COLUMN: What if Waukesha were Tahlequah, OK?

Sue Catron

Everyone ought to get to be mayor for a while. It changes your view of the world around you.

What if Waukesha, Wisconsin, were Tahlequah? We have a Christmas Parade upcoming, and we’re anticipating this return to normality with excitement. It’s been two years since the last “normal” Christmas parade, with lighted floats, children in nativity scenes, marching bands and Santa. I don’t know about a group of “Marching Grannies," but I can certainly think of some ladies who might join given the opportunity, and I think the Shriners are signed up.

What if most of the parade is underway, with the last of the floats winding their way through NSU’s campus to make the run through the surging crowds of children and their families lining Muskogee Avenue, when some madman decides to make a name for himself by using his vehicle as a weapon of mass destruction? What simple twists of fate decide who lives and who dies? Does a police officer fire his gun into the crowd in a desperate attempt to stop the driver? How do we get ambulances and other emergency responders into a crowd that is intent upon getting to safety? In the aftermath, how do you reassure a community that life is safe while allowing for grief and anger?

In Waukesha, the Marching Grannies were hit hardest. Can you imagine what the loss of these four ladies did to their community? I don’t know the individuals, but I can guess that while they may not have been the rich and famous, they were influencers. Just think of the older women you know who have the confidence and joy of life to dance their way through the center of town. These women had lots of friends. I’m betting these are people who gather resources, address community needs, and get things done.

An additional 40 people were injured, including children in critical condition. Imagine being the parent or grandparent who suggested the parade as an afternoon entertainment. We are a community of mama and papa bears who protect our children with every fiber of our being. Or at least we like to think we do. How does the explanation to our youngsters go? If you don’t do this one right, does an entire generation grow up terrified of parades and large public gatherings?

We can’t protect our community from all possible threats. We’re used to natural disasters, tornados, floods, wildfires. Bad things happen to good people. There’s sure a difference mentally and emotionally though when the disaster is an act of domestic terrorism. Terrorism changes our world and our reaction to it. I’m betting most city administrations are looking quickly at their barriers and their plans to find ways to mitigate this new parade threat without changing the joyful experience too much.

Maybe “normal” is never coming back, and it doesn’t have a darned thing to do with the pandemic. Driving a car into a crowd is like hijacking an airplane or triggering a mass shooting. It creates notoriety. We don’t have to publish the names and photos of those who have pushed terror upon us.

Sue Catron, former assistant vice president of Business and Finance at Northeastern State University, is mayor of Tahlequah.

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