Published on Saturday, October 7, 2000 in the Denver Post
Protesters May Obstruct Parade's Path
by J. Sebastian Sinisi
A final round of talks held on the eve of today's Columbus Day parade ended with parade organizers and protesters pledging nonviolence, but without assurances that civil disobedience won't be used.
Protesters may lie in the parade's path to try to halt it, and they do expect to be arrested, according to some participants in Friday's two-hour negotiations.
"We reserve the right to engage in all forms of civil disobedience," George "Tink" Tinker, a member of the leadership council of the American Indian Movement, said after the meeting.
"We will be there to protest as vigorously as we can, with a commitment to nonviolence," added Tinker, who teaches Indian cultures and religious traditions at the Iliff School of Theology in Denver.
George Vendegnia, who founded the Sons of Italy/New Generation, said, "We're going to have a parade, and they're going to protest."
Parade organizers expect 1,500 people from metro Denver and elsewhere to show up, including Michael Cartier, 11, of Denver, who gave the city 1,000 signatures from his classmates asking for a peaceful parade.
The parade has drawn attention around the country and abroad. Roughly 27 other cities nationwide will be hosting Columbus Day parades this weekend, but none of the others have reported the same potential for violence, according to Mayor Wellington Webb. Webb said Friday that only those whom organizers authorized to be in the parade will be allowed in the parade or in its path.
According to police guidelines, protesters entering the parade route or "blocking the progress of the parade or its participants" are subject to arrest, Webb said.
Since the mid-1980s, American Indian groups have denounced Columbus as a slave trader who committed genocide. Hispanic groups later joined the Columbus protest. Columbus, Tinker said, is considered by American Indians to be "an icon of hate."
For the second consecutive day, Italian-American parade organizers met with American Indian and Hispanic groups behind closed doors in a meeting mediated by Denver clergy at Temple Emanuel in Denver's Hilltop neighborhood.
Since a pact brokered by the U.S. Department of Justice collapsed about a week ago, the city has sought to head off the prospect of violence that canceled the city's Columbus Day parade in 1992.
Although no one emerged from the meeting Friday completely satisfied, all parties came away pledging that their side would do nothing to initiate violence.
Parade organizers, on their way to another meeting, left in a hurry, with C.M. Mangiaracina saying, "The talks were peaceful. Ask the ministers."
Russell Means, a national spokesman for the American Indian Movement, left the meeting about 20 minutes before other participants.
"I came here hoping to find some honesty and integrity," Means said. "I always hoped Denver would be able to shine rather than have a black eye. As far as I'm concerned, this meeting is over. I'm extremely disappointed. Denver has failed!"
Glenn Morris, a director of the American Indian Movement in Denver, said all parties had an agreement, and "it was betrayed." "Now, we're left with tension on the streets of Denver."
LeRoy Lemos, director of Poder, a group devoted to helping the Hispanic community, and head of the Justice for Mena Committee, said his protesters have been told to avoid violence.
"Both sides agreed today that neither would resort to violence," he said. "Nobody wins with violence, and we were hoping for a win-win. We thought we had one, then we didn't. " He denied reports that he had contacted outside agitators.
The Rev. Acen Phillips of Mount Gilead Baptist Church in Denver said what makes this year's efforts different is that both sides agreed to work together. "The issue is not Italian heritage, but Columbus," he said. "And we're confident we can work that out in the continuing talks." Even after the parade, talks will resume next week, as early as Wednesday, involving the same parties and same clergy mediators.
"Both sides agree to keep these talks - not governmental and brokered by clergy - going after the parade," said Rabbi Steven Foster of Temple Emanuel, who has mediated the talks. "The dialogue will start again next week and continue as long as it takes, so that we don't find ourselves in the same place before next year's parade."
Although Cartier, a seventh-grader at Beacon Country Day School, will be at the head of the parade near the grand marshal, he said none of his classmates' parents allowed them to join him.
Cartier says he will march alone if necessary.
"Parades are supposed to be fun. They're not supposed to have a riot," Cartier said. "I thought if we got the signatures in support of the First Amendment and not about either side, then there might not be any violence."
Denver Post staff writers Mike McPhee and Carlos Illescas contributed to this story.