Labor Day at the DNC: Storm Clouds in Charlotte
This afternoon I was rushing to hear Jeff Bridges sing when a thunderstorm burst open in Charlotte. Was this a bad sign? I wondered. Bridges was playing on the main stage at an outdoor festival called CarolinaFest, for a celebratory Labor Day event that drew scores of delegates, local families, volunteers, media and scattered celebrities. You could barely move, the streets were so crowded. On the day before the Democratic convention, the Festival was intended to showcase the city’s charms, its openness and diversity. It was hard not to notice the striking contrast in youth and color with the old vanilla flavor of the RNC. Vendors hawking sausages, gyros, and carnival food lined the streets.
Most people took the cloudburst in stride, ducking into doorways. But I’m sure it wasn’t part of the DNC plan. “Hopefully he won’t be singing “Fire and Rain,” joked Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx, referring to North Carolina native son James Taylor.
It’s lovely in Charlotte. The people are easygoing and warm. You can hardly go a step without a blue-shirted Obama volunteer asking if you need anything. Or a young woman in a pink T-shirt with a clipboard wanting to know if you’re registered to vote. The city, as DNC convention co-chair and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa noted at the kick-off press conference, has more trees than a tropical rain forest. Even the local cops look like they want to hug you.
“Our city has been waiting a long time to host this convention,” said Mayor Foxx, an up-and-coming Democratic star, at the press conference. “Charlotte residents are ready to put their best foot forward. We want you to have a good time while you’re here.”
But there’s also an undercurrent of tension. About 800 Occupy demonstrators are camped out a few blocks from the Time Warner Center, where the speakers will address the 5,556 delegates. A far more serious problem for the Democrats is that North Carolina is a right-to-work state, meaning it doesn't require workers to join a dues-paying union and thus, keeps wages low. And although labor organizations are visible everywhere at the DNC, some labor officials are still grumbling about progressive Charlotte being the host city.
On Labor Day, oddly enough, Buzzfeed reported that Ohio union official Lee Saunders threw an empty chair at a state delegation breakfast in a reprise of Clint Eastwood's insane antics berating an invisible Obama at the DNC. Which leads me to think he didn't get the message about Southern hospitality. Is the DNC now going to be all about riffing off Eastwood’s bizarre performance at the RNC? I sure hope not.
Then there’s North Carolina’s high unemployment rate of 9.6 percent. Obama had an upset victory in North Carolina in 2008 and was the first Democrat to win the state in 32 years. But now the swing state is up for grabs. Can Obama keep those voters who were so optimistic about him in 2008? Mayor Foxx conceded the race will be tight. “But it is a state the president absolutely can win.”
Let's hope on the opening day of the convention the clouds go away.