Freedom to march debated in Atascadero



Oppose Wal-Mart supporters and freedom-of-speech activists urged the Atascadero Main Street Association during the Oct. 10 Atascadero City Council meeting to reconsider and allow members of the grassroots organization to march in the association's annual Colony Day Parade, scheduled for Oct. 21.

Councilman George Luna placed the debate on the agenda in an attempt to shed light on the controversy.

"My problem is not the rejection, but the cryptic way it was given," Luna said. "I hope [Oppose Wal-Mart and the Colony Days Committee] can get together for a positive solution. An entry that says we support the general plan and our small-town atmosphere should not be controversial."

In September, the anti-Wal-Mart group asked whether 50 marchers armed with banners and balloons could participate in the parade. The Colony Day Board unanimously denied their request.

"The board feels the controversial nature of the entry is in direct opposition to the purpose and policies of the event and would change the character of spirit of the celebration," reads the association's Sept. 29 response to Oppose Wal-Mart's parade application.

However, Oppose Wal-Mart spokesperson Tom Comar claims that the association barred his organization without knowledge of his group's parade plans. He asked the association to reconsider their stand to ban Oppose Wal-Mart from the parade.

"We are all volunteers and neighbors, and we all have a vision for Atascadero," Comar said. "We are not against the Colony Days Committee. Our fight is with Wal-Mart."

In 1978, the Oak Tree Alliance marched in the parade in opposition of nuclear weapons and in support of alternative energy sources, according to local activist Davis Broadwater. In 2004, the Colony Day Committee denied an anti-war group access and the town erupted in debate.

"Exclusion creates controversy, not inclusion," Broadwater said. "A policy of exclusion can bring shame on this town."

That's sentiment not agreed on by numerous members of the Colony Day Committee who spoke out during the council meeting.

"The propaganda on their web site doesn't fit the message of our parade," said Colony Day Committee member Jay Decou. "Nothing controversial is permitted in our policies and regulations."


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