|My Story: Trading my Marching Boots for Running Shoes
One of the biggest and most famous events in northern Illinois is the annual Sycamore Pumpkin Fest and its Parade, held at the end of every October since 1962. An estimated 100,000 people turn out from northern Illinois, the Midwest, and locations all over United States for the carnival and parade. You could not ask for a more ideal venue to spread a message to a very large segment of the general public.
But unlike most of the parades that we have taken part in, the Sycamore Pumpkin Fest Parade has some pretty restrictive rules. For an advocacy group like Medicare for All Northern Illinois, the most challenging was Rule #1...
|How do we broadcast our message without handouts?
The "Parade of Countries with Universal Healthcare", a parade within a parade.
The theme for the 2017 Sycamore Pumpkin Festival is "Pumpkins Across the Decades." It just so happens the universal healthcare was adopted by the different countries in different years, beginning with Norway in 1912. How do we turn that into a parade float? It came to us...
guarantee health care to all people as a right."
--- Bernie Sanders on Sunday, June 28th, 2015 on ABC's "This Week" ---
So we thought, "Let's pull 32 wagons, each representing a country with universal healthcare, in formation more or less in order of the year of adoption. The wagons and pumpkins in each would be decorated to represent a country. Then, alone at the tail end, the USA pumpkin. The one major country that has yet to adopt universal health care, with a Rosie the Riveter "Yes we can!" theme.
Unlike most parades, Sycamore Pumpkin Festival Parade is a juried parade. So, we might as well go for a trophy.
Talk about an ambitious plan! Lot's of wagons. Lot's of Pumpkins.
So the call to join us went out to all the Indivisible and Our Revolution groups in our area. We also invited candidates for office that had Medicare for All in their platform. The beauty of our concept was that it split up our entry into simple manageable components, each that could be completed no matter where the participants were located.
Once the planning started, ideas began to flow in. Instead of wagons, some countries changed to a real doggie in a doggie stroller, a pumpkin in Roosevelt wheelchair, a pumpkin on a sled on a furniture dolly, and of finally, life size Pumpkin Dalek.
October 29, 2017, was an amazing day. A bright sunny autumn day. We took our Medicare for All message to an estimated 50,000 people at the Sycamore Pumpkin Festival Parade. I day I will never Forget.
Something unexpected happened about halfway through the Sycamore Pumpkin Festival Parade. The front wheel on "Pumpkin Dalek hit a pothole in the street, took a spill, and lost his head. The parade goers reacted. The cop nearby came over and told us "Pumpkin Dalek" had to get out of the parade. Well "Pumpkin Dalek" wasn't about to take this laying down. His head didn't explode. He got up, got his head back on, and finished the parade. I think back on this and smile. I am pretty sure that in most of the countries that we represented, there were setbacks on the path to universal healthcare, but they got there.
Our entry won the trophy for 3rd place. I later read that the 1st place winner, a the "Back to the Future" theme float, took a team made up of people from four companies two months and who knows how much money to put together. So my thought is that 3rd place is not too bad for a rag tag bunch of activists and politicians, having probably spent less than $1000 collectively. To me, this is proof that genuine grass roots efforts by ordinary people can compete with big money.
"Parade of Countries with Universal Healthcare" was a show of unity as a number of groups and candidates came together to advocate for a cause. We did it! All of us together!
At next year's Pumpkin Fest Parade, we are going to win the first place trophy. Then, two weeks later, election day 2018, we are going to win again As Rosie the Riveter said, "We Can Do It!"
Well, the more I though about next years parade, the more I kept saying to myself, "We really have to do this." I immediately started recruiting for next year. I am already looking for other events once it gets warm.
In mid-November, it occurred to me the the position of State Central Committeman is a perfect fit for what I am good at and what I like to do. So I decided to go for it.