While the protests in Tampa were much smaller than expected, it looks like Charlotte is going to see more than its fair share of activists and demonstrations.
At least 1,000 marchers from over 80 groups joined together Sunday to march through downtown Charlotte in advance of the Democratic National Convention and make a mark in the “Wall Street of the South." The official name of the event was the “March on Wall Street South,” due to Charlotte’s prominence as a financial center.
As with many such events, the group consisted of a large cross-section of movements rallying against a variety of issues: the environment, the economy, the bailing out of financial institutions, as well as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Chants of “This is what democracy looks like!” and “Banks got bailed out, we got sold out!” and similar protests mantras echoed through the streets as the groups continued on their route.
There was a heavy police presence throughout, with rows of officers flanking both sides of the march as well as in the thick of it on foot or by bike. There seemed to be little tension between the demonstrators and the authorities, with no real conflicts. Charlotte Chief of Police Rodney Monroe was happy with the security provided and the peaceful interaction between the two.
“It’s gone very well, great coordination on both sides, there’s nothing (that’s) happened that we haven’t anticipated. We’re very pleased with it.” Monroe says the Charlotte Police Department is looking forward to a peaceful week without incident.
“(The goal is to have a) safe event for everyone, the demonstrators here, for the delegates here, for the police here, and we’re off to a great start.”
Presidential candidate and political provocateur Vermin Supreme was also present Sunday. With his trademark boot firmly on his head and covered in glitter, Supreme shouted slogans and political statements through his megaphone.
The RNC in Tampa was somewhat of a bust in his eyes, especially in terms of the amount of dissenters present. Supreme attributed that to a variety of factors: the formidable police presence, Hurricane Isaac, and of course the heat.
“Tampa sucks. Tampa is too fucking hot,” Vermin said of the RNC.
Supreme wasn’t too trusting of the police force in for the DNC, noting the militaristic look of the black uniforms and the lack of name tags on the bike patrols, which he determined by inspecting a an officer in his proximity.
“The other thing I’ve noticed is the bicycle cops don’t have their identifying name on them. So they seem to be anonymous. I don’t know how I would hold any of them accountable.”
Vermin was worried that the bicycle police resembled a “black bloc” and that things could get out of hand if tensions rose.
“That’s a problem in controlled force situations, because sometimes the officers can lose their sense of personal identity. And start to do things under the cover of (anonymity).”
The demographics of the marchers varied greatly along with the causes. Jonas Hock, a student at the University of North Carolina/Charlotte, said he came out to protest violations of American laws by the United States government. Hock felt there were a variety of actions led by the U.S. that violated the law, particularly the killing of al-Qaeda information leader Anwar al-Awlaki and his 16-year-old son by a U.S. drone strike.
“With al-Awaki, people knew, ok he was member of al-Qaeda, but his son was never charged of any crime…..there was no trial, and killing without trial is dangerous.”
Hock, a German citizen studying in the United States, feels that the large outpouring at the DNC is less a movement of anger than of disappointment in the way the Democratic Party has carried out the promises of 2008.
“I think many people here are disappointed. In 2008 they voted for Obama for change they could believe in, and then change did not come or some things got even worse. Especially from an outsider’s perspective I felt that in 2008 I was very enthusiastic about Obama, now I just saw how things have developed and I’m disillusioned.”
The march stopped at certain points along the route for speakers to express their views using the “people’s mic,” the method used by the Occupy movement to allow speakers in large crowds to be heard.
Most notably, one of the stops was outside of the Charlotte headquarters of Bank of America, public enemy number one for most of those present. The group railed against what they felt were unfair foreclosure practices by the company, their investment in coal power, and a long list of other grievances.
The environment was a surprisingly well-represented topic among those present Sunday. While the subject has seemed to have dropped out of the conversation entirely on the national level, Todd Zimmer of the Rainforest Action Network was quick to emphasize the dire implications that continued fossil fuel use has for the country.
“Climate change is an emergency, we need real action now. We don’t just need lip service. We’ve got to keep fossil fuels in the ground, we need to stop need building coal plants and opening new coal mines, we cannot drill off the eastern coast of the United States or any coast. It’s time to make a real commitment to green jobs and renewable energy, and the Democrats need to incorporate that into their platform or be exposed as not caring about climate change.”
Zimmer thinks that there’s much more of a chance of these steps being taken by the Democrats, though. The Republican platform of continuing investment into American fossil fuels is particularly harmful to the United States and there’s little chance that the right will provide a viable alternative.
“It’s the height of irony, this is a convention that started a day late because of a giant Gulf Coast hurricane, just seven years after Katrina. They still are not being real about what kind of situation we’re in.”
Some were simply worried about the kind of future they were leaving for their children. Gus Preschle, of Clemens, North Carolina, is a retired information systems worker worried about his kids’ chance to find a stable job and live a good life.
“I’m here for my daughters and my grandchildren.” Preschle is worried about a variety of issues facing the younger generations.
“One of them is their own financial security. Obviously things have changed dramatically in the employment market. So getting a job, holding a job with good benefits and the possibility of retiring at a reasonable age. After that of course is the environment, their own health and well-being.”
Other events will be held throughout the week, including an occupation of Marshall Park downtown.