Fourth of July parade spectators sought comfort Thursday from the familiar trappings of the holiday — lawn chairs strategically positioned on sidewalks, kids waving tiny American flags, horses clip-clopping down the route.
But with the nation starkly divided over political and social issues, many celebrants at the parade in Towson said — some striking wistful tones — that the holiday has changed.
“It’s a lot more complicated,” said businessman Eric Gee, who joined the crowds lining Towson streets on a 90-degree day to watch one of the state’s biggest Independence Day celebrations.
Parades marking America’s Declaration of Independence 243 years ago were also scheduled for Annapolis, Arbutus, Bel Air, Catonsville, Dundalk and other communities across the state.
Towson parade spectators offered divergent theories about the evolving feel of the day.
For Gee, the tone of the day changed when President Donald Trump decided to play a particularly prominent role by planning a speech at the Lincoln Memorial during a “Salute to America” showcasing the might of the U.S. military.
The president “has decided to politicize Fourth of July in Washington D.C. My recollection and my experience with the Fourth of July is much more about kind of the local community coming together rather than trying to espouse which side of the fence you’re on,” Gee said.
Darlene Furno, an area educator who wore a bright-red shirt emblazoned with “Land of the Free” and an American flag, had a different take.
“I think the lack of people respecting our flag is one of the things,” Furno said. “You have the choice whether you want to respect the American flag, which my family and I do very much. I have a lot of veterans in my family, including a son-in-law. People just have to learn to respect each other.”
Seated nearby, Dennis Caprio wore a shirt emblazoned with “VETERAN” in large block lettering.
“The Fourth of July has changed because of the divided nation,” said the Air Force veteran. “I still celebrate it because I’m a patriot and I served for 10 years.”
“I also honor my daughter-in-law, Amy Caprio, who was a police officer killed last year,” said Caprio, an engineer at Domino Sugar’s power plant.
The 29-year-old Baltimore County officer was run over with a stolen jeep and died at an area hospital a short time later.
Her father-in-law wore a cap with “CAPRIO” in the front and her badge number on the side.
The Towson parade, which emphasizes honoring military service, was replete with old favorites.
There was a Maryland Air National Guard flyover, horses displayed by the Maryland Horse Breeders Association, politicians, clowns and the Ravens marching band.
“Daddy, look! Horses!” shouted Boubacar Diakite, 4, to his father as the majestic animals passed.
Some along the route seemed to consider the parade a refuge of sorts — a constant event even as the cultural ground may be shifting beneath.
“Outside of all the drama and politics and everything, it’s still just coming together to celebrate, to see what’s going on in the community with different groups,” said Melissa Colvin of Parkville, who came with her husband, five children, parents and sister.
Protesters said there was room for them at the parade, too.
About 50 anti-Trump demonstrators along the route waved signs, including several reading “Impeachment Inquiry Now.”
“This whole country was founded on the principle of dissent, right? If you don’t fix these problems at the top, they fester,” said Fergal Mullally, a member of the activist group Indivisible Towson.
Mullally said “lots of people” in the parade waved or cheered when they saw the demonstrators standing on a median strip.
“One or two people I’ve seen shake their heads” as well, he acknowledged.
But, he added, everybody was “polite.”
Among the elected officials in the parade were U.S. Reps. John Sarbanes and C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, both Baltimore County Democrats.
Sarbanes told the Baltimore Sun that Independence Day was a celebration of “our nation’s freedom from foreign influence and interference in our democracy.”
As such, he said the nation “must act quickly — and in bipartisan fashion” to bolster its efforts to prevent attacks on election security in 2020.
Ruppersberger — like some in the crowd — lamented the holiday’s “partisan” tone.
“There is nothing more American than apple pie, baseball and fireworks on the Fourth of July,” Ruppersberger said in an email. “It’s a sad state of affairs when even the celebration of the birth of our nation has become partisan.
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“We have many challenges that divide us,” he added. “But our ability to solve them through a system of government created by the people and for the people is what makes our country the greatest in the world.”