Raising Kale

The author, dressed to kale

My mom always told me that eating my vegetables would help me grow healthy and strong, but she neglected to mention that wearing them could get me in trouble. So when friends asked me to join the Kale People's Liberation Army section in Minneapolis's May Day parade on May 2, I agreed without hesitation.

At first I felt a little strange, walking down the street in my leafy bikini top. But as our group of about a dozen wound its way through crowds cheering with an exuberance usually reserved for World Series winners, my trepidation evaporated. Though it was a hot day and the Liberation Army was loud as hell, I was only aware of the sweet rustle of the greens on my skin.

However, that bliss was not to last. As we entered the park, our float dropped out of the parade line and stopped in front of the recreation center. While some members of the Army chose to change into street clothes right there, three of us headed for more privacy in the bathrooms. A Park Police officer approached and informed us that if we didn't put on "decent clothing," we would be ticketed, and that all of us had to leave the park.

No problem. We didn't want problems. We told the officer that we would change inside and then leave. But while peeling off our kale in the bathrooms, we heard the ominous sound of a walkie-talkie in the hallway. As we came out, the officer announced that he had changed his mind: He was going to cite us for violating Minneapolis Statute PB 2-21, a misdemeanor carrying a maximum penalty of $700 or 90 days in jail. We took our tickets and left.

Clearly, this called for some journalistic investigation. First I called the Legal Rights Center in Minneapolis, where lawyers jumped at the chance to represent me and my codefendants. Next, I contacted police, parade organizers, and city officials, always asking the same basic question: What sort of precedent is there for ticketing people who are wearing kale? What follows is a partial transcript of those conversations--after the laughter died down.


Captain William Jacobs, Minneapolis Park Police

CP: What is the exact wording of Ordinance PB 2-21?

Jacobs: The Proper Clothing ordinance? I'd be happy to read it to you. "No person ten years of age or older shall intentionally expose his or her own genitals, pubic area, buttocks or female breasts below the top of the areola without a fully opaque covering in or upon any park or parkway area as defined in PB 1-1. This provision does not apply to theatrical, musical or other artistic performances on any park or parkway where no alcoholic beverages are sold.

CP: In other words, if this had been part of a performance, it would have been more acceptable?

Jacobs: That's my understanding. [But] this was a parade, and not an artistic performance.

CP: If we have photos that show that nothing was showing, would that make a difference?

Jacobs: I'm not sure what the photos would prove. If it was a video, that might be different.

CP: What sort of previous issues have you had with improper clothing or public indecency in parades or park performances?

Jacobs: I'll be perfectly honest with you--I don't recall ever having one like that. This ordinance is enforced most commonly with what people like to call the nude beach.

CP: There was an entire group of people wearing kale at the May Day festival who--

Jacobs: The commissioner called me about it last night and I read the report.

CP: --so you know that there was a number of people who were wearing kale. Why would only three of us be ticketed?

Jacobs: That sort of discretion we have to leave to our folks in the field. As long as what they did was lawfully correct, we're not going to second-guess them.


Carol Lansing, assistant city attorney

CP: My question regards the May Day parade, and a group of people who were wearing kale. A park officer cited three of the members for improper clothing.

Lansing: Wearing kale?

CP: The vegetable.

Lansing: That's what I thought (laughs). Were they nude underneath?

CP: Not the people who were ticketed.

Lansing: I don't know about the case--it may not be in the system yet. It takes some time before that gets filed.

CP: Do you know how often someone is charged with that type of offense?

Lansing: I don't have numbers, but we see it every year. With the lakes and everything, every once in a while people aren't wearing what they should be wearing.  

CP: Have you ever seen it used in a parade

Lansing: No, that's unusual. But I don't know the case and so I couldn't comment.

CP: Where would a case like this go from here?

Lansing: You go to the Violations Bureau and ask for a court date. And in that courtroom, there are prosecutors who have the paperwork. Often we do continuances for dismissal without a plea when there is a minor first offense and a strange situation that doesn't warrant a heavy penalty.


Chris Huff, KPLA organizer

CP: I understand that you were there right at the inception of this kale thing.

Chris Huff: It was my stupid idea. We were sitting around listening to John Cale, my friend Mike Donahue and I. And I said, "Kale is something you could grow all year long and that way you could wear edible underwear from late spring to early fall, and this is how you will get laid." [Loring Cafe and Bar owner Jason McLean] had asked us to do a theater piece for the [Loring] Block Party.

CP: Where have you done it since then?

