Organizers had a dream to honor Martin Luther King Jr. at a parade in Arlington. And then modern-day reality slapped them awake. Inviting a rich, white, smug, right-wing partisan politician to be the grand marshal was the group’s first mistake. Gov. Greg Abbott’s record of failing to support poor and minority communities through legislative action and inaction –– voter suppression, gerrymandering, fighting Obamacare and Medicaid and other social services –– made him a bad choice.
The group’s second mistake was announcing Abbott’s involvement almost two weeks before the event. That allowed time for irritated activists to plan a boycott.
Fort Worth’s MLK Day Parade faced no such folly. Hundreds of people lined downtown streets. Based on our informal survey of parade watchers, most didn’t know or care about Arlington’s troubles.
Rogena McClendon and her young daughter were sitting on a cold concrete block beside Commerce Street waiting for the parade to begin Monday morning. We sat down beside her, uninvited, and asked about the cancelled Arlington parade.
“When they decided that the governor was going to be the grand marshal, it became political,” she said. “It became less about people and the movement and more about politics. Politics seems to ruin things. It takes away our freedom to just be us. Why do we have to identify as Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative? I’m liberal on some issues and conservative on others. We feel that we have to take one side or the other.”
Abbott’s selection as grand marshal wouldn’t have prevented her from attending a parade, McClendon said, but she thought it foolish to go that route.
“No major politician should be the grand marshal,” she said. “Choosing a politician is going to automatically divide people’s perspective.”
Neither she nor us could name the grand marshal at Fort Worth’s event. Nobody stood out as the parade marched by, just a lot of school marching bands, community groups, volunteers, and, of course, politicians waving and smiling. Black, white, brown, yellow. Young. Old. Most everyone looking happy on a cold but sunny, gorgeous day. McClendon, a 1977 graduate at Polytechnic High School, brought her daughter to experience the excitement, joy, diversity, encouraging speeches, and sense of place.
“I want her to experience what she won’t learn in her textbooks and her public school,” McClendon said.
Still, don’t get the idea that King wasn’t political. He never held public office, but he worked with politicians to push for civil rights. And don’t get the idea that Fort Worth’s parade wasn’t political. Many politicians and political groups were seen marching. Joel Fryar, a volunteer voter registrar, felt comfortable walking around the parade grounds attempting to register people to vote.
“Martin Luther King had his run-in at Selma specifically trying to get people the right to vote,” Fryar said.
And while most of the speakers at the rally in Sundance Square were Democratic politicians, they steered away from partisan politics.
Vicki Moore, president of Tarrant County Democratic Woman’s Club, didn’t view the parade as politicized.
“The event is all-inclusive,” she said. “Everybody who has any honor for Martin Luther King should be here, no matter what their political affiliation. They can carry any sign they want as long as they are respectful” of King, she said.