(Clearwisdom.net) On April 24, 2004, more than forty Falun Gong practitioners from across Florida, as well as from Seattle, Boston, and Philadelphia, took part in the 64th annual Hernando de Soto Heritage Festival Grand Parade in Bradenton, on Florida's Gulf coast. In keeping with the theme "Let Freedom Ring," the Falun Gong entry celebrated freedom of belief. With more than 140 entries and a crowd estimated at more than 100,000, the parade was one of the biggest in Florida. This was the first time Falun Gong practitioners participated in the event, which was the highlight of the month-long festivities.

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Practitioners carrying banners reading Truthfulness, Compassion, and Tolerance in English and Chinese led the Falun Gong entry, followed by a red convertible decorated with banners. Next came eight "celestial maidens," in Tang Dynasty style dresses, who performed a fan dance to traditional Chinese music. They were followed by the float, which was decorated with two large banners that read, "Falun Gong Practitioners / Celebrating Freedom of Belief," two large lotus flowers, with a young practitioner seated in each one, and scores of handmade paper lotus blossoms. Practitioners in golden exercise costumes demonstrated the five Falun Gong exercises. Made entirely by volunteers, the float was one of the few that were not sponsored by commercial products.

Spectators gave the Falun Gong group an enthusiastic welcome, calling out "thank-you," "we love you," and, to the dancers, "so beautiful." Many people gave the thumbs up sign, did heshi, tried some of the exercise movements, and eagerly accepted beautiful Falun Gong bookmarks. Many asked for lotus flowers. When a practitioner gave one mother a blossom for her young daughter, she said, "You made her day."

As the parade passed the judging platform, the MC announced to the crowd: "Falun Gong is a traditional Chinese meditation and exercise practice based on the principles of Truthfulness, Compassion, and Tolerance. It is practiced in more than 50 countries and has received hundreds of honorary awards and proclamations by local officials and state governments in the U.S. and abroad. People of all ages have found that the practice is beneficial to their health, stress relief, job and academic performance, and moral character. Who doesn't have stress? This is the first time Falun Gong has participated in the parade. Let's hope they come back next year."

In the staging area, before the parade, people thanked practitioners for giving them information about Falun Gong, and some came to meet local practitioners to find out where they could learn the practice.