Political theater in the park

Delegates watched from sidewalk cafés while the oversized heads of George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Condoleeza Rice passed by in striped jail outfits on Nicollet Mall.

The Aug. 31 parade that wound into Loring Park was called Liberty Parade 2008, and it was designed to be a nonpartisan celebration, sort of a positive antidote to the more intense protesting expected across the river that week.

The parade marchers were charged with answering the question: “What does Liberty mean to you?”

Their answers varied from an ambling polar bear to a multi-person pedal-pub-style contraption. There were parade walkers in Guy Fawkes masks who alternated between sword fights and air guitar. There were bikes decked out to look like fish. There was an elephant hoisted onto a bicycle with painted banners that read “Forever in your debt” and “$9.6 trillion.” There was a horn band, a group of rowdy street sweepers, and a costumed Gandhi followed by a giant inflated globe.

At the parade terminus in Loring Park, a truckful of Summit beer and bands provided entertainment.

Seven bands were slated to play, but the attendees alone offered plenty to see. A guy wearing only knee socks and white briefs turned a few heads. A gray-haired woman sported a T-shirt that read, “Being green is hot.” A handful of people wore pink buttons that said “socialism sucks.”

A group that was scantily clad in red, white and blue sang an original song to the tune of “Barbara Ann” by the Beach Boys.

“Went to Iraq, got a lot of flack,

Want to bomb Iran, want to make a new attack,

Bomb Iran, Yes we can, Bomb Iran …”

One table underneath a tree was promoting God for president, and asked people to “join the love campaign.” One banner read “Ron Paul Sucks,” and another nearby sign embraced Ron Paul’s “Love Revolution.” Over the loudspeaker, an emcee announced plans to form a large human peace sign shortly before 6 p.m.

Booths set up on one end of the park featured carnival-style games like Eco-opolis, a coin-toss game using a model of a green city, and “Recycle Swish,” where people tossed garbage into their designated recycle bins.

Another vendor offered airbursh tattoos. A booth plastered with signs proclaimed that “American is not free if smoking pot is a crime.”

Jennifer Pennington, one of the event’s eight organizers, said she was very happy with the turnout. She said they wanted to create a fun, community-building event for the convention.

The Liberty Parade was the brainchild of Jennifer’s husband Chris Pennington, a special-ed teacher at North High School. They sent out a call for artists that yielded participants from as far as Florida, California, Oregon, Washington state and Colorado.

“A bunch of us Minneapolis kids got together and decided we had to do something unique and cool to show the nation what Minneapolis is really about,” the group stated on its website. “We came up with the idea of having a CELEBRATION rather than a protest. A big, weird, loud, difficult to explain or imagine parade where everyone creates objects to honor the idea of liberty, and rolls them down the street for all to admire.”

Reach Michelle Bruch at 436-4372 or [email protected]