By John Johnson
This is a re-print from the July 1969 Beachhead
What could have uplifted the spirit of a besieged community more than a Fourth of July Independence celebration? A day to show our independence and to reaffirm in our own way our desires and duties to free ourselves from our besiegers.
The Free Venice Organizing Committee (FVOC) decided to have a Fourth of July parade to kick off our drive to free Venice, relating the independence of the colony of Venice from the Empire of Los Angeles to the independence of the American Colonies from the British Empire. The parade would have traveled north on West Washington, across Rose to the Ocean Front Walk, and then south to Windward where our Declaration of Independence would be read.
The police recognized the threat of a community parade with children, flags, and balloons from the very first. Before they would grant Free Venice an application form for a permit, they wanted a downtown conference with many attendants and secretaries at which they requested all the vital information about Free Venice along with maps and multi-colored descriptions of the gala event.
The application was submitted on a Friday (the next Monday being too late) and was promptly refused acceptance in a manner typical of bureaucratic harassment – inaccuracies, they claimed. After a further attempt at submissions on Saturday when no one was there, the application was finally accepted disguised as a registered letter.
On June 18 the Police Commissioners’ hearing on the parade permit was held. Six Free Venice members along with a lawyer went down to participate in the spectacle. Our parade stood out on the lengthy program – it was the only item recommended for denial.
FVOC spokesperson Jane Gordon stepped up first to speak on behalf of the parade. After being subjected to several questions about the FVOC, she objected, maintaining that such questions were irrelevant and suggested that they start discussing the parade. She was told to be seated.
Rick Davidson then took the stand and told the commissioners that FVOC was a group formed to solve community problems and that the parade was to celebrate Independence Day, a traditional national holiday. Rick gave a thorough description of the parade, carefully explaining how the parade had been planned to give minimum interference to emergency traffic. The head commissioner, with his copy of BEACHHEAD in hand, asked Rick if it was true that a celebration would be held along the route even if the permit were not granted. Rick replied that that was true.
Then the barrage of imported complaints began. Various police, firemen, and ambulance drivers read their lines about how the parade would interfere with emergency traffic (the planned police parade) and how it was on April 20. The emphasized point was that there was a reported feed-in to be held on the beach which wold attract about 30,000 people and that the aded traffic from a parade (of at most 700 people and a few cars) would grossly interfere with emergency vehicle access. It was also stated that we couldn’t have vehicles on the Ocean Front Walk since it was not constructed to support vehicles.
The only complaint from the community who was present was William Bestor of the Venice Tram Company, who said that the Fourth was one of only 16 days in the year on which the Tram Company showed a profit and the parade would cut deeply into the profits for the day.
After stating blatantly that it was not the goodness or badness of the organization at issue (even though nothing had been mentioned on that subject) the head commissioner called the vote. No one voted for the parade.
It was suggested that we go back and re-apply but we decided against that obviously futile process. Instead, we began putting out leaflets advertising a sidewalk parade which would obey all traffic regulations and which the police had already assured us was completely legal with no permits required.
Meanwhile, we wanted to deal with the problem of the Tram Company and the reported feed-in. It seemed that the complaint from the Tram Company was due solely to a lack of understanding. Consequently, three Free Venice members met and talked with the Tram manager and secured not only his understanding but also one of his finest trams to lead the parade down Ocean Front.
The feed-in was being put on by Green Power, headed by Cleo Knight. After weeks of unsuccessful attempts to talk with him, we were finally able to persuade him to come to a meeting. We discussed the Fourth, pointing out to him that he was coming into a community (unlike Griffith Park) where there already existed an undeclared war with the police. We told him that we thought that his plans for bringing tens of thousands of unsuspecting persons to an anticipated slaughter without any preparations for first aid, lawyers, or bail money was irresponsible. Furthermore, we informed him that by not complying with the wishes of the community, he was making our problem more difficult. But he chose to proceed with his plans anyway.
Capping the parade preparations was a press conference at which a total of 14 news agencies, including four TV stations, were represented. It was explained that the parade organizers wished to avoid a confrontation with the police at any cost. Favorable coverage of the parade brought Venice’s secession efforts to the notice of millions of Los Angeles residents, many of whom have similar hopes of freedom for their won communities.
At a Wednesday night meeting, July 2, last minute plans were drawn up. Already numerous reports and rumors of a giant police build-up had been brought to our attention, including several remarks from police officers which were very threatening to both the parade and the community. At the meeting’s end, however, we still planned on following through with our celebration that Friday.
By John Johnson