Commercialism invades Billiken parade

CHICAGO – Over a million people, despite heat and sun, attended the 73rd annual Bud Billiken Parade here Aug. 10, and millions more watched the nation’s second largest parade on television. Historically, the parade represents a celebration of children, community, and culture. Parade organizers alluded to this tradition by touting a youth-oriented theme, “Prepare Today, Lead Tomorrow.”

However, residents of the Southside community where the parade takes place told the World they felt this parade and those of recent years have betrayed that tradition.

Bud Billiken began in the 1920s as a Black “Dennis the Menace” type comic strip appearing in the largest Black newspaper of the time, the Chicago Defender. The comic strip dealt with a young man sorting out the realities of Chicago urban life while having fun in the process. The name Billiken is derived from a mythical Chinese folk figure who protected children, and Bud was a common nickname. Later the fictional Bud Billiken became the namesake of the Defender Children’s Charity that sponsors the parade.

Originally the parade was a place where community groups, issues, and talent took center stage. And the community is still represented. The renowned Jesse White Tumblers, one local alderman, and a group of marchers for peace in response to a recent mob beating nearby, were some of the most notable community participants. Washington Park, where the parade wound up, was brimming with family gatherings, children, and barbecues. However, a majority of the parade floats were corporate advertisements.

A lifelong Southside resident told the World that the parade has changed. “This has become a marketing tool,” he said. “Bud Billiken has lost its culture.” His brother commented that the parade only serves to help “corporations make money.” He said the parade’s goal is “to get together, but now there is no substance.”

A vendor of African incense and oils asked, “Where is the culture?” He said we should be teaching our culture instead of giving it up to corporate profits. John, a vendor and community activist fighting to elect a new mayor, shouted that corporate sponsors were given priority placement in costly permit sections and said, “Corporations like Coca-Cola need to be mingling with the community vendors.”

A group of homeless men who live in Washington Park told the World corporations and politicians come to parades “to sell stuff and win elections but when it comes down to really helping people out, they don’t have time.” One of the men complained that one local alderperson “is so concerned with businesses that she forgets about the workers.” He continued, speaking of politicians in general, “They are so busy about advancing their careers that they forget about the people who put them there.”

However, there were some bright outcomes to this year’s parade. The Southside Communist Party Club had a canopy at the parade, where books and literature were sold and given out. Over 4,000 issues of the People’s Weekly World were distributed. Southside Club members say they have found residents to be very receptive to the Party’s message. Club member Carolyn Black commented, “In this economy people are interested in fighting for jobs, most of all.” Another Southside Club member, Bobbie Wood, shook her head at the corporate displays, saying “Corporations are trying to buy goodwill after ripping the community off.” Other political groups also found the crowd receptive. As an organizer for The Campaign to End the Death Penalty stood in front of a poster reading, “George Bush, wanted for murder,” many passers-by gleefully exclaimed their agreement with the poster.

The author can be reached at brandikishner@yahoo.com