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Occupy activists target todays Rose Parade for another protest
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PASADENA  (AP) — Anti-Wall Street demonstrators are not officially part of this year's Rose Parade, but that's not stopping them from joining in.
Activists with the Occupy movement, which protests perceived corporate greed and growing economic inequality, are planning to turn out en masse at Monday's annual event accompanied by their own floats of sorts — a massive octopus whose tentacles epitomize Wall Street's influence on American society and a giant U.S. Constitution, the symbol of the right to free speech, as well as plenty of banners and drums.
"We are going to be as peaceful and nonviolent as possible," said Pete Thottam, organizer of Occupy Rose Parade, which will tag along at the end of the official parade.
Although the 122-year-old parade is renowned for its sunny extravaganza of elaborate floral floats, prancing ponies and spirited marching bands, political statements are nothing new to the venerable New Year's tradition.
In years past, activists have used the 5.5-mile procession — and its vast TV audience — as a platform to make points ranging from calls to impeach President George Bush to decrying Chinese policies.
But police and officials say those incidents have been sporadic and never taken away from the event's message of uniting people from all walks of life.
"The Rose Parade is a nonpolitical parade," said Bill Flinn, executive director of the Tournament of Roses. "It really is an American cultural festival."
Despite a difficult economy, parade participation remains steady, with three fewer floats than last year and three more than in 2009.
Eleven float sponsors pulled out this year, including the cities of Beverly Hills and West Covina, in suburban Los Angeles County, citing difficulties in raising money. Anheuser-Busch, whose famed Clydesdale horses clopped down the parade route for 58 years, also withdrew, saying it had changed its marketing strategy.
But eight new sponsors stepped forward, including Paramount Pictures, Microsoft Kinect for Xbox 360, and the Girl Scouts of Greater Los Angeles.
This year's grand marshal, Iraq war veteran J.R. Martinez, will lead a full complement of 44 floats, which must be decorated with flowers or other elements of nature such as leaves and seeds, 20 equestrian units and 21 marching bands that hail from Sweden to Japan.
Some 700,000 spectators are expected to view the two-hour procession, which starts at 8 a.m. Monday. Although the parade usually takes place on Jan. 1, it's being held on Jan. 2 this year because New Year's Day falls on a Sunday.
The parade, whose theme this year is "just imagine," will be broadcast on eight television networks and will be seen in 220 territories around the globe, including an estimated 40 million people in the United States.
With such a high stakes event, police are leaving nothing to chance with Occupy activists, who have a penchant for loud, disruptive tactics including erecting tents in bank lobbies and blocking roads into ports, as well as acts of civil disobedience.
Pasadena police are increasing their manpower and have held numerous meetings with Occupy organizers to go over procedures, said Lt. Phlunte' Riddle. Officers from county, state and federal law enforcement agencies will also be on hand, as they are normally.
"We will ensure the parade is not hampered," Riddle said.
Occupy will not be in the official procession, but will be allowed to trail after the four police cars that end the parade. Many groups have done the same over the years, including animal rights activists and apocalyptic religious sects, as well as regular spectators.
The Occupy action, however, may be the largest political statement the parade has seen.
Protests have typically been limited to small numbers. A group of AIDS activists, for instance, staged a sit-in along the parade route once, while several Native Americans threw red paint on the route to symbolize blood.
Occupy, however, is expected to draw several hundred people to its "human float," which will be led by anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan. Activists will carry a 70-foot long octopus puppet made out of recycled bags, a 250-foot "We the People" Constitution, a 50-foot "We the Corporations" version, and a giant "Goldie Sachs" wheel of fortune, referring to investment bank Goldman Sachs which has come under heavy fire for its role in the financial crisis.
Occupy targeted the Rose Parade because it reflects the growing corporate influence and military budget in the nation, Thottam said. The group's website also notes that a wide range of media will be in attendance.
Many of the floats are corporate sponsored, a flyover by the Air Force B-2 stealth bomber is featured, and a military figure was selected as grand marshal, he noted. Martinez suffered burns on 40 percent of his body from a land mine explosion and has since turned into an inspirational speaker and actor.
Flinn noted that less than half the floats, 19, are corporate sponsored.
"I don't think that's a preponderance," he said. "J.R. has gone through 32 surgeries. He has such a positive attitude toward life. That's really the message he's bringing