Sign of the times? Politics cause a stir at Potato Fest

POSEN — While politics has always been a part of the Posen Potato Festival, heightened political tensions nationwide may have caused people to react stronger to political demonstrations at the festival this year.

This year’s parade featured a few entries supportive of President Donald Trump, including a Trump Unity Bridge traveling display. The Presque Isle County Democratic Party marched in the parade. Along Sunday’s parade route, vendors sold Trump gear.

Politicians and their supporters have long marched in the parade, but some people reacted strongly on social media last weekend.

On an unofficial Facebook page dedicated to the Potato Fest, Patti Gilmet Lee said in a comment similar to several others that she has attended the festival for years, but found this year’s parade to be “nothing more than a Trump Rally.”

Joe Rings said on the Facebook page that he “used to really enjoy your tribute to the working people of Posen,” but the festival “has been ruined by political extremism.”

Those and similar comments have since been deleted from the page.

John Clark, the political science chairman at Western Michigan University who is unaffiliated with and did not attend the Posen festival, said Tuesday there isn’t necessarily much of a difference nowadays in the distribution of support for various sides, “but I think, in the information age in which we live … those different sides are much more visible, and people are much more sensitive when they’re exposed to them. It kind of bursts our bubble in some ways and forces us to acknowledge there are people that disagree with us.”

Andrea Konwinski, president of the Posen Chamber of Commerce, said politics has always been part of the festival’s parade. When she ran the parade years ago, it wasn’t unusual to have entries from independents, Republicans, and Democrats, she said. A couple years ago, the parade featured a float for President Barack Obama and organizers never received any negative feedback.

“We don’t discriminate against one or the other parties,” Konwinski said. “Anyone can be in our parade.”

Josh Vogelheim, who invited the Trump Unity Bridge to Posen and passed out Trump bumper stickers during the parade, said he talked with “hundreds” of people over the course of the weekend — on the sidewalk, at the markets, and at the parade — and most people applauded the initiative.

“We were able to show support, spread positive messages, and educate voters about our president’s agenda,” he said.

Vogelheim said the majority of people he talked to over the weekend, whether they liked their message or not, didn’t let politics get in the way or ruin their weekend.

While Clark said he doesn’t know where the political climate is going, it’s useful to remember that we live in communities, not just the same geographic space.

“In order for communities to operate effectively, we’ve got to have some level of respect for other people, and one would hope that would be reciprocated,” he said. “But, when folks think it’s not going to (be reciprocated), that’s when things can start to break apart. That’s not unique to any community in Michigan. That’s how the world is.”