due amount of trepidation; however, she decided to throw vanity to the side for the sake of her ever-diminishing democracy. Besides, it had been awhile since I had gotten out of my comfort zone. (In fact, the last time I did something like this was when I posed naked (spelling out the word PEACE,) with over a hundred woman on a mountaintop in Occidental, CA, in protest of the Iraq war at its start.) I was overdue for a venture of this nature. So, I took a deep breath, summoned up my courage and walked down the street in broad daylight. What is left of my democracy was calling!
Almost immediately, (within 20 feet,) upon walking to the parade lineup street, I was confronted by a member of Mayor Stanley Cohens Parade Puritan Patrol (my words, but otherwise known as a parade marshal.) She informed me that I was indecent and not in line with the "G-rated" parade, and could not be in it. She showed me her official document to prove it. She then said that I would need to speak with Stanley Cohen and began to escort me in that direction. I let her know that I had no intention of talking with him as I was clothed in the same amount of clothes a modest bikini bathing suit offered, and was acting under my Constitutional right to free speech. I also let her know that she could let Stanley know that if they kicked me out of the parade, he would have an ACLU lawsuit on his hands. I also let her know that Stanley knows who I am, and would also know that I would not be joking about doing this.
While one of Stanleys minions went off to see if I could exercise my free speech rights in an Independence Day parade, I was confronted by another Puritan Patrol member another parade marshal, who told me virtually the same thing as the first. I informed her that the other marshal was already speaking to Stanley, and that I intended to stay in the parade.
I then arrived at my destination: the Sonoma Peace & Justice float the float I had been invited to join, by a member of the group, who had also extended this invitation to anyone in the community who wished to join along.
The person in charge of the float, Dave Henderson, promptly told me that I could not walk with their float citing that he agreed with Stanley, and that I wasn't a member of the group! This came as interesting news to me as I had been invited to walk with them, and have been disseminating their news via my online peace and justice newsletter for years. What was most ironic was that the last tenet on their float read something like "Respect for political dissent & tolerance for unpopular ideas." Evidently, Mr. Henderson holds this as a nice idea, but just not in practice! It is for this kind of hypocrisy and censorship that I was compelled to walk in the parade wearing my skimpy ensemble!
Regardless of Mr. Hendersons un-Democratic pronouncement, I decided to stay and walk with the group. Thankfully, others in the group were happy to have me walk with them.
Later, Mr. Henderson, perhaps in protection of his ego or his desire to win in his parade category (as he had in a prior year,) wrote a Letter to the Editor of the local paper, doing his best to distance himself from both me and my message of dissent, which he evidently deemed unpopular. In his letter, he felt the need to make it absolutely clear that I was not a member of his group, and that my sign have anything to do with the message that was the theme of his parade entry. In fact, Mr. Henderson is sorely mistaken. I was walking in support of the statement on his float which read: "Respect for political dissent & tolerance for unpopular ideas." Additionally, I was walking for my democracy and free speech rights, which is a national issue with a local impact and my statement was indirectly speaking to one of the tenets on his float: A City Council sensitive to local impact of national issues. If one demands a City Council be sensitive to the local impact of national issues, one must first begin with being sensitive to this oneself!
Then, a person identifying himself as the head of local Taekwondo school came up and dealt me his verbal karate kicks, telling me he that agreed with Stanley (and his Puritan Patrol my words,) and that he had 16 impressionable boys walking with him. Evidently this man has not been watching TV, movies, or videos in the last decade where these boys have undoubtedly seen even more scantily-clad women! And, I am sure that these same boys go to beaches where the bathing suits worn by some women leave little or nothing to the imagination.
At this point, the first overzealous Puritan Patrol parade marshal came back and told me that Stanley had decided that I could be in the parade. How magnanimous of him to grant me my Constitutional right to free speech!
Almost upon receiving this news, a righteous evangelical-type citizen came up and told me that I should be ashamed of myself and was indecent. Since she was not part of the Mayors official Puritan Patrol, I wondered who gave her the authority to judge my bikini-like outfit as indecent. Certainly not my God who gave me my body, or the parts I was covering!
Why is it that so many Americans are so uncomfortable with the human body, and go absolutely puritanical when some skin is bared? . . . Especially just skin not even private parts! Are these people so sexually-repressed or sexually-frustrated that it overly excites them to see a bit of skin? What kind of shame are we teaching our children about our bodies through this behavior? I dont have the answers to these questions, but know that these people are not appointed as the Decency Police in a democracy.
Speaking of police, two officers on motorcycles came close enough to assess my clothing situation. Evidently, failing to find evidence of indecency, (most likely dashing the penalty-seeking hopes of whoever called them,) they left the scene.
Despite the bumpy beginning to my Independence Day experience, all in all the feedback from the parade crowd was positive, though there were about five or so folks shouting things like "indecent!" or "put some clothes on!"
I mentally reminded myself that my democracy was calling me, and thought of all of the rights which the Bush administration has stripped away. Head held high, and eyes straight forward, I carried on.
When we got to what might be called "right-wing row" or "boo alley," (the part of the plaza known for housing a strong conservative contingent,) I had two water balloons launched at me which made their target. Fortunately, I was not injured, but was left wondering, what's next in our Empire of Intolerance? . . . Stoning adulterers? Burning those not of one's religion at the stake? Killing someone who is gay?! This kind of righteous intolerance leads to wars.
My call to walk for our democracy and our disheveled rights was made even more clear when Mario Alioto III wrote the local paper in his Letter to the Editor: I found myself in disbelief when someone was holding up a sign in the parade stating that Americans are being stripped of their rights. I love the fact that I have the right to watch a good-looking, half-naked, middle-aged, garter-belt-wearing woman walk down the middle of the street looking like a prostitute, in a parade with hundreds of children present. Where else but in America! Excuse me while I opt out of flag waving Mr. Alioto III, but which rock have you been living under over the last few years to not even be informed of the many rights of which we have been stripped under your oh-so-patriotic administration? Yikes! I find it very scary that such an uninformed citizenry exists in our country. Thanks to FOX News, and the rest of our corporate-owned media, no doubt. An informed citizenry always trumps blind patriotism Mr. Alioto III!
Why do these neo-con puritans feel the need to impose their judgments on others, and then resort to acts of violence? This is the kind of intolerant thinking that leads to wars. I find it sad. So, sad that some days when thinking about the seemingly never-ending war in Iraq, the genocide in Darfur, and all of the ways the United States has imposed itself upon other countries, I am brought to tears. This is one of the reasons I am walked half-naked for my eroding democracy.
Our disappearing democracy has been one of the only things important enough for me to pose naked for peace on a hilltop at the start of the war, and to wear underwear in public five years after it has begun!
With people supposedly involved in peace and justice not following their own publicly-declared tenets of Respecting political dissent and tolerating unpopular ideas, my lingerie-laden Independence Day free speech statement was and is needed!
This disrobed dissenter will continue to march on in order to take back her hijacked democracy!
Leslie Sheridan is a peace and justice activist, and consultant who lives and works in Sonoma, CA. She writes an international, online, peace and justice newsletter called The Carpe Diem Voice, available by free subscription at CarpeDiemVoice@aol.com