On the drive downtown from the Charlotte airport you ride the Billy Graham Parkway and are greeted by a billboard that says: ‘Don’t Believe the Liberal Media.’ I went for dinner at a Chinese restaurant. The TV was tuned to CNN. Aaron Black from Occupy Wall Street, who’d taken me to Romneyville in Tampa, was walking his bike down the street in Sunday’s March on Wall Street South. He said that some of the OWS protesters from Tampa hadn’t come north for the DNC: ‘A lot of our people are not interested in protesting Obama.’
Yestersday around noon I was walking to the Planned Parenthood rally at the Nascar Hall of Fame when I came across the tent encampment in Marshall Park. There were a couple of dozen tents and signs spread out across the ground: ‘Obama Is a Fucking Traitor!’; ‘Avoid Corptards’ with anarchy symbols for the As; Obama riding in a flying saucer, looking a bit like Mr Spock, launching drones from above a row of ‘sheeple’, one of whom had woken up to say ‘Holy crap’, only to have his ‘dissent’ float up to be stifled by ‘weapons of mass distraction’.
‘Obama’s not a traitor because he worked for the banks all along,’ a man from Occupy Oakland told me. He said Occupy in Oakland and Berkeley had accomplished a lot, and he had never smashed any windows. ‘I’m a cyclist, so I hate broken glass. Obama smashes more windows with one so-called drone strike. The one thing I want to say is that hungry children work cheap and there are 30,000 of them starving in this country.’ He doubted I would report anything he said until I told him I wrote for a British paper.
I saw a young man called Yoni I’d met outside the RNC where he was asking delegates how the middle class was doing. He told me about his first black bloc operation last Thursday in Tampa, something I’d heard about after Romney’s speech from a street medic from Chicago called Amanda. Six protesters from OWS and Earth First had shut down the Tyko power plant for six hours, tying themselves to pipes, while another protester climbed an oil drum. Tyko was ‘the dirtiest power plant in one of the dirtiest energy states’. Amanda had done first aid while Yoni handed out cigarettes and water. He’d blocked trucks and been shoved by a truck driver who told him: ‘You’ve never worked a job in your life.’ ‘It’s a sensitive balance,’ Yoni said. ‘This is how they make their living.’
An ice sculpture that spelled out ‘Middle Class’ was symbolically melting. The word ‘middle’ toppled over. ‘The middle class has fallen,’ a man behind me in a yellow Shepard Fairey Obama T-shirt said.
As a march headed out from the park, Aaron Black walked by and tapped me on the back. He was defending his CNN statements to a documentary filmmaker. He said we’d never know because of the hurricane whether more protesters might have come to Tampa. The bus he’d organised had had 330 people sign up and 300 cancel. Romney was worse than Obama because he hadn’t engaged in the Occupy conversation. Obama had engaged but not followed through. Following through would mean putting forward a constitutional amendment overturning the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision.
I passed an old man carrying a cross. The march had been kettled by the police at the corner of Stonewall and Caldwell streets and my way in to the Nascar Hall of Fame was blocked. Bret Morse, a 30-year-old in a straw hat and a Ron Paul T-shirt, was wearing an RNC guest pass and carrying a sign that read ‘Obama’s Kill List’ with photographs of a drone and the faces of Samir Kahn, a 25-year-old Charlotte native and jihadist magazine editor, and Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, the 16-year-old Denver-born son of Anwar al-Awlaki, all three of whom were wiped out in a drone attack last September in Yemen. ‘A lot of people here agree with us on civil liberties,’ Morse said.
From the centre of the kettled march Yoni was making a speech. ‘The United States is scared of South East Asia,’ he said. ‘The United States is scared of Africa. The United States is scared of Bradley Manning.’ He gave the microphone to a woman who launched into ‘Twelve Steps to Overcome Addiction to Voting for the Lesser of Two Evils’. ‘Realise that closing Guantánamo and electing Obama are mutually exclusive... Get over your romantic feelings for Democrats and their supposed concern for poor people... Make a list of war crimes committed by Bush, cross out the word Bush and write Obama.’
I left the demonstration and walked north and found another checkpoint through the barricades towards the Nascar building. The crowd were wearing pink ‘Yes We Plan’ shirts. Cory Booker, the mayor of Newark, was telling them that Roe v. Wade ‘didn’t come on the wheels of inevitability’. Sandra Fluke, the woman Rush Limbaugh called a ‘slut’ and a ‘prostitute’ for advocating contraception, took to the stage in a green dress, apologised for not wearing pink, and reminded the crowd that Mitt Romney had vetoed a bill allowing rape victims access to plan-B contraceptives in emergency rooms and Paul Ryan had sponsored a bill allowing hospitals to decline to give women abortions when their lives are endangered. I’d heard that the Republicans, including South Carolina governor Nikki Haley, were holding counter-press conferences inside the Nascar building, but I saw no way in, only a giant video screen showing a little boy driving a car simulator. They drag us into the car cult so young.
On the way to the Truman Project’s national security training session for progressive candidates, I saw a Christian with a megaphone condemning homosexuals; saying that rapists should be put to death, not than foetuses conceived during rapes; suggesting that maybe the problem was with ‘the mother’ – i.e. rape victim – ‘who dressed like a whore when she went to the bar’; and telling a woman who was arguing with him that she was getting too emotional, ‘which is why a woman should never be president’. A cop behind me said: ‘This happens every weekend, I don’t know why people are paying attention to it now.’
The Truman Project flacks told me their policy paper on Syria advises progressive candidates and officials who go on television to say that the US, without committing to any particular rebels, should ‘put our thumb on the scales by providing anti-tank weapons good enough to pierce Syrian weapons but not US or Israeli weapons’.
The best theatre of the night came from a ghost. Joseph Kennedy III, Bobby Kennedy’s 31-year-old grandson, is running for Congress in Massachusetts. The dynastic charisma is diluted by two generations but still present in trace forms. His Boston accent is weaker than mine. He introduced a video of his uncle Teddy slinging zingers at Romney during their 1994 Senate campaign: ‘I’m pro-choice. My opponent is multiple choice.’ ‘Now he supports the minimum wage. If we give him two more weeks he may even vote for me.’ A shaky bleed into a Kennedy-Obama comparison led to a musical number, then Jesse Jackson walked past me and I couldn’t decide if I was more nostalgic for 1988, when I’d never heard of Mitt Romney, or 1994, when it seemed he’d always be a rich also-ran.