CHARLOTTE, NC — Hot sun pours down on the “Queen City” as delegates and media begin to assemble for the Democratic National Convention, which is scheduled to begin here Tuesday.
Charlotte is eager to host the convention, and has pulled out all the stops to make the attendees feel welcome. All week there will be festivals, concerts, art displays and other activities to show off the best of the Carolinas.
The convention center boasts a fresh-squeezed lemonade stand, and a friendly Carolina matron offers samples of a local delicacy.
“Have a cheese straw,” she said. “They are famous all over the South.”
Souvenir shops were doing a brisk business inside the convention center, with T-shirts made of “Carolinas cotton” and sporting a variety of logos.
A dusty rose number with “Obama: LGBT” on the front was selling like hotcakes.
It was a relaxed, even jubilant scene inside the air-conditioned hall, as vendors set up their booths in advance of the major bustle that will begin tomorrow.
Outside, it’s a different story.
The heat might not be as big a threat to the gathering as Hurricane Isaac was to last week’s Republican Convention, but it makes things difficult nonetheless. The thousands of police stationed on foot, bikes, trucks and motorcycles at every intersection were looking distinctly uncomfortable, although they nodded in a friendly fashion to folks passing by.
Still, as the afternoon wore on, tempers frayed as temperatures rose.
“This street is closed for the parade,” one harried police officer told an irritated motorist. “It should be over in 15 or 20 minutes. At least I hope so, because this sun is hot.”
The “parade” was a stream of protesters, several hundred strong, who had assembled some three miles from the Charlotte Convention Center. Looking hot and sunburned, they filed steadily by, holding signs that included “Bail out people, not banks,” “Socialism is the answer” and “Abortion on demand, no apology.”
The protesters were a varied group, from young men with blond dreadlocks to older couples with white hair. They were peaceable enough, and the police left them strictly alone. No one seemed to want trouble during Charlotte’s big week.
While the police watched anxiously, onlookers were treating the spectacle as just one more show in the big political festival that was unfolding before their eyes.
“This is a great opportunity for Charlotte,” said Ralph McCormick, a retired Army officer, who was looking on approvingly. “I don’t really care what they are protesting, but this is what democracy is all about.”
McCormick described himself as a “frustrated Democrat,” who supported President Barack Obama, but was angered and mystified by the gridlock in Washington.
“I just have one question for the president,” he said. “It’s how do we get past all of this stonewalling in Congress and get something done?”
In nearby Marshall Park, protesters had set up a tent village with food, water, even rudimentary laundry facilities. It was a typical “Occupy” installation, and many of the inhabitants identified with the movement.
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One young woman who identified herself only as “Ducky” scrawled “Corporations are not people” in pink chalk on a paved sidewalk, and told anybody who would listen that 9/11 had been a plot by the US government.
Another young woman, with silver studs in her lips and eyebrows, said tersely that she did not speak to the press, and promptly tuned her back on visitors.
But there were cooler heads in the park, and some of them were eager to interact with the media.
“We were in Florida to protest Romney, now we are here to protest Obama,” said Ryan Lash, one of the organizers. “We don’t think that either candidate is working for our country. It is a joke to think that your vote really counts in this election, and we are just trying to bring the light to our fellow citizens.”
Lash was upset at the tight cordons of police around all of the convention sites, which, he said were specifically designed “to keep us from engaging in a dialogue with the people.”
“The First Amendment guarantees us freedom of speech in this country,” he said. “But as soon as soon as we assemble they pour down thousands of cops on us. They do not want our voices heard. They want us to go home. Well, you know, a lot of us don’t have homes to go to.”
The tent village itself was in danger, he said.
“The City Council has just not yet agreed among themselves to kick us out. But it could happen at any time.”
This, he said, would be a mistake on the part of law enforcement.
“If the police are smart, they’ll do what the police in Tampa did,” he advised. “They should just not mess with us.”
One of the major problems, allowed Lash, was the “corporate controlled media” that either ignored or distorted their activities.
“But I’m not going to give up this fight,” he said.