Correction: This story and photo captions have been corrected to note that a classic car procession was not part of Matthew Mitchell’s unofficial Fourth of July parade.
The continued spread of COVID-19 across Alaska prompted many official organizations and municipalities to cancel their Independence Day events this year, including the Homer Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center. In the absence of an official event, a local man threw together a substitute parade that weaved its way through Homer on July 4 under bright, blue skies.
Matthew Mitchell lives about halfway between Homer and Anchor Point. He said when he heard the chamber had decided to cancel the official parade, he wanted to organize one to take its place for the community.
“The big thing for me was, too many people I’ve known over the years have fought for this country for our independence, and when I first heard about it last Saturday I went to bed kind of like, this just ain’t right,” Mitchell said.
So, he took to social media and announced a substitute, community based parade. It started at Soundview Avenue at the Sterling Highway on Saturday afternoon and ended at the Homer Spit. Mitchell led the parade in his red Jeep, flying a flag that was given to him by a good friend before he was deployed to Afghanistan.
Mitchell said he would have rather had an honor guard lead the way, but that they weren’t available. The parade moved along the route at about 10 miles an hour, Mitchell said. He said Homer Police officers he spoke with before the event told him that as long as the parade did not impede traffic, such as preventing other vehicles from entering or leaving the highway, that it would be fine.
In all, Mitchell said about 68 vehicles participated in the parade. Several of the vehicles were motorcycles, as well.
“The reason we chose the long distance route was to allow people to spread out,” Mitchell said.
He included 14 classic cars and trucks in his count, but Bill Sheldon, one of the drivers in the classic vehicle group, said his group was not affiliated with Mitchell’s parade. The classic cars procession started out at Spenard Builders Supply on Heath Street, drove by the Homer Senior Center and South Peninsula Hospital, and then to the Spit. They wound up following Mitchell’s group and were separated from it by several Homer Police Department patrol vehicles behind that group.
Mitchell understands people had concerns about taking precautions against the possible spread of COVID-19, and said the long route was chosen so people didn’t have to watch the parade all in one spot.
One parade participant was originally told he could not join if he did not remove certain banners from his vehicle. Chris Fischer entered the parade with a black van that had the words “Black Lives Matter,” referring to the social justice movement, on the side of the vehicle, in addition to the American Flag, the LGBTQ+ pride flag, the Alaska flag and a pirate flag. Both Fischer and Mitchell told the Homer News that Mitchell went up to Fischer’s group before the parade started and told them they would have to take the Black Lives Matter banner off the vehicle in order to participate.
Mitchell said in an interview after the event that he had wanted to keep political and other agendas out of the parade, keeping the focus on the American flag, but that in the end he did not have the authority to tell anyone they could not participate. Fischer ultimately participated in the parade.
“I told them, I said I wish you wouldn’t make it political, but it is your freedom to drive down the road,” Mitchell said.
In addition to Fischer’s van, a man flying a Confederate flag also participated in the parade, as did two vehicles flying political campaign flags reading “Trump 2020.”
Overall, Mitchell said he thinks the parade went well and was well received by the community. He said he saw a number of families gathered in their individual groups along the long parade route.
“We got a lot of cheering, a lot of honking horns,” he said.
Mitchell said the proudest moment of the parade for him was driving by his grandchildren and seeing them wave.
“It just made it all worth it, just seeing my granddaughter smiling, and my grandson,” he said.
Reach Megan Pacer at firstname.lastname@example.org.