SantaCon Hires Civil Rights Lawyer to Pursue Official 'Parade' Status for Annual Bar Crawl
Jena Cumbo for the Village Voice
SantaCon may have degenerated from performance art to wasted merry mob, but organizers pledged Wednesday to rescue the notorious bar crawl from infamy and turn it into an official parade.
"Santa" (New York SantaCon's anonymous organizer) has hired famous civil rights lawyer Norm Siegel to help transform SantaCon into a well-organized march sanctioned by the city.
The announcement followed weeks of backlash against the 30,000-Santa daytime drunk-fest, including a boycott that shut down the event in Bushwick. See Also: Ho, Ho, Bro: How Santacon Went From Joyful Performance Art to Hedonistic Bar Crawl "While this event will always poke fun at society and the overly-commercialized aspects of the holiday, Santa and the Elves are working closely with city officials, the Parks Department and NYPD on better formats to manage the event while growing it as a much beloved annual tradition for the city," Santa wrote in his email announcement.
Siegel says he is working with Santa to potentially create a parade -- which he believes will be granted permission, despite past SantaCon incidents (public urination, for example).
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"The police can't deny you the right to march because of past problems under the First Amendment," explains Siegel, who has represented protest groups planning marches in the city. "If there were violence, the police could turn you down because of that, but if you have 30,000 people, and 20 people urinating on the street, they can't turn you down for this."
Santa compared SantaCon's evolution to the Village Halloween Parade, which began with a small creative group in the East Village in 1974. Once it grew to 250,000 participants in 1985, it became an official march that blocked off Sixth Avenue every Halloween night.
And Siegel says the parade could be akin to New York's Dance Parade, which began in 2007 and has been held every May since. Siegel negotiated with the city to make that parade a reality. But SantaCon this year will remain a bar crawl -- and Siegel will be there "to observe."
"I'm not wearing a Santa suit," says Siegel, who currently is working with organizers to understand their First Amendment rights. If he finds the NYPD telling businesses to keep out Santas -- as one lieutenant in midtown did last year -- Siegel will "make sure they stop."
"Government officials cannot coerce private businesses not to allow in customers," Siegel says of the law.
The NYPD did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
As SantaCon tries to claw out of its holiday distress, the event's original co-founder, John Law -- who started SantaCon 20 years ago in San Francisco -- reminds the jolly masses to follow his golden rules:
"Don't f*** with Santa, Don't f*** with Kids, Don't f*** with Cops, Don't f*** with Business," Law writes in an email to the Voice. "Don't hurt me, Don't hurt yourself, Don't hurt the general public, Don't get caught and have fun."
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