Town, Gown Gear Up for Tomorrow’s Big Parade


Rachel Grossman

College senior Emma Fox and community member Curtis McCartney collaborate on a Magic School Bus float for this weekend’s Big Parade. The Parade, which was established in 2002, is scheduled for tomorrow.

Elizabeth Dobbins, Staff Writer

For one weekend each year, students, faculty and community members convene to celebrate warm weather, good company and the town of Oberlin. This Saturday marks the 12th year of Oberlin’s Big Parade, and though the spirit of the ceremony remains unchanged, the event itself has undergone a transformation in its short history.

The Parade’s origins are rooted in Oberlin’s Eastwood Elementary School, which was the namesake for the event’s original title, the “2001 Eastwood Carnival and Parade,” an event that largely catered to Eastwood students. The carnival featured masks and a 30-person canvas dragon, and, though well attended, drew far fewer attendees than its present incarnation. It wasn’t until the following year that the event was referred to as the Big Parade, which is now billed as “an experiment in the power of our human need to express ourselves as well as in the effectiveness of decentralized organizing theory,” according to the Parade’s mission statement.

Oberlin Outreach Coordinator and Apollo Outreach Initia- tive Coordinator Claudio Orso-Giacone and former students Brendan Ravenhill, OC ’01, and Zach Moser, OC ’02, founded of the event.

“I think the parading is part of a celebration,” said Orso-Giacone. “You know, it’s spring, you want to be crazier, you want to … do something fun, you want to do something color[ful] and noisy — probably obnoxious. And you just feel like being loud because it’s like, the biggest leap of the winter is over.”

Since its debut in 2001, the Parade has grown both in size and popularity, largely due to what is now a fundamental feature of the event — student and community participation. This year’s celebration will feature a number of student groups, such as OSteel, WOBC, OC Taiko, the Oberlin Bike Co-op and OCircus!, as well as the Neuroscience department. There is also a variety of community groups involved, including Oberlin Community Services, Hare Krishna and the Kendal Lawn Chair Brigade.Other annual favorites, like Spanish in the Elementary Schools, a group that features Oberlin and Oberlin Public School students, exemplify the collaborative nature of the event.

“In terms of size, the Parade has certainly grown,” City Council President H. Scott Broadwell said in an email to the Review. “The mood has always been good I think, especially when the weather has been nice.”

Though participation and at- tendance have fluctuated over the years, the event’s mission has remained relatively constant throughout the past decade, according to current Big Parade co-Chair and College senior Rachel Adler.

“It’s a platform for people to build things and be silly, and present those things, and to walk in the streets, and to listen to music together,” Adler said. “Also I think it’s a super cool opportunity for bridging the perceived town-College divide.”

According to Broadwell, the Big Parade draws attendees from all walks of life.

“It’s a fun thing to do; it brings out the community. All aspects of the community — the town, the College, the visitors, just pretty much the whole gamut of Oberlin,” said Broadwell.

Officially, the Big Parade is aCollege-run event. Through funding from both the Student Finance Committee and a variety of grants, the Parade co- chairs rent a parade workspace from the College and tents and grills from the city, obtain permits from the city and provide materials for float construction.

Though a hefty number of those participating in the events are students, Adler emphasized that ever since its inception, the Big Parade has been a collaborative event between both the city and College.

“I think it’s an interesting thing because the Parade is funded by the school, and it’s a student organization, but the Parade wouldn’t happen without the participation of people who aren’t technically associated with the College. I think that’s what’s really special about the Parade,” said Big Parade Co- Chair and College senior Zoë Glaser.

According to Adler, anyone is welcome to participate in the Parade or attend the float-building workshops that are held behind the Student Health Center each spring. While many participants plan their floats or routines well in advance, parade coordinators have known people to come in at the last minute and build an entire float in one night. According to Adler, the Big Parade is characterized by this informal structure and drop-in nature.

“Some people just sort of show up at the Parade space during open building hours and start building things,” said Adler. “Some groups of students from a department will get together and say [they] want to build something and then show up. And then there are also plenty of people who prepare their own things not at the parade space and show up at Prospect at 11 a.m. … and just get in line.”

Before the event, the coordinators of the Big Parade attempt to reach a variety of communities by advertising through social media, sending emails to local businesses, attending community fairs and hosting events at the public library or the Feve. In 2006, a lack of funding and the loss of construction space threatened the event. The parade was able to relocate the workspace and the tradition continued, but Orso-Giacone feels the parade has momentum beyond its formal organization.

“I have no idea how … the students have organized it these past years. I honestly don’t care because there is always possibility to work. There is always a space,” said Orso-Giacone.

The city’s involvement in the Parade is minimal beyond providing traffic control. However, in recent years, city officials such as Broadwell have participated in the Parade, dressing up as the Statue of Liberty and mounting a moving trailer in order to collect money for Oberlin’s Fourth of July fireworks. Providing the opportunity for lighthearted community celebrations is a central part of the parade.

“I was tricked into going downtown and standing on the front steps where Shansi is now,” Broadwell said. “I wasn’t in the Parade, just watching… [with] a bunch of my friends. And as the Oberlin High School alumni float came by, my mom was on it. They all started singing happy birthday to me and then all my friends behind me had cans of silly string, which I didn’t know, and covered me with silly string. So that’s how they celebrated my 50th birthday… [by] watching the Big Parade.”