Wednesday, March 25, 2009

South Side Irish Parade, 1979-2009

I was surprised, shocked and quizzical upon hearing of the "suspension" of the South Side Irish Parade. Read the Sun-Times version here.

I will offer a more in-depth analysis of this event, the decision to suspend it and possible paths for the future in the coming days. Presently, I wanted to offer my reflections based on my own experience and also respond (in one way or another) to the commenters on this version of the story at

My Personal Parade Experiences
I have attended the parade for at least the last ten years. A close friend's family owns a business near 103rd and Western Avenue. I also have good friends who live in the neighborhood, several of whom host parties on the day of the parade.

I have always had a good time at the parade. For several years, we would even stay at a hotel near the parade site and take cabs or walk to the parade to be on the safe side. Most years, though, we would park behind my friend's shop and stand out front to enjoy the parade.

I would be lying if I said that my friends and I didn't drink during the parade. We did, and on the public thoroughfare (which is illegal in Chicago and most everywhere that isn't Las Vegas or New Orleans). We were always responsible about it, though. I have too much experience in my circle of friends with DUI and other legal complications. We always had a sober driver and always got back to the South Suburbs safe and sound.

Alternately, we would walk to a friend's house in the neighborhood, spend the rest of the day and night there and pick the car up in the morning.

We always respected the neighborhood, understanding that we would expect the same if people came to our neighborhood. I never peed in a lawn. I never threw my trash around. I never destroyed property. I never got in a fight or caused any sort of disturbance. I, furthermore, never saw any of my friends do any of these things. If they did, then I didn't see it.

I am not exaggerating any of this just to make myself look like a saint. I pride myself on being a responsible parade goer and one who knows his limits when it comes to alcohol. I have tested those limits in the past, but I am beyond that stage in my life. I know what I can handle and I don't go beyond.

To Those Who Say, "Good Riddance!"
...and at the above-linked article there were plenty of them. A lot of these people, furthermore, claim to be Beverly-Mt. Greenwood residents. I have no way of proving where these people are from, but there were several common themes in their comments.

I guess I can understand their joy at the parade's a point. Yes, I can understand that the mess and congestion and crowds and public drunkenness and destruction of property is out of line and can make life miserable. How could these things NOT be a nuisance?

I can also see the other side of the argument. Yes, these negatives are considerable, but there are positives. Apart from the huge influx of cash into the neighborhoood (which will be discussed at length in future posts...I wonder if it offsets the extra cost of police, fire and sanitation), this event has truly become one of national scope. It brings thousands of people into a unique and historical neighborhood of the city for a day of celebration. I have never lived in a place that anyone has given much of a shit about, so I could see where that might engender a sense of pride.

The numbers of arrests (which don't tell the whole story), furthermore, as compared to attendees (an estimated 300,000) is miniscule. While, as I alluded to, the arrest figures do not encapsulate the fullness of the unpleasntness (and might just say as much about the police as the parade goers), it IS only one day out of the year. To have your neighborhood host an event that brings joy to so many and have to be inconvienenced one day a year seems a small price to pay.

This does not mean, however, that I condone destruction of private property. Private property is sacrosanct. It is, as far as I am concerned, a fundamental human right (the protection of property, that is). This is wrong and takes some creative thinking to make it better (again, more on this later).

In summary, then, while I can see how some people (especially residents of the neighborhood) would be glad to see it go, I can also see how these same people might not be considering all of the facets of the issue.

To Those Who Say, "The Problem is Outsiders!"
Most of the people who said this seemed to be the above people who live in the neighborhood. They lament their neighborhood celebration becoming a magnet for people from "outside," who cause most of the trouble.

They also claim that it would be a good idea, not to mention feasable, to exclude people from outside the neighborhood. This, they state, would return the parade to what it once was - a celebration by the locals, for the locals.

This view is impractical and ill-informed. While most of the people arrested were not from the immediate area, this fact doesn't really mean that much. There were likely more people at the parade who didn't cause trouble (or whose troublemaking was not officially punished) from elsewhere.

The only way to make this happen is to check proof of residency for all parade attendees. The logistics of this would be nightmarish, to put it lightly.

To Those Who Say, "We Want Nothing to Change!"
Sorry, this seems unlikely. Such a decision, I would imagine, was not taken lightly.

To Those Who Say, "This is the Wrong Way to Celebrate Irishness!"
I understand that the stereotype of the Irish as being drunk and violent is one with a long and damaging history. You can say this of most stereotypes, really.

I also understand, however, that in a larger sense, this shows a short-sighted view of the subject. One of the cornerstones of the Irish character and culture is hospitality to one and all. Welcoming strangers into our homes and neighborhoods, encouraging all to eat, drink and be merry is simply part of what Irish people are. While I am not really Irish (I am an American of Irish ancestry), I take great pride in this aspect of my background.

If some American Irish people choose to celebrate their heritage by going to church, fine. If others choose to celebrate their heritage with their friends and a case of beer at a parade, fine. If they choose not to celebrate it at all, fine. If people who have no Irish background decide to join us in our celebration, fine.

What I object to is being told how to engage with my ethnic heritage. Ethnic hertiage can be as much a curse as a blessing, and it might leave one with mixed feelings (as it does for me). I choose, however, to celebrate the best parts of my heritage while not forgetting the negatives.

For Next Time
In my next post concerning the implications of the cancellation of the South Side Irish Parade and it's possible future, I hope to explore the nature of this sort of event, the problems inherent therein and possible suggestions of how the event could change.

To read up on this, you might want to consider the ideas of public goods, negative externalities and the free rider problem.

After doing this, we will consider other possible reasons behind this decision (non-rational maximizing ones) and where we go from here.

I think it is safe to say, however, that the South Side parade as we once knew it is dead and gone forever.

Is that good or bad?

We shall see.


Andrew Keilman said...

one response

ban. cubs. baseball.

seems to me that these two things have alot in common

Andrew Keilman said...

possibility of re-directing the parade to evergreen park me hears. it would start at 95th and pulaski? what do you think about this?

Andrew Keilman said...

ok one more thing

Northwest Indiana is considering one as well. they had the first one in crown point earlier this month in the town square. now i hear they might even have it in Highland down the street from the house.....could this be just as cool? Hmmmm...perhaps the Wanderers will come to our cultural rescue