This evening's news aired a segment in which the company that builds the 20+ major floats for the Grand Floral Parade appealed for more volunteers to help decorate them. It warned that, if these volunteers did not materialize, the floats would not be completed in time for the parade.
There's something I don't understand here. Building these floats is a big business involving tens of thousands of dollars. Companies like the one in town that tackles the Grand Floral Parade floats also build floats for the Pasadena Tournament of Roses Parade and others nationwide.
They are paid a LOT of money to do this job. Perhaps they would charge more if community volunteers didn't come in and finish the task, but should they rely upon free help and are they taking advantage of the community in doing so? Since these hard workers are volunteers, they are - by definition - not getting paid a cent of the thousands paid to the float staging company.
If the company contracts to provide a certain number of finished floats, built to specification, shouldn't they be able to guarantee that the floats will be ready on time and that their completion should not be contingent upon the work of volunteers? With the amount they are being paid, can't they factor in salary for workers to do the job?
In today's Rose Festival environment, floats have become larger and more complicated with each year that passes. This has pretty much made the "home built" float of community groups and small businesses a thing of the past. Small, home-built floats can't compete with the McFloats fielded by large corporations and professionally built. The small groups and businesses either do not enter a float because they can't afford it, or if they manage to get in, they cannot compete. This is directly comparable to other aspects of increasingly commercialized American life where money equals power and accessibility with no apologies. Today's politics does not welcome the average citizen without immense financial resources and backing.
Contrast the Grand Floral Parade with its megafloats and corporate domination with the St. Johns yearly neighborhood parade. This event is brought off entirely by community volunteers. Neighbors participate in the parade, set up the route, coordinate with the city, stage their own crafts fair, encourage local restaurants to set up streetside food booths, and the St. Johns Boy Scout troop capably, quickly, and courteously cleans up the streets and sidewalks afterwards. Attending the St. Johns Parade is like going back in time. Families gather happily at the curb to cheer their friends in costume, in antique cars, and in community groups. Old vets sit in the doorways with flags and children check out the fire engines and craftsmen. Nobody threw money into the street for kids to chase . . . the parade was simply the St. Johns Parade, not the (pick your corporate sponsor) St. Johns Parade. Simpler? Cruder? Perhaps. But this parade belongs to the community it takes place in.
When Portland bicyclists first fielded a Bike To Work Day in the 1970s and 80s, the City did not want to be a part of the organization or execution. The first Bike To Work events were organized by 1-3 people with a lot of energy who made contact with local bike clubs (chiefly the Portland Wheelmen), set up the rides, contacted local sponsors for food, and donated their time to make media contacts and promote the event. Bike Gallery generously paid for the posters each year; artists and photographers volunteered their services. Portland State University provided tables. Darigold, Flowers in Flight, and Boyd's Coffee were among the loyal supporters and donors and Pioneer Courthouse Square let the organizers stage the culminating music and snacks gathering (after the neighborhood rides had ended there) at no charge. Did we name the event after a sponsor? Never. These good people were content to have their names included on the promotional poster, in the press releases, and on a sign that was displayed in the square. These people were not volunteer slaves, called in to finish up the work of a well-paid company, but individuals who contributed in generous and creative ways because they believed in the event.
A community event doesn't have to cost a lot. It doesn't have to cost anything but time and energy. We've got ourselves into the mindset that says we must pay people to do things rather than do them ourselves. That things must be handled like a business (with salaried officers, consultants, and professionals) in order to be "good enough." The Rose Festival can't just "be" . . . it's not even good enough if it breaks even. It must be BIGGER and more people must profit from it for it to be "successful."
Such thinking further isolates community members who are put into the position of being passive consumers and spectators, rather than being part of creating Festival energy.
I don't know if there's any way to turn things around at this point; perhaps alternative festivals or activities centered in neighborhoods would be the answer. Just don't let any of them become too successful. If high rollers see money to be made, we won't own the new festivals any more, either.