Preparations: or, The Point of Parades

With the Puerto Rican parade kicking off this Sunday (if you plan to march with Marty, please assemble at the Hynes Convention Center at 10:30 AM), I thought it appropriate to expound on the grand old political tradition that is the municipal parade. The word itself is derived from the Latin verb Paro, parare (to prepare), and was transferred into English via a French noun meaning “show” or “display,” with a definite martial connotation. Besides being a fun way to spend a Sunday afternoon, a parade can serve more than one purpose for an active political campaign.

Firstly, a parade is a chance to to enhance a candidate’s brand and name recognition, in a highly watched spectacle taking place in a specific neighborhood, or drawing a particular demographic group. For example, this weekend’s Puerto Rican parade will draw thousands of Spanish language speakers from around New England. If I were a Puerto Rican candidate for office, or a native Spanish speaker, I would want to take advantage of the opportunity to connect directly with a population likely to support me. I would ask the Boston residents I met for a vote in September, and request from non-City residents a “like” or a monetary contribution. Political consultants say that a voter must encounter a candidate’s name several (10+) times over the course of a months-long campaign season, before they will remember the name, and be able to recognize it in the ballot box. An in-person interaction is by far the most memorable kind, and an energetic candidate can shake hands with hundreds of people, along the sides of the parade route.

Secondly, a parade is a chance to display the preparations that a campaign has made: to show off the volunteers, signs, literature, vehicles, and logistical capabilities that will play vital roles on election day. A formidable organization will field volunteers at many if not all of the voting locations in a district. Some are seen politicking and palm-carding outside the polling place (at least one hundred and fifty feet from “the building entrance door to such polling place,” of course); others are inside listening intently, as voters’ names are announced and checked off the warden’s list. If a candidate’s known supporter hasn’t appeared by a certain time, a volunteer and vehicle may be dispatched kindly to offer her a ride to the polls.

Why the conspicuous display of resources, weeks or even months before the day on which voters will decide? 1) If one candidate makes a show, and her opponents do not, they look undermanned and poorly funded, in comparison. 2) An unquestionably superior showing may intimidate weaker opponents and demoralize their supporters. 3) A strong showing may convince a wavering voter to commit, especially in an At-Large race, in which Bostonians can vote for up to four City Council candidates. A typical voter’s first and second votes are already committed, but many are willing to consider casting their third or fourth vote for a relative new-comer, if she seems like a “serious” candidate, i.e. one with an actual chance of winning. No one wants to “waste” her vote on a long-shot, and a candidate can prove herself “real,” by displaying, like a peacock, her ability to fund, staff, and organize a convincing effort.

As a candidate for City Council (in 2009, 2010, and 2011), I limited my parade participation, mostly due to the hefty fees asked by some neighborhood and civic organizations. Since resources are finite, one must allocate them in order of priority.

In 2009, I marched in only two parades: the Wake Up the Earth festival’s parade down Centre St in Jamaica Plain; and the Bunker Hill Day parade, held in Charlestown each year to celebrate the June 17 anniversary of the Battle of Bunker Hill.

In 2010, during the special election that occurred when district Councillor John Tobin resigned to accept a position at Northeastern University, there were two parades taking place in District 6, which includes Jamaica Plain, West Roxbury and parts of Roslindale, Roxbury and Mission Hill. The first was the Dominican parade, which in August of 2010 proceeded from Canary Square in JP down Centre St to Jackson Sq, turning right onto Columbus Ave, and heading through Egleston Square to Franklin Park, the location of the Dominican festival. Attended by legions of Spanish language speakers, this event offered me the impetus to translate my triple-S platform into Spanish, and to produce a small batch of Spanish language palmcards.

The second was the Roslindale Parade, held in early October of 2010, only weeks before the special preliminary election. ┬áThis parade, from Roslindale Village, up Belgrade Ave to Holy Name Church (the Holy Grail of Boston polling places), and down South St to Fallon Field, provided me with a chance to film a short campaign video, and to show off an antique vehicle. In both parades, I was fortunate also to make discounted use of the one-of-a-kind Trabucco-mobile: a pickup truck modified for maximum signage by and belonging to my friend (and fellow member of the “Class of 2009”) Billy Trabucco of Dorchester.

In 2011, I focused my efforts on the Dorchester section of Boston, which was hosting a very competitive race for District 3 City Councillor, following a move by City Councillor Maureen Feeney of Ward 16 to the position of City Clerk. Three respected community members mounted substantial campaigns: Frank Baker of Savin Hill, John O’Toole of Adams Village, and Craig Galvin of St Mark’s. Dorchester hosts an annual parade, on Dot Day, a celebration of Dorchester’s rich cultural and historic heritage. This parade, a straight shot up Dorchester Avenue from Lower Mills to Columbia Rd, feels particularly long and grueling, and in 2011 I ended it perspiring and tinged by the summer sun.

Fortunately, a friend and coworker of my mother’s was able to capture a decent photo of the occasion, early on in the day. I have used this photo on social media as a cover photo and incorporated it into my most recent batch of palmcards, ready for the kick-off of my next political campaign.