Evanston parade gets political in election year

Zhou, Momo

Grace Dunaway was decked out in head-to-toe red and blue with several Barack Obama buttons pinned to her shirt. The 7-year-old and her parents spent their time at the 87th annual Evanston Fourth of July parade passing out lemonade to parade spectators and collecting donations for Obama’s campaign along the way.

“I voted in school!” Grace said.

Her mother, Kirsten Dunaway, 39, said this year’s Fourth of July has particular meaning for her family because this year’s election, the first with a black man leading a major party’s ticket, has helped her kids learn the importance of history. Since 2003, the Dunaway family has been coming to Evanston’s parade to celebrate.

“There’s always patriotic music and we love the floats,” Dunaway said.

This year’s parade featured 148 different float entries highlighting this year’s theme, “Honor the Past, Imagine the Future,” according to Evanston Fourth of July Association President David Sniader.

The parade began at 2 p.m. at Central Park Ave. and Central St. It was led by Mayor Lorraine Morton and the Evanston/North Shore Graduate Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha, a black sorority, recently recognized by the Evanston City Council for its longstanding community service. A legion of floats filled the air with different renditions of patriotic music, although more recent tunes, like Rihanna’s “Umbrella,” could also be heard.

Northwestern student and Evanston Township High School graduate Gail Madete, 18, said that watching ETHS’s marching band perform made her proud to be an alumna.

“Not only are they bringing people together with music, but they are showing their American pride and dedication to Evanston,” the Weinberg sophomore said. “It also brings back great memories of high school.”

Sniader said that this year’s parade went very smoothly with a nod to everything Evanston, such as local politics, community safety and Girl Scouts. “My favorite part is seeing the young people, community floats, just having a good time, kind of expressing their neighborhood charm,” he said.

Though parade traditions such as a tennis tournament, playground sports and a fireworks display remained unchanged, longtime spectator Ann Boyle said the parade has become “too political and liberal.”

“I think the fun has been zapped out,” Boyle, 54, said. “There are no fun bands anymore.”

Boyle was one of several people interviewed who were on both sides of the political spectrum. Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), State Senator Jeff Schoenberg (D-Ill.) and State Representative Julie Hamos (D-Ill.) were just a few of the politicians who had floats in the parade.

Robb Broome, a supporter of Schakowsky, said the parade has been political from the very first time he attended in 2000. “I think it’s great and what makes it unique,” Broome, 51, said.

There have been a number of complaints about what some see as the parade’s increasingly political nature, Sniader said, but added that politicians have a right to have floats and be an active presence.

“I hope they understand it is a part of the whole democratic process and that politicians exist and we have to be open to them,” Sniader said. “We want to be free, inclusive and democratic.”

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