Environmentalists are not uptight people, Coky Michel insists.
As proof, Michel recounts some of the adventures the Sierra Club Miami Group has had through their affiliation with the wacky King Mango Strut Parade since joining the seasonal Coconut Grove yukfest in 1988. The King Mango Strut began as a spoof of the Orange Bowl Parade in 1982, a year of the Reagan administration, the first computer virus, and E.T.
That first year, the 41-year-old Miami environmental chapter wanted to point out the hazards brought about by pollution on our beaches. So, Sierra members dressed in garb festooned with hypodermic needles, blood bags, fast food refuse and other things that make you go “Ouch!” while strolling the sands sans flip-flops.
The song they sang: The 12 Days of Christmas, its familiar refrain tweaked for effect. Singer Tampon Tyrone’s closing line, “... and a Pamper in a palm tree.”
Michel, a retired French teacher at Coral Gables Senior High School, laughs at the memory as Mother Nature seemed to side against the environmentalists.
“I was in Styrofoam and I wore a bucket on my head decorated with pellets and a plastic bag, glued with Elmer’s glue and it rained,” she said. “The whole thing ran and it was awful.”
Last year, the largest group in the parade, Sierra’s bunch of 47 participants, took on global warming by strutting down the Grove dressed as canoeists, surfers, snorkelers and swimmers enjoying South Florida’s future amenities: Canal Ocho Festival, the Freedom Tower Lighthouse and the scenic Hialeah Harbour.
This year’s edition will be Sunday afternoon in Coconut Grove, along Main Highway and nearby streets. About 48 members of the local Sierra Club — because that’s one more than the record number last year — plan to take on the issue of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. This is a process by which water, sand and chemicals are mixed and injected at high pressure into rock formations to create small gaps or veins for natural gas, petroleum or other products to more easily work their way to the surface for extraction.
Environmentalists, like the Sierra Club, are concerned that the technique can lead to side-effects like contaminated aquifers and small earthquakes. When drilling companies recently began to look at sites like the Everglades and Naples, the Sierra Club took issue and had its theme for the King Mango Strut.
But don’t look for the Sierra Club to get all up in your grill about it. Not at the Strut, anyway.
“Here’s two things: there’s always a message and it’s not a stiff message,” Michel says. “Environmentalists are not uptight. We are fun people. There’s a message and we hope to educate the public and yet entertain them. It’s all tongue-in-cheek.”
The theme will be Frackenstein, says Strut co-organizer Amy Werba, who also plans to march with the environmentalists as a member of Big Oil. She’ll play a “bad guy” and assist Frackenstein and Son of Frackenstein. Look for Werba to detonate the frack out of Main Highway and along Commodore Plaza.
The challenge King Mango participants face is making sure that their parade entries don’t sail over the collective heads of a populace for whom reading a newspaper often takes a backseat to catching the latest episode of Duck Dynasty.
As the 40 or so acts converge this year before crowds that line up five or six deep along Main Highway, Grand Avenue and Commodore Plaza, the task is to be understood. Get too complicated and you lose the audience. The parade only works if you get the satire.
But a comedy parade is not the forum to explain the complexities of fracking.
“Some people don’t have a clue so it may go over their head of those particular people,” Werba said, “but maybe we introduce it as a term and next time they hear it on the news they might find out more. We try to be comical about it and make a joke of the whole thing even though our club is very concerned about a lot of these issues. But because of the atmosphere of the parade we make it festive and entertaining.”
So, naturally, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, or his stand-in, is the Grand Marshall this year. If you’re first thought is, “Rob who?” then perhaps Sunday’s Strut isn’t your best bet.
“I love the idea of an amateur-run, satirical parade,” says King Mango Strut President Mike Lucas, who is in his second year in that position and the first non-Groveite president. Lucas, 56, lives off Bird Road and Ludlam in unincorporated Miami-Dade. “We’re the largest satirical parade east of Ohio. This is stuff created by the community to entertain the community.”
Lucas has guided the Strut since co-founder Glenn Terry left the parade in 2010 during a feud with fellow organizer Antoinette Baldwin. Terry co-founded the Strut in 1982 with the late Bill Dobson after their bid to join the Orange Bowl Parade was rejected. The squabble two years ago, over direction and funding, threatened to derail the popular attraction. Now organized as King Mango Productions, a nonprofit organization, the volunteer-run operation can seek help with fundraising to offset the $30,000-plus cost of running the Strut.
Lucas likens the Strut to street theater, which differentiates the (almost) anything-goes frivolity from other holiday season parades.
“We have tried to emphasize the street theater part, that interaction between crowd and Strutters themselves. That might have scared some people who think they’ll just carry signs and march around. That’s not what we do. We try to get everyone involved.”
Michel uses the word “sophisticated” to describe the parade.
Michel continues and differentiates it from Key West’s annual ode to bacchanalia, Fantasy Fest. That one has a penchant for the flashing of bared breasts and buttock. The Strut, however, “makes people think and at the same time they laugh.”
Expected targets this year, aside from fracking and the Toronto mayor who admitted to smoking crack, include the National Security Agency spying scandal, the Obama-Raul Castro handshake at the Nelson Mandela funeral, Obamacare’s website snafus, Miley Cyrus’ twerking — and a “Beatles reunion,” Lucas said. After all, the 50th anniversary of the Fab Four’s appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show, which was filmed from Miami Beach’s Deauville Hotel, comes up in February 2014.
All this snark takes time to conjure. Participating groups often begin gathering around Halloween to toss around ideas and start the process of designing costumes or building floats. Sierra Club, natch, aims to use recycled materials.
“Even before [Halloween] we’re sort of watching stories on the news to see what’s current, what’s going on,” says Werba, who lives in North Miami Beach and has been coming to the Strut since the early days. “The toughest thing is getting all the props together and building them in such a way that we can transport them down to Coconut Grove from our homes.”
One year the Sierra Club, poking fun at Homeland Security, featured Michel as Mother Earth in chains and getting thrown in the pokey by mock cops.
“It was very funny,” she says with a chuckle, “but some people thought it was for real.”