Two days after the parade's organizing committee decided to admit the controversial group, Falun Gong practitioners marched peacefully in Flushing's Lunar New Year Festival.
Dressed in bright yellow, the dozens of Falun Gong marchers performed dances and showed off elaborate costumes, but in accordance with the requests of parade organizers they never passed out fliers or slowed down the parade to perform exercises.
Ben Zgodny, 23, downplayed the controversy over the Falun Gong's participation in the parade as he marched at the head of the group.
"We just come here and show that we're part of the community," he said.
In the weeks leading up to the parade, the question of whether or not the Falun Gong would join the celebration was a hot topic.
Michael Chu, a member of the parade's committee, led a group which argued that the Falun Gong had violated parade rules in years past by passing out fliers and therefore should be banned from the event.
But threatened with an investigation by the city's Commission on Human Rights, parade organizers at last Thursday's meeting decided to allow the group to march so long as they did not pass out fliers or practice their traditional exercises in the middle of the event.
Outlawed in China in 1999, hundreds Falun Gong practitioners have been jailed, tortured or killed in the communist nation, according to the human rights group Amnesty International.
In recent years, the founder of the spiritual movement, Li Hongzhi, has made his home in Queens, and many practitioners live in the borough.
Falun Gong practitioners contend that as their movement has shifted to the United States, persecution has followed them, and they point to the parade controversy as an example of such discrimination.
During Saturday's parade, the response from the crowd appeared entirely positive.
As the Falun Gong made its way down Main Street, 34-year-old John Lee of Flushing screamed his support from the side of the road, crying, "Falun Gong jia you!" which translates to "Go, Falun Gong!"
He was not the only one voicing his approval. Zhanna Stratiyevsky, 66, of Flushing wore a yellow vest emblazoned with the statement, "I support Falun Gong."
"I benefited a lot healthwise from Falun Dafa," she said as she walked along the sidewalk to keep up with the Falun Gong marchers and used its alternative name. "We want to be good in our minds and our body. People are very happy to see us - they are applauding. That is the purpose of our being here. We cultivate good things."
Although he happily participated in the parade, Chu walked out of last Thursday's meeting once the Falun Gong's application was accepted, upset that Falun Gong practitioners had not apologized for passing out fliers in past years.
"We weren't satisfied," he said. "That's why we left."
Reach reporter Alexander Dworkowitz by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 718 229-0300, Ext. 141.
©2003 Community News Group
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