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Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Procession of the Species: when Bellingham goes wild

By David Whorpole

Once a year, Bellingham streets run wild with a herd of giraffes, dancing ants and a 10-foot owl on a wheelchair.

At 4 p.m. on Saturday, May 6, North Commercial Street erupted in what organizers describe as one of Bellingham’s most creative parades, Procession of the Species.

Procession of the Species parades happen all over the state and country on different days throughout the year. The first Procession of the Species parade took place in Olympia, Washington in 1995 to support the renewal of the Endangered Species Act and Earth Day’s 25th anniversary.

Senior Dillon Bissell assisted in the community outreach for Bellingham’s Procession of the Species parade through the Communications 224 class, small group processes.

“There’s a lot of really good energy here,” Bissell said. “[We’re] promoting coexistence, accepting that we all live in the same pond.”

People dress up in handmade costumes of animals from all over the planet. Umbrellas are equipped with tentacles and stand high above the crowd, while little ants chase a man with a picnic basket and a walking banana doing a completely choreographed routine.

There are only three rules for the Procession of the Species: no live animals, no motorized vehicles and no words written or spoken. This is because the organizers, like Carol Oberton, head organizer for Procession of the Species, don’t want any political messages to be tied to the parade.

“There’s nobody saying save the whales here,” Oberton said.“It’s just people appreciating nature and the natural world.”

Oberton is a volunteer for Start Here Community Arts, a nonprofit corporation that launched the event 14 years ago. She has been involved since the first year the parade began, in what she says is an effort to celebrate life and collective creativity.

“It’s a place for people to let go of perfection and just have fun,” Oberton said.

Bellingham’s Parks and Recreation Department sponsors and organizes many of the major factors involved in hosting a parade. They collect the permits, communicate with the police department and gather volunteers to work as crossing guards.

Local groups take part in the parade with their own special events and costumes.

Loving Space School, a local private preschool and kindergarten, hosted their third rainbow group at the parade. Kids and parents wore the seven colors of the rainbow, as well as gold, and took a group photo before walking as a moving rainbow through the streets. The Critical Mass Marching Band lead the parade, dancing and playing the entire way.

Participants bounced through the streets in carefully crafted fursuits and stilt walkers glided atop the herd. Fans of Undertale, a video game released in 2015, could even spot a Toriel costume, a Nubian goat who guides you through the early levels of the game.

Many costumes have returned year after year, like the gigantic owl on a wheelchair with mechanized eyes piloted by four people.

The owl, along with a frog on a lilypad costume attached to a backpack, were some of the first creations 14 years ago. The Start Here Community Arts group first hosted the event in an art studio where people could make their own costumes out of recycled and mostly donated materials.

 

Along with costumes, banners were held and marched through the streets toward the parades finish at Maritime Heritage Park to be placed in banner holders along the staircase leading to Central Avenue.

When the parade reached its end, the crowd was greeted with African dance music played by the Bellingham band, Kuungana.

 

The parade is scheduled to take place for it’s 15th anniversary next year on the first Saturday of May, when the world’s most diverse herd of animals will once again take over the streets of Bellingham.

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