In Todd, NC in the month of June, community means preparing for the annual “Liberty Parade” held on July 4. Every year, hundreds of people gather for this parade in our unincorporated community, expecting it to happen rain or shine. The costumes, props, and puppets worn or held in the parade were made by community members over the past 12 years and every year, we invite the public to participate for free.
As the new director at Elkland Art Center, the parade “host,” this was my first time directing the parade effort. Sitting in the distant wake of Orlando, Istanbul, Princeton, and U.S. election politics, I felt it was especially important this year that Liberty Parade should bring people together to celebrate being together in the most inclusive way we know how–a colorful, creative, participatory parade through town.
Leading up to it and on July 4th just before we walked together, I asked people to reflect on what our liberties and freedoms mean to us as individuals this day, and what it can’t mean to those who do not experience liberty or freedom in their home, neighborhood, nation, or world. While it sounds glorious, most of us at the parade are fairly “comfortable” in our lives. I can’t assume that no one there has experienced hardship, but I know it’s difficult to merely attract people I’d love to see there to experience liberty–those who deserve freedom and justice, but rarely see it: migrant farm workers, the formerly incarcerated, the outnumbered Black and Brown, single parents, food insecure, and so on. Further, the leadership typically comes from staff, board members, and volunteers from the neighboring larger town. It’s going to take a lot more work to make this community parade a true community effort but I was thrilled to see Elkland take small steps in that direction this July 4.