ST. PATRICK’S DAY 2018 is in the books, an epic Saturday celebration marked by the most high-profile — and controversial — parade visit in its 194-year history.
Though President Jimmy Carter visited Savannah on St. Patrick’s Day 1978, he didn’t walk in the parade, as did Vice President Mike Pence this year.
Despite the variety of challenges and controversies surrounding Pence’s visit, this week the earth still spins on its axis, the birds and bees welcome a new spring, and our Republic endures — at least as of this writing, that is.
I was going to give this week’s column the ol’ tried and true report card technique, but since it’s about St. Patrick’s Day, that most Savannahian of days, I decided to use a different grading scale.
This is on a spectrum from “So Very Savannah” down to “Not Savannah At All”:
• Not Very Savannah: The cancerous scourge of national partisan politics finally infected our wonderful holiday, which has been blissfully immune for the most part.
Any visiting VIP of this nature would stir unrest just for the sheer disruptive effect. But this particular visitor, from this particular administration, provoked massive outrage, especially from those in and from allies of the LGBT community.
Adding to the sense of divide was the fact that it seemed to be only fellow Republican officials like Rep. Buddy Carter and Mayor Eddie DeLoach who marched with Pence in Johnson and Wright Squares, and viewed the parade with him at City Hall.
It smacked of a cynical campaign stop rather than a congenial visit in the spirit of the holiday. And that’s something that didn’t have to happen that way.
The fact that no other officials were invited to march — or either declined to march — with the holder of the nation’s second-highest office was a stark indicator of the bleak divide we face nationally, and increasingly locally.
• So Very Savannah: The most angry, and most uniquely Savannahian, question on local lips was: “Who invited Pence?”
The narcissistic notion that someone in Savannah, Georgia (population 147,000) is so important that they could summon a sitting vice president to town is both laughably absurd and also right on point with Savannah’s legendary vanity.
Mayor DeLoach got the brunt of these attacks, as if he personally rang the Veep’s office and demanded, “Y’all get Pence down here for St. Paddy’s Day, STAT! I don’t care what it costs.”
Folks, I hate to break it to you, but the mayor of Savannah needs four other votes on Council just to fill a pothole!
Is it possible — just maybe — that the vice president of the U.S. and his staff actually decide where the VP goes and when?
And maybe Pence wasn’t waiting by the hotline for someone from the Parade Committee or SEDA or the Junior League to invite him? Just a thought.
• So Savannah: The eleventh-hour overturning of a bogus sign ban in the “Enhanced Security Zone” was not only a triumph for the First Amendment, but a triumph for the small but passionate group of local activists who — with help from the Georgia ACLU and local attorney William Claiborne — pushed for its overturn.
According to the City, the “ban” on signs and posters not on sticks or poles was due to a miscommunication between the City and the Secret Service, the latter of which sets virtually all rules for the VP visit.
While some elaborate conspiracy theories have been spun, I’m actually inclined to take the City’s word for it.
There were many immediate challenges given the daunting logistics for Pence’s visit — such as, oh say, how to pull off the nation’s second-largest such parade with twelve city blocks more locked down than a passenger airline flight and swarming with federal agents, counter-sniper teams, and K9s. Just for starters.
While the City is taking its lumps for looking like a bunch of tinhorn dictators, as soon as they were challenged on the sign ban (and rightly so), they immediately backed off and did the right thing.
It’s unfortunate that it came down to a threatened lawsuit, but in the end peaceful protesters were able to express their opinions with no interference from the government, and that is a win for both constitutional rights and for Civics 101.
• So Very Savannah: The many local folks miffed that “their” generational family spot on a square might be taken away due to the vice president’s visit was a very Savannah thing.
While no one has a “right” to their own portion of a public space, don’t tell that to some Savannah families, whose version of the apocalypse is being forced to live by the same rules as the rest of us.
• Not Savannah At All: The sight of City Manager Rob Hernandez gazing down on the parade from City Hall like Zeus on Mt. Olympus was a stark contrast from the days when former City Manager Michael Brown brought up the rear of the parade with City sanitation workers, helping to pick up trash and dressed in a City employee’s humble uniform.
A little bit of humility goes a long way.
• Not Very Savannah: Speaking of trash, the grotesque piles of litter left behind in some squares — Chippewa Square most notably — was beyond disgusting and beyond forgiveness.
One can argue who’s at fault, locals or visitors or college students or whoever.
But this is for sure: any ideas that somebody may have had about cracking down only on Orange Crush because of litter at that Tybee event have been swept away by the crushing tide of litter left behind on St. Patrick’s Day.
And mark my words: As reprehensible as the square defilers are, their actions will be used an excuse by the City of Savannah to increase their crackdown on and regulation of the entire St. Patrick’s Day Festival in the future (their current euphemism for this is “taking ownership.”)
Don’t say you weren’t warned.