I think most things that are wrong with America, right now, could be fixed by visiting a Fourth of July parade in a small Midwestern town. Preferably one of those small towns (in Iowa, of course) that still hangs flower baskets from the street lamps on Main Street in the summer and puts up cheesy, old fashioned Christmas decorations in December.
It needs to be a parade where at least half of the adult audience works with their hands, either by farming or fixing things, so that when they clap for the third basketball team that marches by, you can see the dirt or grease still under their fingernails.
None of the floats in the parade can be professional. This is important. The fanciest ones will be flatbeds gussied up with balloons and crepe paper. The simplest ones will be pick up trucks plastered with paper plates that look like baseballs, while the kids on the team sit in the bed and throw out candy with astonishing accuracy.
Having the high school marching band is a must. As are the cheerleaders running up and down the parade route (which is only three streets long) doing stunts for the crowd.
If you’re really lucky then the public library has their own float, promoting the summer reading program and some loud voice from the crowd (probably a quarterback or former quarterback or maybe even a middle aged blogger who loves reading) yells out above the noise, “Yeah BOOKS!” while everyone cheers.
There are lots of tractors in the parade (this is Iowa.) Most are green John Deere models, but there are a few older red and orange ones. And every emergency vehicle in the town is in the parade as well. Let’s hope no one needs the fire department this morning.
In between the drill and dance teams and junior cheerleaders, there are horses groomed and polished to the hilt. Behind the horses walk the horse pooper-scoopers, which is no doubt the worst job in the parade. Despite their valiant efforts the smallest little girls in their glittered pigtails and pompoms sometimes hold their noses as they wave to the crowd and march and kick in unison.
The kids on the sidelines quickly learn that the fastest way to get a bagful of candy is to smile and wave to everyone that comes down the street. Small tussles and fights break out in the beginning as every kid tries to collect the most dumdum suckers and tootsie rolls, but soon enough things calm down and a rhythm is established. The kids who are too shy to wave or have perpetual bad luck are given candy from the other kids. It’s like a small scale elementary school version of benevolent capitalism.
Towards the end, the veterans and returned soldiers march stiffly together to close the parade and the crowd cheers wildly. There are standing ovations and catcalls of thanks and gratitude. Small town people know and respect sacrifice and hard work when they see it.
When the last piece of candy is collected and the blankets and lawn chairs are folded up, you walk slowly back to your car with a renewed spirit and some re-evaluated priorities. Your cheeks hurt from smiling, your arm is tired from waving, but your heart is full of optimism.
Imagine if the whole country had that same renewed spirit and optimism. Imagine if the whole country had a chance to smile and clap for their neighbors and family members. Imagine if the whole country thought that cheering for the kids on a few sports teams or for the head children’s librarian was more important that keeping up with any Kardashian. Imagine if the whole country got a chance to appreciate the men and women, the soldiers, medics, firefighters, and the humble farmer, who put their lives on the line everyday to help others.
Like I said, the right small town parade could cure America of what ails her.