Friday, July 2, 2004
Old Home Day controversy is over — for now
Is it appropriate for political parties to take part in Old Home Day? This week the Old Home Day (OHD) Committee and Carlisle Democratic Town Committee (DTC) were at odds on this question, leading OHD chair David Reed to consider a last-minute cancellation of the town's celebration planned for this Saturday, July 3. On Tuesday Reed issued a detailed e-mail considering the impact of cancellation and discussing how money would be returned to donors.
Democrats prepare float
According to Susan Stamps, chair of the Democratic Town Committee, (DTC) "We started talking a couple of months ago that it would be fun to have a float at Old Home Day." What was envisioned was decorating a member's red convertible with a donkey, "not promoting a particular candidate, but just a town organization being part of the parade. It didn't occur to us it would be an issue." The group also requested a booth from which to hand out literature.
After an initial contact with the OHD committee, the DTC believed they had been given the go-ahead for the float, though the booth might be a problem. Stamps was therefore surprised when a last-minute phone call to Reed elicited the information that neither the float nor the dispensing of literature would be allowed.
According to Reed, the concern was protecting "a tradition since 1912 of having a family day, a fun day." He notes a number of politicians over the years have asked to march but the committee has maintained the event should be without politics. He adds, "Old Home Day is for Carlisle, and when you bring in national issues, especially partisan issues, it just doesn't fit." In past years, politicians including Mike Dukakis and Marty Meehan have attended the event without marching in the parade.
The Selectmen and Town Administrator Madonna McKenzie became involved and consulted town counsel. According to Selectman Tim Hult, "The law is unclear on this matter" with government-sponsored events (such as the St. Patrick's Day Parade in South Boston) apparently subject to rules for inclusion, while private events are not. It is also unclear whether Old Home Day would be considered a town-sponsored or a private event. In either case, an organization cannot be prevented from distributing literature unless it is disturbing the event.
No controversy intended
As of Wednesday morning, the Selectmen had decided to defer the issue until they could meet to discuss it later in the month. According to Stamps, she received an e-mail indicating the DTC will not be included in the parade. "I had no idea we had caused so much controversy. We don't want to make any enemies. We just thought this would be a fun thing to participate in." Stamps and her committee do not intend to push the issue this year, but she will request a public airing of views on the OHD policy in preparation for next year.
Reed points to the light-hearted nature of the parade, with its goats, bikes, and soap box cars, and says the venue is inappropriate for politics. "My objective is to see that traditions stay intact." Responds Stamps, "There seems to be an attitude that politics is a bad thing, that benign political activity interwoven with a gathering of townspeople is inappropriate. This is a free and democratic society. What could be more appropriate for July Fourth?"
© 2004 The