The Anchorage Fourth of July parade hadn’t yet begun on Monday morning, and it was already controversial. Kelly Tshibaka, running for U.S. Senate, was abruptly told by the nonprofit that runs the parade that campaigns like hers would not be allowed to be in the Fourth of July Parade, even though her entry form had been approved and her entry fee accepted weeks prior. She is running against Sen. Lisa Murkowski.
The Kelly Tshibaka for Senate entry had a decked-out truck and float, and campaign volunteers walking alongside. (The one pictured above is from the 2021 Bear Paw Festival in Eagle River.) The truck had her campaign logo on it. The group had filled out the entry paperwork by the deadline and spoken to the organizer on several occasions before today’s parade to nail down the requirements. The group understood they were not to pass out campaign literature along the downtown parade route. But they were wearing campaign shirts, and that may have been the ultimate offense.
Anchorage Fairs and Festivals, which used to put on the main Independence Day parade in the city, dissolved last year and another group took over. The parade in Anchorage remains a private event and the municipality has no say in the matter.
A man from the parade organizing group, who identified himself as Bill Ross with the Veterans Fourth of July Parade Council, was adamant. The Tshibaka group finally headed their parade entry to Wasilla, where they planned to be in another parade.
Because the Anchorage parade is being run by a private organization, infringement on First Amendment free-speech rights is unlikely to apply. Private organizations can get permits to use government-owned streets for parades, just as the LGBTQ community has in the past held parades during June, which they designate as Pride Month. An LGBTQ group could just as easily prohibit an entry in their parade that referred to Bible verses. And the Veterans Fourth of July Council can prohibit whatever form of speech they like. Evidently, the vets don’t like political campaigns in the parade.
In other communities, where the cities are actually in charge of the annual parade, the ACLU has gotten involved.
In 2011, American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio called on three cities to remove free speech restrictions during their Independence Day parades. Each of the cities prohibited candidates running for office from participating in the community parade and distributing campaign literature. The cities included Cleveland-area suburbs of Bedford and Shaker Heights and Dublin, a Columbus suburb.
“Independence Day is supposed to be a celebration of freedom and democracy, yet these policies restrict our most basic First Amendment rights,” said ACLU of Ohio Legal Director James L. Hardiman at the time. “Free speech is the foundation of our political system, and political speech must be strongly protected. Candidates and the public rely on a free exchange of ideas so voters are informed when they cast their ballot.”
The Anchorage Veterans 4th of July Parade entry form spells out the details, which include absolutely no throwing of candy, no items of a social or political nature, and no performing in front of the grandstand: