Plenty of rogues made appearances, too, especially in the depths of the Cold War, when the city acceded to State Department requests to toss confetti at visiting heads of state who were friendly to Washington. An average of six parades a year were held from 1945 to 1965, including for such dubious “heroes” as Indonesia’s Sukarno, the shah of Iran (twice), Ethiopia’s Haile Selassie (also twice), Guatemala’s Carlos Castillo Armas and South Korea’s Park Chung-hee.
In the mid-60s, the appetite for such spectacles dwindled. They were costly, and the municipal cupboard was getting bare. They also put a strain on sanitation workers (who surely deserve a parade of their own, overlooked as they routinely are). But we have missed opportunities for shared joy. In 2009, for example, New Yorkers would have turned out mightily for Chesley Sullenberger III, or “Sully,” the pilot who saved 155 lives by landing safely on the Hudson River after a geese strike disabled his plane.
Why not reinvigorate the tradition? No need to overdo it with anything like the 11 parades in 1953. But can’t we broaden our horizons to praise those who have inspired in various ways? The list of potential honorees goes well beyond celebrities of the moment, and it definitely does not include politicians; they pat themselves on the back enough.
The possibilities are many, even if universal agreement is certain to be elusive. To set the parade in motion, here are some thoughts:
Malala Yousafzai This young Pakistani woman, shot by the Taliban for believing that girls deserve an education, continues to be a human rights battler.
Tenzin Gyatso Better known as the Dalai Lama, and a symbol of religious and political self-determination.
Soldiers in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars Veterans of past conflicts were honored. It took 38 years, though, to get to those who fought in the Korean War. At that rate, the men and women who served in Iraq and Afghanistan might be waiting till 2055.
Tracy K. Smith Poetry deserves to be celebrated, and how better than through our present poet laureate?
First responders They include those who answered the call in recent hurricanes and the California wildfires.
Kent Barwick Not a household name, but as a former head of the Municipal Art Society he represents those who saved Grand Central Terminal and put teeth in New York’s landmarks law.
James Hansen In a city still recovering from superstorm Sandy, who better to honor than a climatologist who has loudly sounded the alarm on global warming?
Spike Lee Granted, not everyone’s favorite. But he may be the best maker of New York-themed films since Sidney Lumet.
James Goodfellow This Scot invented the PIN, or personal identification number. It made possible today’s A.T.M.s. Anyone who’s ever been short of cash knows that, on any given day, he’s been a true lifesaver.
Stephen Sondheim Because he’s, well, Stephen Sondheim.
Lin-Manuel Miranda Because he’s, well, Lin-Manuel Miranda.
Katherine Johnson A “human computer” for NASA, featured in the movie “Hidden Figures,” whose calculations confirmed John Glenn’s flight path and made those two parades of his possible.