Huff: Two Block Parties, Cedarfest, May Day and the LynLake Street Fair, and we've performed at the Loring Bar. We had Wavy Gravy last year. He was the emcee at Woodstock and traveled with Ken Kesey's Merry Pranksters and did performance art, ostensibly on acid. Now he runs some children's fund in Frisco. [He was in the parade, yelling,] "Don't eat the brown kale!"

CP: Have you ever had any sort of issues--any reprimands or legal problems?

Huff: We had two parade marshals say, "If any of that falls off, you better stop." And we had one security guard say, "I've been a vegetarian for 23 years and there's no way I'm stopping them." We had one guy throw a paper plate at us. That's as far as any hostility toward us has gone.

CP: What is the full name of this group of people who are involved with kale?

Huff: It's in flux. The first one was called Dr. Jerungdus's Karmic Kale Bikinis and this one was called the Kale People's Liberation Army.

CP: You did this just for the hell of it?

Huff: The only reason I did it again was because people would not leave me alone. Last week I was sitting at Lucia's [Wine Bar] and every third person who walked by me asked: "Are you doing the kale thing again?" It is edgy and people love it. I don't think it's gone over the edge.

CP: What would you consider to be over the edge?

Huff: If you are purposefully trying to offend people.

CP: When you were marching in the parade, did you notice anyone frowning or turning their children's heads away?

Huff: No. I did see people holding their ears occasionally. We passed the Baptist church and they did the kale cheer with us.

CP: Anything else you'd like to say?

Huff: Kale has more protein per calorie than any other vegetable on earth. Kale has so much protein, in fact, that, gentlemen, you will be replacing what you are losing when you are using this edible underwear.


Michael Donahue, KPLA organizer

CP: How long have you been wearing kale?

Donahue: From the beginning. We were listening to John Cale at my house, and Chris had this idea of planting my entire back yard with kale and using it as some sort of certified organic edible underwear concept. We didn't get it done that year, but the next year my back yard was filled with kale. It came in handy when we did the [Wheels as Art] art-car parade and decked out an entire car with kale. That was wild.

Let me drive home that it is a theatrical event. The first two gigs we did, not only were we not harassed, we were given [awards and] money. There are photos of us posing with Minneapolis's finest. Then after that, at last year's May Day parade, Dr. Jerungdu's Karmic Kale Bikinis peaked because we had Wavy Gravy and that was totally huge.

Last year, I would say, there was more skin showing. Everyone was pretty much decked out in kale. This year, people were wearing some real clothes. The problem was that we picked the absolute wrong place to change.

CP: How so?

Donahue: It happened to be in front of the park superintendent. Apparently this person saw all sorts of people's goodies and the cop just happened to come over at that point and [he] had issues with the entire situation.  

I didn't even see anybody be bare-ass naked. I just saw everybody pull up their shorts or whatever else and sort of remove the produce and pull up the pants. There were no goods showing on me because I was wearing underwear underneath.

CP: Have you ever encountered this sort of problem?

Donahue: Never. Every time we do these things, 99 percent of the people are into it. You play a gig in a bar or whatever and you're not going to get that universal acceptance.


Eden Fitzgerald, defendant

CP: How did you get involved with this kale situation?

Fitzgerald: I first wore kale two years ago for Cedarfest.

CP: Throughout the course of this, have you encountered any problems?

Fitzgerald: No. We've gotten a great response, this year especially. Grandmothers waving their arms and saying hello. A friend of mine brought her twin daughters who are three and said, "This is Eden and she wears kale, and wouldn't you like to wear kale some day?"

CP: Would you, considering the circumstances, do it again?

Fitzgerald: Yes. I don't think that I did anything wrong. It's natural to be naked and we were wearing natural things.

CP: What do you think of the tickets?

Fitzgerald: I think the cop had a definite something in his own morality that got offended. I find it strange that none of the men were cited.

CP: Where do you see this going?

Fitzgerald: Strangely enough, I'm not freaked out. My basic feeling is that once this goes to court, it'll be found in our favor.


Melissa Gettinger, defendant

I asked the officer if we could change indoors and leave the park in peace. He agreed. I've lost faith in his word because of this. I wasn't wearing anything that I would be ashamed to wear in front of my parents or my grandparents. I take offense that it was directed at the only people who tried to cooperate with the officer.


Pablo, May Day parade coordinator

CP: I understand that last year you had some sort of discussion with the kale people.

