Democratic National ConventionJenady Garshofsky
CHARLOTTE, NC– Human gridlocks, street vendors selling Obama paraphernalia and steel barricades used for crowd control congested Charlotte streets, overrunning the Queen City with police and political agendas during the Democratic National Convention earlier this month.
Blocks from the convention, protesters turned Marshall Park into a tent city with roughly 65 colorful tents pitched on the vast lawn overlooking a small manmade pond and fountain. Protesters gathered across a cement bridge over the pond, a concrete centerpiece to discuss daily activities, distribute pamphlets, hang cardboard signs and smoke cigarettes.
Police officers unofficially allowed protesters to camp in the park for the duration of the convention, but protester Matthew Malone, 20, was cautious. Malone stepped away from serving food cooked inside a converted school bus with a sign reading “Occupy the Road.”
“Police basically said we can kick you out if we want, but don't give us a reason,” Malone said, entertaining the idea that undercover cops may be inside the park. “The camp is in such a controlled environment, it's not effective.” Police also told protesters not to drink alcohol or swim in the fountain, according to Malone.
The streets surrounding Marshall park, and the area directly around the convention center, were heavily controlled by police from multiple jurisdictions – city, county, state, out-of-state and federal – funded by $50 million of federal money. According to the Charlotte Observer, nearly 2,000 of the 4,000 police officers on duty during the DNC were from outside Charlotte. Officers came from as far as: Austin, Chicago, Milwaukee, and Philadelphia as well as many other locations.
Helicopters flew overhead, Secret Service checkpoints interrupted traffic, many types of barricades covered Charlotte, and the Department of Homeland Security were omnipresent.
The Blake Hotel, which overlooked the tent city, housed the delegates from California during the convention. Delegates took notice of the vibrant tents and protesters occupying the park across from their hotel. Mary Ellen Early, a super-delegate of the California Democratic Party and member of the Democratic National Committee, was standing outside the hotel when she said she thought the Democratic party and Occupy Wall Street were similar.
“A lot of us work for a living. We don't go on vacation. It seems like we are elite at this hotel, but we have been saving our money to do this,” said Early who went on to question why protesters were occupying the DNC considering “the occupy movement has the same issues as [democrats]. I just don't think they are well informed.”
Back at the camp on afternoon of the final day of the convention, Jessy Young, a sophomore majoring in Communications at Queens University in North Carolina, passed out surveys to protesters in Marshall Park to identify their political views. Young admitted that she didn't know enough about politics, but wanted to vote in the upcoming election. Young said, “more young people should get involved, that's the generation upcoming.”
President Obama's DNC acceptance speech was originally open to the public at the Bank of America Stadium, which has 75,000 seats. It was relocated to the venue where the DNC took place due to weather. Young said, “I was planning on attending, now I cannot. I feel [this is] cutting off the community and now the community cannot attend.”
Near the convention center an outdoor food court and mall, the Charlotte Epicentre, allowed anyone to watch a live stream of the convention from MSNBC's outdoor stage with live newscasters. The Epicentre served as a place for members of the community to interact with the convention.
Around 7:30 p.m. bystanders outside the convention noticed squads of officers lining the streets, wielding batons and paintball guns loaded with “pepper balls” and tear gas launchers, preparing for the arrival of a protest march.
“The only way we can and will have democracy is if we stand together, not red against blue,” a protester said over a megaphone during a standoff with police two blocks from the convention. A jazz band played Brass music on the sidewalk as protesters on the street were surrounded by police on three sides.
“Every big building you see is bought by a bank. They aren't looking [out] for your [best] interest,” a protester said to the crowd of police and interested pedestrians on the sidewalks. “The only way to have democracy is to fight for it,” the protester said before the march moved on.
The march included heavily concentrated groups of police, journalists and about 100 protesters. Police used firetrucks to block off streets leading to the convention center, and for every few inches that the protesters walked, squads of bicycle-mounted police would speed ahead forming blockades to forge a predetermined path for the march.
As the march progressed further down the street, it was discovered that the police had forged a path turning in the opposite direction of the convention. For a time the march refused to continue, but eventually turned around, returning to camp.
As protesters began to make their way back at around 10 p.m., one demonstrator burned a copy of Obama's presidential oath of office outside the entrance of a “free speech zone,” which police blocked entrance to.
“I thought [the protest] was successful. No arrests, no riots,” said Michael Glazer, a 32 year old male from Chicago. “I think its a waste of 50 million for police. Why couldn't you give 50 million to fix the deficit,” Glazer said.
25 protesters were arrested during the three day convention, according to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department. Of the 25 arrests, 16 protesters were arrested for impeding traffic, 3 for disorderly conduct, 2 for failure to disperse, 1 for breaching a police line, 1 for property damage, 1 for carrying a concealed weapon and 1 for dispersal of a noxious substance.
Early Friday morning protesters left Marshall Park of their own accord and all that remained were four police officers on bicycles stationed in the parking lot.