The elements are permanent in our cultural psyche. We witness crowds waving and cheering pressed against metal stanchions, marching bands echoing the streets with a catchy tune to the lead of their grand marshal. Mylar-decked floats transport people we admire as they wave elegantly to the crowds. We consume in awe the breathtaking pageantry and sometimes our beloved characters as gigantic helium-filled balloons tethered by proud marchers. Its origins trace back to Middle French, meaning "to prepare." We know them as parades.
It’s easy to take for granted; our immediate thoughts are all the elements that make it fun. At their root, parades are a collective statement given by a community, sending off into cultural consciousness a confirmation of their identity. While these events are always a reason to celebrate, our most electrifying parades stem from a fight for freedom.
We appreciate parades even more as many of our communities were happy to have them back after a two-year hiatus from the pandemic. In Portland, Oregon, Debra Porta, executive director of the nonprofit Pride Northwest, said, “The isolation is real for our community, so there’s nothing that beats the energy, the vibe, of being in-person,” Porta said. “Our strength in numbers reminds us that we’re not alone.”
Historically, in the United States, military parades have long been used to either boost morale or celebrate the end of a harrowing conflict. During the Revolutionary War, George Washington boosted military and patriotic morale with social gatherings and a pomp-and-circumstance procession, where he was often the focus. Even in the afterglow of victory against the British, he foresaw the possibility of patriotism reversing itself and becoming a protest, political divide, and eventually civil unrest. As the only president to avoid claiming a political party, Washington believed political factions and parties were antithetical to the goal of democracy.
Washington’s foresight has proven to be accurate. By the 20th century in The U.S., the demographic landscape radically changed through great migration waves in major cities like New York, San Francisco Bay, Chicago, and New Orleans. The American landscape and its cities began to transform with new communities of immigrants and Black Americans who had moved to cities and established communities in pursuit of the “American Dream.”