Street fair starts convention with laid-back tone
By Kris Kitto - 09/03/12 05:12 PM ET
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Offering both bouncy kingdoms for the kids and “I Heart Obamacare” T-shirts for the voters, the Democratic National Convention’s Carolina Fest street fair set a subdued, end-of-summer tone Monday as delegates and VIPs awaited the more formal events scheduled for later in the week.
The convention’s unofficial first day attracted large crowds of stroller-pushing families intermixing with the button-clad, diehard partisans to the North Carolina city’s downtown, where singers Janelle Monae and James Taylor headlined.
A burst of rain in the afternoon temporarily suspended festivities, but by 5 p.m., fair attendees gathered at the main stage in anticipation of Taylor's performance. The rain returned halfway through Taylor's set however, sending attendees running for cover.
The day went off quietly, with no protests interrupting the casual atmosphere, though a visible police force roamed the closed-off streets in anticipation of any demonstrations, wielding three-foot-long batons and gas-mask packs strapped to their legs.
Charlotte-Mecklenberg Police Department spokesman Robert A. Tufano would not disclose how many law enforcement officers were on patrol, but cops from Denver; Chicago; Richmond, Va.; Raleigh, N.C.; and several other North Carolina jurisdictions joined the CMPD squad in watching over the festival’s masses.
“Our people and assisting officers have been extensively trained in several different areas over the last several months, including but not limited to large-crowd management,” Tufano said in an email. “The goal of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department is to develop a seamless security plan that will ensure a safe environment for the community, dignitaries and event participants. Additionally, there has been a tremendous amount of advance planning and coordination in the areas of venue security, airspace security, training, communications and credentialing. We will not, however, discuss means, methods, specific resources or numbers utilized to carry out protective responsibilities.”
At least two organizations are planning or have already executed demonstrations or other forms of disobedience throughout the week. Code Pink spokeswoman Alli McCracken said the anti-war group has already unfurled a 30-foot banner reading “Get money out of politics” at a preconvention event Saturday, plastered a C-SPAN trailer with its signs and posters at the street fair Monday, distributed hot-pink stickers that read “Make out not war codepink.org,” and undertaken other forms of “guerrilla activism.”
She noted that the group’s Charlotte strategy is different from that of Tampa, where “we had a lot more things to directly protest.”
Nevertheless, McCracken said, “we’re definitely going to be here — we’re going to be all over the place.”
The Coalition to March on Wall Street South led an event Sunday of what it reported to be 2,500 people “confronting banks and corporations in Charlotte that are wreaking havoc on communities throughout the country.”
Meanwhile, the street fest drew a largely pro-President Obama crowd that wanted to enjoy the final days of summer while also celebrating the convention’s opening.
People ate North Carolina barbecue and macaroni and cheese while vendors pulling red wagons circulated among the throngs, selling American flags and Obama buttons. Two people dressed in Lady Liberty costumes passed out fans that carried the message, “Vote pro-choice. Politicians make crappy doctors.”
And there was a big voter-registration push at the festival all day, with people carrying clipboards asking if attendees are registered.
“We’re both Democrats — we’ve been Democrats since ’84 … we’ve never been to a convention, and we live 20 miles away,” said David Hagler, referring to himself and his wife, Dianne, both dressed in Clemson University orange, of Rock Hill, S.C. “We wanted to be with some people who think like us.”
The two said they had spent the day speaking to as many people as possible to spread the message that “Obama is the one and we should vote for him.”
Another local Obama supporter, Reginald Nealy, said he decided to attend the fair because “I thought it’d be a nice, eclectic crowd — I want to be supportive of the community.
“I’m glad I came,” Nealy said. “I think it’s been very inclusive.”
But not every corner of the event included messages supportive of Obama. Overlooking the festival’s “Legacy Village,” where, among other things, Habitat for Humanity led a project to build an environmentally sustainable house on the premises, a banner from the Charlotte Diocese directly attacking the president’s policies hung from the red-brick flank of St. Peter’s Catholic Church.
“A message from the Catholic Church,” it read. “Protect the unborn, defend marriage, safeguard religious liberty.”
But attendees seemed to pay more attention to the Johnson C. Smith Marching Band’s performances and endless Obama-Biden paraphernalia as they wandered between booths offering jewelry, hand sanitizer, cupcakes, barbecue sauce and more.
“It was another one of him and Michelle just so happy,” one female attendee could be heard saying after looking at a photo of the Obamas. “You can’t fake that.”