Richard SaBell, president of the Denver Columbus Day Parade committee, wants to make one thing perfectly clear: He didn't send out an e-mail this week to the Mayor's Office and members of the media saying that the annual spectacle had been called off, even though his name was at the bottom of the letter. And while he laughs at the suggestion that protesters were hoping to disrupt the event early so they could stay home on Saturday, when cold and snow has been forecast, he quickly changes his tone.
"All joking aside, this is another attack on Italian-Americans in this town," SaBell says. "It's something serious. Basically, they tried to take my identity and misrepresent my message."
Demonstrations decrying the celebration of Columbus, who many Native Americans charge with genocide, have become something of a parade tradition. Disruptions and arrests crested in the early '90s, leading to the spectacle's cancellation -- and after it was revived in 2000, the Columbus haters returned. But since 2004, when more than 200 people were arrested, SaBell feels the protests have slowly diminished in terms of numbers. "Realistically, it seems like they've had a smaller turnout every year," he says. "I don't want to inflame them, but it doesn't seem to be nearly as well-supported anymore." He estimates that between fifty and seventy-five protesters turned up last year, and while "obviously, we anticipate them" to be back tomorrow, "we don't really acknowledge them. It's their right to protest, and we would never infringe on that. But, to be honest, we don't care. We wish it didn't happen. Ultimately, though, we're going to do what we're going to do."
The conditions will likely impact participation to some degree, SaBell concedes. "We've got about fifty entrants, and three bands scheduled to play -- but we're probably going to lose them if the weather is bad. They're electrical, so that would be a problem."
Still, he expects a big turnout no matter what happens -- "probably the biggest in years" -- when the festivites get underway at 10 a.m. tomorrow; check the parade's website for details. As for the hoax e-mail, he's pleased that the Denver Police Department's computer crime and fraud divisions are trying to figure out who sent it -- and even happier that it doesn't seem to have its intended effect. "Obviously, it didn't get that far," he says.
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Meaning protesters will have to get cold to make their views known, whether they like it or not.