Anti-war group wanted to crash chamber’s party

Just as we were critical earlier this year when former Gov. Gary Locke visited Kitsap County and turned what should have been a simple address to local Boy Scouts into a poisonous rant about the Bush administration, and then again this month when former U.S. Attorney John McKay was invited as the keynote speaker for Kitsap County’s Law Day observance and devoted the opportunity to whining about having been fired, we would have been disappointed had the local chapter of Veterans for Peace been permitted to politicize Saturday’s Armed Forces Day parade in Bremerton.

In this case, however, the Bremerton Chamber of Commerce did the right thing and banned the group on the grounds that its anti-war message would introduce an unwelcome partisan agenda into what is intended as a controversy-free event during which the public is invited to express its unqualified support for members of the armed services.

And it isn’t as though we have to speculate about what Veterans for Peace had in mind for its appearance, since the group already has a track record.

Local comedian Cris Larsen, who served as parade chairman, said the VFP violated the event’s regulations when it was allowed to participate last year by handing out pamphlets with a political message and by not adhering the stated politically neutral theme of the parade.

In addition, Larsen said the group did not purchase the necessary insurance.

“They were not banned because of the message alone,” Larsen said. “They were not following the rules and were turning the parade into a political event.”

Veterans for Peace Treasurer Nelson Cone disputed the assertion that the group, which claims to have about 80 members in Kitsap, Jefferson and Clallam counties, acted inappropriately at last year’s parade.

He said its message was well-received and was applauded along the parade route.

But in so doing, Cone unwittingly concedes Larsen’s point. In order for VFP’s message to have been received positively, it must have been expressing one.

And the chamber, which organizes and sponsors the parade, has made it clear to all participants that Armed Forces Day is to be an agenda-free occasion.

As the old saying goes, there’s a time and a place for everything, and we think the chamber is entirely justified in trying to make sure its celebration isn’t transformed into just another shrill protest.

It isn’t as though anti-war activists don’t have an equal opportunity to disseminate their message, by the way.

The question is whether they should be allowed to exploit an occasion and a crowd assembled for a completely different purpose in order to deliver a message the parade’s sponsors have no interest in sanctioning.

And the obvious answer is no.

“We support the troops 100 percent,” Cone said. “But like 70 percent of the country, we do not support this war.”

Bully for you. Just don’t expect to crash someone else’s party to make your point.

If Veterans for Peace wants to demonstrate its sincerity with respect to the first part of the above statement, we’d encourage the chamber to allow the group to march in next year’s parade.

But if they insist on using the event to promote the second part in violation of the chamber’s wishes, we’d suggest Cone and his group apply for a permit and stage their own parade.

And when they do, we’ll be waiting anxiously to see whether it’s as widely and enthusiastically attended as what the chamber does.

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