A decision by Joe Cain Parading Society procession organizers has raised the ire of group members who traditionally participate in the “Peoples’ Parade” by foot.

Organizers distributed a flier along Dauphin Street on Tuesday stating that not only would these “foot marcher” groups be required to pay a $20 fee to participate in this year’s Joe Cain procession, but they would also have to individually register, something group members say they’ve never had to do before.

According to the flier, which was sent to Lagniappe via e-mail, members of these groups will be required to come by O.K. Bicycle Shop on Monday, Feb. 24 and Tuesday, Feb. 25 to register and pay to participate in the parade that takes place the Sunday before Mardi Gras.

Groups will also be charged a fee of $20 per marcher, or $35 per couple to receive marching credentials for this year’s festivities. This fee is in addition to dues group members have already paid and gives them less than two weeks to raise the additional money needed.

The Joe Cain Day Parade — always known as the people’s parade because it doesn’t require membership in one of the city’s traditional mystic societies — has grown larger over the years, which has led to efforts designed to organize it more. But those efforts have run afoul of what many consider the laissez fare spirit of the day honoring the man who brought Mardi Gras back to life after the Civil War.

“It’s always been free (for foot marchers) since 1967,” said a member of Joe Cain’s Mistresses, known as Mistress Zora. “It will be a hardship for every group.”

A parade official said the fee is nothing new and was charged to marchers in 2008, 2009 and 2010. Other marchers told Lagniappe they have been paying the fee through their dues as well. 

The official, who requested anonymity, also said the guidelines since that time also require the “foot marchers” to register, but individuals “entrusted in the last three years ignored the guidelines” and just gave credentials to participants.

A letter was sent in January of 1985 to members of the Society for the Restoration and Beautification of the Church Street Graveyard, a precursor to the Joe Cain Parading Society, asking members then to pay $15 in dues. The membership dues then paid for entrance in the parade, the official said.

Also at issue for the “foot marchers” is that organizers charge $180 per float, which Mistress Zora said only comes out to about $3 or $4 per member because a large number of participants ride on each float.

The parade official said the issue of charging the floats and “foot marcher” groups differently was “personal business of the society.”

“There’s no correlation between the two,” the official said of the floats and marchers.

Ted Flotte, a co-founder of another marching group called the Wild Mauvillians, said his organization has already collected and spent its membership dues for the year and now its 50 members will have to chip in a total of $1,000 to march in the parade. However the biggest problem for the Mauvillians, Flotte said, is the short notice about the registration.

“We have to get applications,” he said. “A lot of our guys are from out of town and can’t get to the Bicycle Shop. If they’d done this six months ago it wouldn’t be a problem.”

The flier does give instructions on how to gain applications prior to the printed date. Marchers are asked to “call 666-6295 and leave a message.”

Wayne Dean, who leads the parade as Chief Slacabamorinico and is one of three parade organizers, said he was outvoted on the decision to charge the fee this year and was told it was made for insurance reasons.

Dean said the decision wasn’t about money, but the parade official disagreed and said 36 individuals holding permits for the parade have been footing the bill for the rest of the participants. The official said any money left over from fees paid by the marchers would go into a fund dedicated to the parade’s 50th anniversary in 2017.

Edward Courtney, of Courtney and Parr Insurance, handles the society’s insurance. He said the premium for the parade hasn’t increased. Courtney added that the premium for foot marchers is too low to justify a $20-per-person fee.

Courtney said, however, that he gave a presentation on keeping rosters to the society at its January meeting and can understand the reasoning behind requiring groups to register.

Mistress Zora believes the fee will negatively impact parade participation. She said the foot marchers have grown through the years, but this may affect that.

“It’s wrong to do that,” she said of the fee. “It’s against the tradition of the organization.”

Updated at 6:12 p.m. Feb. 21 to include document information.