Monday, October 22, 2007

Rain on Our Parade

Pasadena's Tournament of Roses parade has spent most of its 119 years
basking in the warmth of public adoration.

The New Year's Day spectacle has been attended by millions and watched by
hundreds of millions of TV viewers over the years.

It is truly part of the American experience.

This year parade is attracting attention, too. But it doesn't smell like
fresh cut flowers.

The inclusion of a float celebrating the upcoming Olympics to be held in
the People's Republic of China is rapidly becoming a full-blown international

The float, depending on who's talking, is either an important moment for
the parade and China or a blatant propaganda tool for Beijing, validating the
Communist government's human rights abuses.

A spirtual movement called Falun Gong, banned in China, believes the float
has no place in the Rose Parade. Their claims of brutal treatment at the
hands of the Chinese government have the weight of international opinion
behind them. Amnesty International and the U.S. House of Representatives have
protested the treatment of Falun Gong practitioners.

Tournament officials, meanwhile, are standing shoulder to shoulder behind
the float.

All of this turmoil is about to fall in the laps of the Pasadena City
Council which, in addition to its lack of experience negotiating the
quicksand of international politics, also meets in an area whose population
includes the largest population of Chinese outside of Asia.

It's a long way from potholes and planning.

Some of the blame for this mess rests with Tournament officials, who
historically have been late understanding the socio-political winds wafting
around them.

They were late including African-Americans in Tournament activities. The
first female president, Libby Evans Wright, didn't ascend to her position
until 2005, not exactly the dawn of the women's movement. They selected a
relative of Christopher Columbus as grand marshal one year, not realizing
that by doing so, they alienated native Americans and civil rights groups who
view Columbus as no more than a pillager.

And they said they thought the Chinese Olympic entry was apolitical.
Apparently, they were wrong.

On the other hand, this float is not the product of the Chinese
government. While it is sanctioned by the Beijing Olympic Organizing
Committee, the bills are being paid for by wealthy Chinese Americans as well
as Pasadena-based label maker Avery Dennison Corp., which has major business
ties with China.

That puts Tournament officials in the position of chosing between two
opposing factions. That's a no brainer, of course. The parade is big
business, run by businessmen eager to tap into China's booming, multi-billion
dollar economy.

It won't be the first time in history that economic interests have
trumped human rights concerns.

Besides, it's a bit of stretch for anybody in the United States to wag a
moral finger over the issue of human rights. There was that slavery issue,
for example. And the near eradication of Native Americans.

Bottom line is that there's usually something every year in the Rose
Parade that will anger somebody.

Richard Nixon was grand marshal. Twice.

China Airlines, the flag carrier of the Republic of China on Taiwan, has
made appearance in the parade.

Are you Jewish or Muslim? Then you probably don't like to see the
Salvation Army band or Lutheran Layman's float coming down Colorado Blvd.

Disney, a staple of the parade for years, has been accused of human rights
violations regarding the working conditions in factories that produce their

The City of Las Vegas, not exactly synonymous with family values, has had
a float in the parade.

Unfortunately, for our city fathers and the rest of us, a parade can't
just be a parade. The world is too small and tensions run too deep.

So here's what we need to do:

Pass the resolution recommended by the Pasadena Human Rigths Commission.
It would state the need to improve human rights in China and would arrange
for the city to hold more meetings with the dissident groups.

That would portray the city as a sophisticated and sensitive entity
concerned with the rights and concerns of all its residents.

Avery Dennison, the company bankrolling much of the float's cost, has
already made this move with no discernable fallout.

Give the dissidents an area where they can stage a protest. Or better yet,
hold an informational outreach. If they were smart, they would take the
opportunity to educate the public about their concerns.

Maybe, just maybe, we can all learn a few lessons from this.

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