Activists add second St. Patrick parade

Will follow older S. Boston event

By Billy Baker
Globe Staff / March 10, 2011

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South Boston will play host to two St. Patrick’s Day parades this year — the traditional one and, right behind it, an alternative parade that is billing itself as the St. Patrick’s Peace Parade.

The second parade, which will be required to remain one mile behind the main parade, is being organized by an antiwar group, Veterans for Peace. The Peace Parade will include marchers from a gay rights organization, 16 years after the South Boston Allied War Veterans Council went to the US Supreme Court to win the right to block gay groups from marching in the traditional St. Patrick’s Day Parade.

Veterans for Peace, which has clashed with parade organizers in the past, had applied to march in the main parade, but was denied by organizers. The antiwar group then won city approval for its own parade along the same route on March 20, the date of the main parade.

“We’re not that type of parade,’’ Philip Wuschke Jr., the organizer of the main parade, said of the antiwar group, which had proposed holding signs that said, “How is the war economy working for you?’’ and “Bring the troops home and take care of them when they get here.’’

“We’ve got military units in the parade, and people that are on the side of the streets have probably been in the military and would be offended,’’ Wuschke said. “We’re not protesting nothing. It’s just a parade.’’

Wuschke took over the parade last year from longtime organizer John “Wacko’’ Hurley, who led the fight to bar gay groups. But Wuschke, a 45-year-old who lives in Stoughton, said there would be no change in policy as a result of the change in leadership.

The Supreme Court decision said private parade organizers could not be required to admit groups that convey a message contrary to that of the organizers.

“We don’t ban gays and lesbians from the parade,’’ Wuschke said. “Just no outright signs. This is not a gay pride parade.’’

Patrick Scanlon, the coordinator for the Greater Boston chapter of Veterans for Peace, said his organization, which has 130 chapters nationwide, was criticized as “too political.’’

“We’re too political because we’re interested in peace?’’ Scanlon asked rhetorically. “This is a parade that features every politician that can walk, and everyone who can’t walk is riding.’’

In 2003, Scanlon’s group was denied permission to march in the parade, but was allowed to march behind it by Boston Police. Parade organizers sued police, arguing they had violated the Supreme Court decision, and won again. A US magistrate judge ruled that if any group wants to participate in the parade without the permission of the Allied War Veterans Council, it must follow the same parade application process to the city as any group would but would need to remain one mile behind to make clear the two parades were separate. This is the first time anyone has applied for a parade permit under that provision.

Scanlon said it’s unclear how many people will march with the Veterans for Peace parade. They were notified of approval on Feb. 26, and Scanlon said they’ve already generated a lot of interest from people associated with the Honk! Festival of Activist Street Bands that takes place in Somerville and Cambridge each fall.

But a gay rights group has already declared its intention to join the alternative parade. On its Twitter feed yesterday, Join the Impact Massachusetts announced its participation by stating “take back the St. Patrick’s Day Parade.’’ The post contained a link to a Facebook page inviting people to march.

“We would prefer to be in the main parade, but if anybody is being left out we’re going to stand with them because of our history,’’ said Ann Coleman, a Join the Impact Massachusetts cochair and the person behind the initiative to join in the Veterans for Peace parade. Coleman said the group plans to hold signs, including rainbow flags.

Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, who has long boycotted the St. Patrick’s Day Parade because of the ban on gay groups, will not be participating in either parade, according to his spokeswoman, Dot Joyce.

“As always, the city is focused on providing a safe and enjoyable parade day for everyone,’’ was all Joyce would say, “and it sounds like there’s going to be something for everyone in South Boston that day.’’

Billy Baker can be reached at