An example of political humor? An expression of freedom of speech?
An inappropriate parade entry? A racist message?
The rural Norfolkan who created the float in Friday’s Fourth of July parade — which has generated considerable discussion ever since — said the point of the parade entry was to express displeasure with President Barack Obama’s oversight of the Veterans Administration and the treatment of individual veterans.
“I am not a hate-monger. I am not a racist. This float was not disrespectful of the office of the presidency. I am sorry if there was misunderstanding about that,” said Dale Remmich, a longtime Northeast Nebraska and military veteran.
The float in question depicted a cartoonish figure in overalls with a walker standing outside an outhouse labeled the “Obama Presidential Library.”
Remmich said some people mistakenly believed the mannequin to be the president. It wasn’t — it was Remmich’s representation of himself.
“I’ve got my bibs on, my walker, I’m covering my ears and I’m turning a bit green — I intended it to look like a zombie who has had enough,” Remmich said Monday morning in an interview with the Daily News.
Remmich said he had an uncle who was died in 1942 after Pearl Harbor, as well as a brother who died in the jungles of Vietnam. His father fought in World War II, and Remmich himself joined the U.S. Air Force in the 1960s.
Remmich said he is greatly upset with the way veterans are being treated in some VA facilities and frustrated that President Obama hasn’t done enough to solve the problems.
“The float was political satire and an expression of political disgust — no more, no less,” Remmich said. “There was no racism involved, no hate for anyone.”
Remmich said he felt a need to more fully explain the intent behind the float because once a photo of it was posted on the Internet on social media sites, a wide-ranging discussion began, including those who believed the float to be racial in its message.
Glory Kathurima of Norfolk was one of many who shared her opinions with the Daily News already Friday, expressing her concerns about the float. The majority of the comments received were from individuals not from Northeast Nebraska but living in Omaha, Lincoln or other parts of the United States.
Rick Konopasek of Norfolk, a member of the Odd Fellows organization that sponsors the parade, said the float in question was accurately described as political satire on the parade entry form.
“The entry rules for the parade were followed,” he said. “The Norfolk Odd Fellows does not agree or disagree with the content.”
Konopasek said he believes many people who attended the parade or who subsequently commented on the float have mistakenly assumed the mannequin standing in front of the outhouse was a depiction of the president.
The parade’s volunteer judges awarded the float an honorable mention award following the conclusion of the parade, Konopasek said.
“We don’t feel it’s right to tell someone what they can and can’t express,” he said. “This was political satire. If we start saying no to certain floats, we might as well not have a parade at all.”
But Konopasek said the Odd Fellows, which have sponsored the Fourth of July parade for 39 years, do plan to meet in the near future to discuss whether parade entry rules should be changed for future parades.
But Kathurima, for one, did not appreciate the float.
She moved to Nebraska from Kenya when she was the same age as her 9-year-old daughter Malaika and became a naturalized citizen a few years ago. She’s raised her daughter in Norfolk and has found ways to explain the meaning of skin color.
“I’m angry and I’m scared,” Kathurima said. “This float was not just political; this was absolutely a racial statement. My daughter keeps asking me, 'Why?' and I don’t have an answer for her. We made this place our home, but right now it doesn’t feel like it. It’s shameful.”
Not everyone agrees with her.
Wes Meisinger of Norfolk was among those who shared their opinions with the Daily News.
“The Spirit of the Fourth of July is, ‘We the people. . .’ And with that goes the right to criticize my president. I couldn't care if my president is black, yellow, red or white; if he does a good job, I'll cheer for him.”
Wally Sonnenschein, who served as the parade announcer, said, “For the most part, this is a strong conservative community. I really don’t see anything wrong with the Obama float, and I’m kind of amazed anyone is complaining.”
State Sen. Jim Scheer of Norfolk, whose full comments can be found on today’s Commentary page, said he hopes future parades will be restricted to entries that reflect positive support for the United States and its military.
“This parade should not turn into a forum for political discourse about its leadership, regardless who the president may be,” he said. “The parade must continue to be a positive and uplifting experience for everyone.”