Everyone marching in Sunday’s St. Patrick’s Day parade in South Boston knows--or should know--the story of how the 5th-century saint drove the “snakes and toads” out of Ireland.
Of course, St. Patrick didn’t drive out real snakes--Ireland didn’t have any. Instead, the snake story is a metaphor for the church’s campaign to replace indigenous Irish religions in favor of their own new religion--Christianity.
In Boston, the St. Patrick’s Day Parade started out as a city-run event. Dating back to 1901--and unofficially to 1737--the parade was effectively privatized in 1947, when then-Mayor James Michael Curley granted the right to run the parade to his political buddies in the Allied War Veterans Council of South Boston (let’s call them the “War Vets”). In recent years, another group of veterans, “Veterans for Peace” (let’s call them the “Peace Vets”), successfully petitioned the city for a permit to march down Broadway Street in South Boston in their own St. Pat’s Day parade.
Unfortunately, the War Vets didn’t want to share the road and instead went to court. In 2004, a judge ruled that both groups get to march, so long as they maintain some separation between them. In response, the War Vets claimed that, not only should they get to march first, but that the 2004 court ruling mandates that the city deploy street sweepers between the two marchers, effectively clearing the road of spectators and thus ruining the Peace Vets’ parade. (Full disclosure--the ACLU of Massachusetts represents the Vets for Peace in their right to march.)
Earlier this week, Magistrate Judge Robert B. Collings clarified his 2004 order, stating that the city is not required to deploy street sweepers to separate the two groups. Instead, he left the decision to city officials. After all, Mayor Curley didn’t cede all city services to the War Vets.
Nonetheless, and sadly, it seems the city will bend to the wishes of the War Vets and clear the streets just after the War Vets tanks pass by, effectively dispersing the people who might otherwise have watched the Peace Vet parade.
Whatever the legal technicalities, the city’s decision flouts the spirit of St. Patrick himself. After all, the saint used the power of his ideas--not tanks and street sweepers--to win over the people of Ireland to his point of view. You don’t have to be a saint to know that the power of ideas--particularly enduring ideas such as peace--can never be swept away by a simple showing of brute force.
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