Thousands say they’re going to the Mummers march on New Year’s Day

The city says it’s “prepared to manage” the event, which is billed as a protest — not a parade.

A scene from the 2020 Mummers Parade

A scene from the 2020 Mummers Parade

Michael Reeves / Billy Penn

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With the official parade canceled due to the pandemic, several thousand people say they’re planning to join a Mummers march down 2nd Street on New Year’s Day.

Because the Jan. 1 event is billed as a protest, Philadelphia officials say they aren’t planning to take pre-emptive action to stop it, despite the current ban on large events.

“It is the city’s policy to avoid unnecessary confrontations in the enforcement of its emergency orders,” said Lauren Cox, a spokesperson for Mayor Jim Kenney. “As experienced during the summer with the protests for racial justice, and demonstrations around the election, the city is prepared to manage crowds and groups while upholding public safety.”

So far, 2.6k people have RSVP’d to the Facebook listing for the event, titled “Mummers/New Year’s Day Peaceful Protest Against Mayor Kenney,” and another 8.2k marked themselves interested.

Targets of the protest are Kenney’s “erroneous taxes and restrictions on our freedoms and liberties,” according to the event description.

Not all Mummers are planning to participate, or agree with the protest plan. On the FB event page, comments were closed “due to the large amount of profanity and fighting.”

Justyn Myers, captain of the Lobster Club, a progressive Comics Brigade troupe that includes women and people of color among its ranks, is one of the regulars who won’t be marching this year. “I wouldn’t want to be around all those people,” he said.

Myers guessed at least a thousand might show up to march through Pennsport, and maybe even swing through Center City, too.

“There’s a young population, people in their early 20s,” he noted of the makeup of many troupes. “These college kids are like, ‘Whatever, I’m not going to get [COVID].'”

City officials say they’re not aware of any permits issued for the 2nd Street event, contrary to some rumors. And though they’re not issuing a mandate against the protest, they caution safety — and say law enforcement is ready to keep things from spiraling out of control.

“We would hope that the seriousness of this current wave … can and should act as a reminder that folks don’t need to gather unnecessarily in any setting,” city spokesperson Cox said. However, she added, “the Philadelphia Police Department is prepared to enforce existing Philadelphia laws that threaten public safety.”

Though many Mummers take their the participation very seriously, usually spending months and months sewing intricate costumes and learning complicated routines, the parade has a longstanding reputation for raucousness and day drinking.

That’s true of the main event and especially afterward, when the “Two Street” blocks that are home to many troupe clubhouses host an infamous all-night party.

Danya Henninger / Billy Penn

Though considered by many a Philly cultural staple, the parade, founded in 1901, has a racist history and roots in minstrelsy. It often features skits that take on political topics, sometimes garnering national attention — and not in a good way.

The FB event page references the political history: “It should go without saying that everyone will be on 2nd Street New Year’s Day, strutting their best, to peacefully protest his administration in true, centuries-old fashion.”

Myers, of the Lobster Club, said he’s extremely disappointed to have to call things off.

This was going to be a big year for the Strawberry Mansion resident, who’s been a Mummer for a decade. He was arranging for his own wedding to happen during the parade. His own relatives would join the club to dance to the tune “Somebody’s Getting Married” from “The Muppets Take Manhattan.” Still, he pushed his plans back a year.

He also worries how the planned protest will impact the parade going forward. A public event of this scale requires lots of city services — like street closures and trash pickup. Myers imagines defying city rules might not bode well in subsequent years.

But the Mummers say nothing is going to stop them. “2nd street WILL be bumping on New Year’s Day,” the Facebook event reads, “and you are silly if you thought it was not going to.”

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