Pablo: What actually happened was that two years ago on the parade route, someone was walking around with a G-string and a giant phallus. [Powderhorn Park recreation supervisor Corky Wiseman] received complaints from people living in the neighborhood. I believe that some complaints were filed with the Minneapolis Park Board.

It's not uncommon to have complaints against such a large-scale event--in terms of attire, but also in terms of noise and trash. Last year, I knew that there was going to be people dressed just in kale. I took the initiative and said, "You know, we've had some complaints before, be prepared to put on more kale. They were very, very polite and said, Not a problem. We didn't get any complaints and it was totally fine.

CP: Do you have any rules for people who will be marching in the join-in section of the parade?

Pablo: In terms of clothing?

CP: In terms of anything.

Pablo: There are people who've marched in the join-in section--because it is a free-for-all--who have never contacted us and who we can't contact. The join-in section can be longer than the parade itself.

We do have parade marshals who sign people in and we do try to make people aware of what our policy is. We've had people march in the join-in section that espouse hateful things, and so we have had to add [a policy saying], "Heart of the Beast reserves the right to ask people not to participate if they don't have a peaceful message."

CP: Does the Park Board exercise any control over what happens in the parade?

Pablo: They don't have anything to do with our content on the parade route because it's not on their grounds, and they don't have anything to do with the content in the park because they have chosen not to do that. Corky and I decided that in the event if there was something we weren't comfortable with, we would approach each other and say, Hey, what can we do? [The citations] happened before me or Corky could get to it, and I'm assuming that the officers enforced the law as they saw fit.

CP: Have you seen anything like this in the past--has anyone been confronted with a citation for improper clothing?

Pablo: Not that I know of.

CP: Have you received any complaints this year?

Pablo: Not that I know of.


Corky Wiseman, Powderhorn Park recreation supervisor

CP: What can you tell me about the May Day kale incident?  

Wiseman: I'm willing to explain what I saw, but I'm not going to make statements on behalf of the Park Board.

CP: Why don't you tell me what you saw.

Wiseman: What I saw was that when they pulled off to the side, people started getting dressed, and I saw private parts hanging out. I started going over there to say something myself about, you know, can you cover some of that up? And then I saw the police walk up to one of them, and there was a lady who got smart with one of them about the way they dressed and the next thing I know, he was giving her a ticket. Then he told them he wanted them out of the park. I went and told them if they put on some clothes, they could come back in.

CP: Did you receive any complaints from anybody?

Wiseman:No--other than [Park Board member] Dean Zimmerman said he didn't think it was fair they were harassing people and I told him I didn't feel they were being harassed. I said, "If I had kids here, I wouldn't want my kids looking at adult private parts," and that's my personal opinion.

CP: Were you offended?

Wiseman: I wasn't offended they had kale on, I was offended that there were private parts showing. A whole group of people started looking at the people in kale because it was a show for them. If you want to change, don't do it in public--it's a very sensitive world and everybody has rights and we have to try to balance and respect all. That's my job here.

CP: Do you remember me at all? I was wearing kale and a sarong scarf.

Wiseman: Yeah, I remember you.

CP: Did you see anything on me?

Wiseman: No, you did have on a long scarf. Maybe the most I would've seen is a cheekbone--and I can't even be sure about that.


Dean Zimmerman, Park Board member

CP: How are you?

Zimmerman: I'm just fine, and what can I do to make you happy?

CP: You called earlier about this kale incident. Captain Jacobs had briefed you, and you were asking about my side of the story.

Zimmerman: You were ticketed, right?

CP: Correct.

Zimmerman: Why don't I just tell you the story I've heard. As I understand it, the group came into the park and stopped right in front of a building to change. The officer went over and told people to please cover up and people became mouthy and so the police got his ticket book and wrote them up.

CP: My question for you is, why are three people cited when an entire group is in question?

Zimmerman: I don't have a satisfactory answer for that. Quite frankly, I don't have a problem with nudity. I've been known to be naked in the parks myself.

CP: You realize that what you are saying is on the record.

Zimmerman: That was before I was commissioner. I don't have a problem with nudity, but I understand others do. I don't know what to say except the whole incident makes me ill. It upsets me, because as far as I'm concerned, your entry in the parade was--I loved it. I thought it was great and outrageous and it's what we look for in a May Day parade.

CP: So what's the general consensus among those involved? Do they want to pursue this? Or do they want this whole silly, sordid situation dropped?

Zimmerman: If you put it in those terms, I'd like to see this silly, sordid situation dropped. And next year, you just come over by my booth and you can all change in the back of my truck.

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