Canton residents decry potential parade ordinance at town meeting
Nov 13, 2017
CANTON — Ralph Hamlett’s proposal that would change the rules and regulations of Canton parades hasn’t even reached the board, but already those opposed are rallying against the potential ordinance.
Hamlett revealed his intention to propose an ordinance that would give the town discretion to reject any entries that could be deemed offensive, with a central intent to keep the Confederate battle flag out of parades. Although the ordinance is currently in the hands of town attorney William Morgan, several residents showed up to voice their opinions.
The part of the ordinance that could allow for the banning of certain Confederate flags reads:
“3) Entries must be appropriate for diverse family audiences:
a) An entry may not include any image or content that includes nudity, profanity, lewdness, illegal drugs, violence, obscenity, hate, racism, or that is vulgar or sexually explicit, insulting or offensive to any ethnic, religious, political or other identifiable group or individual, or that may incite violence or other disrupted behaviors not conducive to a celebratory theme as determined by parade official(s) or law enforcement personnel;
b) Advocates for causes that fall outside the nature of celebratory events designed for diverse family audiences may petition law enforcement or the governing body for an appropriate venue for expression of their cause consistent with established First Amendment precedents concerning ‘time, place, and manner.’”
First to speak at the meeting was Jean Parris, founder of Drugs in Our Midst, a program designed to teach middle school students the dangers of addiction. She brought with her a banner she carries in the parade that depicts a marijuana leaf.
“Ralph, I’m very disappointed you wouldn’t realize who all you’re attacking with this proposal,” she said. “What does that look like? Illegal drugs on my banner? This means we can’t carry this banner in the parade.”
Judy Bartlett said the opinions people have against the flag exist because of a “revisionist history” being taught in schools, which she even tied into the infamous 45 communist goals for a takeover of the United States. But mostly, she simply argued that people should have the right to fly whatever flag they want.
“For this body to deny the rights of your citizens to display that flag whenever and wherever they choose is trampling on their civil rights,” she said.
Yvonne Gilbert, who moved to the area from up north about 25 years ago, prepared a statement that she read for the board. The statement largely focused on the origins of the flag.
“It was supposed to represent the division of the states, which is the blue cross bars, the stars representing the states which were part of the confederacy, and the red to represent the blood that was spent on those battle fields,” she said.
She tied that in with maintaining a healthy understanding of the South’s history.
“What young people need today is an ideology they can be proud of,” she said. “One that instills positive values. One that continues to connect them to their roots and their tradition. Slavery is not a part of that dialogue.”
Mike Combs also moved to Haywood County from a northern state. He noted that he is proud to have been able to assimilate to the southern way of life, which he made abundantly clear he favors versus his life in Indiana.
“Too many out-of-towners coming up here want to run things from the place that they were that failed miserably,” he said. “And they want to come here and keep that same crud going. They want to vote the same way that they voted up there, which was the downfall of their townships. And they want to bring the same ideology here.”
He also blamed the media for stirring up anti-flag sentiments.
“That Confederate flag has nothing to do with what the media said it does,” he said. “You see any program and it’s always in a negative state.”
Chris Jennings, chairman of the board of The Community Kitchen, offered the most nuanced argument. He said he was afraid that, given the wording of the ordinance, The Community Kitchen wouldn’t be able to march in the parade.
“Leaving flags aside, according to the words in the ordinance, the kitchen can’t participate in the parade because we advocate for a cause,” he said. “It’s doing things like the parade that gets our name out there. It draws public support for what we do.
“We have an opportunity to set an example … we can say if you want to fly your American flag, fine. If you want to fly your rebel flag, fine. If you want to fly your gay pride flag, fly it. If you want to fly your African flag, fly it. We’ll love you not because of what you represent, but we’ll love you for who you are, and we’ll appreciate the diversity, we’ll embrace you, and we’ll learn from you. We’ll prove to the world that you can be a community and not let these small things divide us.”
Andrew Henson, who, following the initial complaints regarding the flag’s presence in the Labor Day parade, organized an event where about 200 vehicles rode through the county displaying Confederate flags, was the last to speak. He argued that the ordinance would cause further division.
“The ordinance that’s been proposed is completely pulling people apart,” he said. “When you go to the parade, the Confederate flag has always been a part of it. There’s always somebody that’s had it and it’s never been a problem until all of the sudden now.”
The board responds
Following the public comments, Alderman and Mayor-elect Zeb Smathers was the only town official to comment on the debate. Although he didn’t offer any insight into his personal opinions on the issue, he praised those who came out to make their voices heard.
“There’s nothing more American than to talk about the Constitution in meetings like this,” he said.
Smathers added that everyone in attendance needed to know that they aren’t always going to agree on everything, and that working our way through issues like this is what makes us stronger, more unified.
“You’re comments here tonight are appreciated,” he said. “They will be taken heartfelt, and again, it’s a proposal. There’s nothing in front of the board, but at the end of the day, we’ll figure things out and we’ll remain a community.”
Although Hamlett was quiet at the meeting because said he knew “the passions were hot,” he offered some comment Friday. He said that the turnout was about what he expected.
He specifically addressed some of the comments, including Jennings’ concern about The Community Kitchen being able to take part in the parade.
“Is it offending anyone? No. Is it advocating illegal activity? No. They provide a community service and they would be welcome,” he said.
Although Hamlett believes the flag doesn’t have a place in a town parade, he wanted to make it clear that he does not want to do away with it altogether.
“Many people were saying I’m trying to take the Confederate flag away from them. I’m not,” he said. “I would never want to take that symbol away from them.”