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Lakefair Parade float depicting climate change denied entry by organizers

The carnival rides and games, food, parade, and fireworks are all highlights of Capital Lakefair, a five-day festival that began 59 years ago in downtown Olympia.

It’s gone through a lot of changes over the years, but maybe there’s room for just a little more change.

About 100 entries from around the Northwest for the parade on Saturday night were submitted, including flashy motorized floats from Northwest-area community festivals, school marching bands, drill teams, and a few groups advertising their for-profit businesses, but a modest, homemade two-piece float was not allowed to participate.

Designed by members of the Olympia Confronting the Climate Crisis group, an oil train derailment is depicted under the section titled, “CO2 = Climate Chaos,” which features a lot of black paint, train wheels that really move and flames made out of cardboard.

The other section depicts a happy scene with children and families playing near clean water, raised garden beds, and a solar powered house under a rainbow.

After organizers could not get an explanation for the denial from Lakefair executive director Dennis Williams, group members reached out to local media to make their case.

King 5 News contacted Williams, who told that news organization that the floats were political in nature. Williams did not respond to an emailed request for information from Little Hollywood.

“The floats were made specifically for the Lakefair Parade—all stated limitations regarding the parade were related to politician limitations as stated on the Lakefair website,” Rod Tharp told Little Hollywood.

In response to the denial to participate, members of the group quickly organized to place the float on Percival Landing near The Kiss statue, and staff it during Lakefair hours of operation. They explained the scene and climate change issues to passersby.

Tharp, a member of the climate crisis group, and a former small residential contractor and carpenter, designed the floats and worked with several others to create the two-piece, educational, multi-media float. He has lived in Thurston County since 1975.

“If we don’t solve the climate change issue, all the other issues—social justice, equality of all people, and peace—will become more serious. All these are related so we are working on all of them, but climate change is our top item,” he said of the group.

The theme for this year’s Capital Lakefair is Community Hearts Fly!

“We are an accepting community—that doesn’t make sense. We’re so progressive here. We line Fourth Avenue and Capitol Way with rainbow flags showing our pride and we can’t have a rainbow float in our Lakefair parade to show community spirit?” said one woman who saw the float and was told it wasn’t allowed in the parade.

“Hey, at least you get to be out here showing people this longer than being in the parade,” said a young man.

“I’ve been concerned about pollution and the destruction of the environment for about 30 to 40 years and my parents built a solar-powered house in the ’80s in Maine. I used to work for Homes First! but now I’m retired and have the time and resources to help out,” said Todd Davison, as he staffed the float on Friday.

The group is part of the Olympia Fellowship of Reconciliation and has been active in Olympia for almost six years. It meets every third Wednesday, 6:30 p.m. at the Olympia Center, and is known for its colorful signs and props at peaceful protests and events.

Bourtai Hargrove, a member of the group who staffed the floats on Friday and Saturday, said the floats took about three weeks to make. She and other members of the group have also testified for divestment of state retirement funds in fossil fuels at meetings of the Washington State Investment Board.

“This float is about protecting future families,” said Sue Langhans, who was also helping to staff the float on Friday and Saturday.

Janine Gates, Olympia, is a freelance writer and photographer, and has an Olympia news blog, Little Hollywood, at

Capital Lakefair is a non-profit, volunteer organization. It takes a tremendous amount of effort to pull it off, and many local organizations rely on the proceeds from their Lakefair food booths to fund their year-round community activities. To find out more information, go to


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