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In Search of Substance to Accompany Pomp and Circumstance

The Greek-American Community of greater New York held its Greek Independence Day Parade on Sunday, June 5th. The date seems unsuitable and illogical, much like the causes responsible for this deferred celebration.

Admittedly, the situation regarding the particulars of this year’s parade was complicated, due to the dysfunctionality that has led to the deterioration of the parade’s organizing body, the Federation of Hellenic Societies of Greater New York. Since the onset of the pandemic and ensuing lockdown, it became embroiled in a power struggle, and since then, at least two factions emerged, creating dissention within the ranks of the organization and disruption within the organized Community.

The analysis of the factors contributing to the present polarization goes beyond the scope of this column. Still, the fact remains that the Parade – the largest mass gathering of Hellenism in the Diaspora after the services for Holy Week and Pascha – was jeopardized. Moreover, there were reports that the Greek Presidential Guard – the highlight of the Parade – might not attend due to the infighting and confusion, and that their participation was ultimately secured at the last minute.

The Community owes a debt of gratitude to all those who braved the difficult circumstances, working in unison to ensure that this year’s Parade took place – after a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic. Failure to restart the Parade may have jeopardized its status, depriving the local Greek Community of emblematic Fifth Avenue as the parade venue.

Still, the end doesn’t seem to justify the means and the organization of Greek-America’s largest parade is not an end in itself – especially when the event has organizational issues, lacks a clear hierarchy of values and goals, and sometimes gets sidetracked by pretentiousness. In such an instance, it’s worth considering if wider publicity ultimately even benefits the greater interests of Hellenism and the Greek-American Community.

Serious thought must be given to upgrading the event and improving its organization so that the Parade can achieve its maximum potential and be strategically utilized. After all, space and time are resources, and resources have value. The critical question that must be examined is how the Community manages this value and increases it.

There are many aspects that need to be discussed.

First and foremost, what sort of a Parade celebrating Greek Independence (March 25th) takes place in June? Organizers and participants must decide from the onset about the nature of the Parade. If their intent is to celebrate Greek Independence, then, for reasons of coherence, consistency, and audience motivation, it needs to take place close to the actual day of Greek Independence. Otherwise, if fairer weather is the priority (which is sketchy, considering the unpredictable weather conditions on the East Coast throughout springtime), the central messages of the Parade must be different, more general in nature, and possibly disengaged from strictly celebrating the Revolution of 1821.

Second, serious consideration must be given to how the Parade can showcase and support Community institutions. Is there some strategy being followed regarding this, based on a hierarchy of value and needs, or are organizers just winging it? For example, it must be determined if there certain institutions that are more directly linked to the Community’s ethnic vitality, such as our Greek schools. If we can agree that the contribution of our community schools to the promotion of Hellenism and preservation of the Greek culture is more important than that of certain for-profit enterprises, such as banks and other Greek-owned businesses which cater to the general public and operate independently of the Community, what can be done to promote and reward our schools? Or rather, why are less essential businesses given priority over schools in the Parade’s marching order?

Shouldn’t students, who are practically the only ones dressed uniformly, be duly acknowledged and rewarded with an honorary spot in the first battalion? Anyone who speaks with students, teachers, and parents who participate in the Parade knows that their greatest longstanding complaint is that they are forced to wait for a long period of time on the sidelines until it is their turn to march, thus both missing out on watching the parade and being met by empty grandstands and sidewalks when they finally do get to march. This problem could be readily solved if schools (at least day schools) are allowed to march first, and then directed to reserved spaces so they can watch the rest of the Parade as spectators.

Naturally, the resolution of these issues is not limited to just improving the organization of the Parade itself. When the organized Greek-American Community learns to hold effective public discourse about the problems and challenges it is facing, the local Greek Diaspora will be in a position to better respond to the demands of the times and contribute to the interests of Hellenism.

In short, all those who promoted this year’s Parade and worked with philotimo to ensure a good turnout are to be commended.

However…they must be present with the same interest and decisiveness in the aftermath of the Parade to demand explanations about how the situation was allowed to get so out of control and why the Community had to assemble in such rag-tag fashion to march in celebration of March 25th…in the beginning of June! If they don’t act and just shrug things off as usual, the fault will not lie exclusively with the Federation, but will be collective, because parade-goers are rewarding certain inappropriate behaviors and mentalities with their support, instead of laying down rules and setting boundaries.

The argument that Greek-Americans must support any decisions adopted by parade organizers at any cost…for fear that the New York City municipal authorities will block the Parade from taking place on Fifth Avenue lacks sufficient backing. What good is being on center stage if the proper organization is lacking and we aren’t exactly sure what we are promoting and how exactly to promote it?

It’s time the local Greek Community of greater New York get serious and reorganize, because it’s giving the impression that it’s all pomp and circumstance, but lacking in substance.

 

Follow me on Twitter @CTripoulas

 

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