The eyes of the world are on Charlotte, or so we are told. The Democratic National Convention is in town to nominate President Obama as their candidate for president. Credentials have been issued for 15,000 journailsts. CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, all three major networks, and The Daily Show have set up studios around Charlotte’s gleaming Uptown district. News casts will show off our impressive skyline all week. They will give the sense of important events happening. They will talk about “Southern hospitality.” It will all culminate with 70,000 people cramming into Bank of America stadium – oh, the irony! – to hear President Obama’s acceptance speech.
Since the selection of Charlotte as convention host was announced more than a year ago, we have been promised that this event would be “the most open and accessible convention in history” to all of Charlotte, a celebration of our city’s beauty and diversity. I went Uptown on Sunday to bear witness to the 1,000 protestors who danced a carefully choreographed dance with 1,200 police officers through the streets of Uptown. The protestors lingered while in the shadows of the Bank of America Corporate Center and the Duke Energy corporate tower. Their chants were especially loud at these points, though no one was there to hear them on Sunday afternoon.
I found the experience of being there more than a bit disconcerting. For blocks and blocks, the streets are lined with eight foot tall steel fences. Outside of the parade route, Uptown was nearly deserted. On every corner, there were dozens of police. Atlanta police. Richmond police. Greensboro police. Raleigh police. Winston-Salem police. Charlotte police. Columbia police. Some were on bikes, Some were on motorcycles. Some were on foot. A few were in what can only be described as armored golf carts. Traffic flow was severely restricted, a pattern that will only grow over the course of the week. The whole scene was like a movie set. The life of my city had been shut off, with the exception of one carefully planned route.
I find it all fitting, I think. This week during the convention events, as during last week’s RNC in Tampa, there will be much bloviating about the ability of any person to access the “American dream.” With commitment, you can build it, we are told. With hard work and perseverance, you can get a piece of the pie. On the ground here in Enderly Park, we know the truth does not match up with that proclamation. My neighbors have learned that our “open and accessible” economy is built by large numbers of poor who never reap the wealth their labor produces. They know by years of experience that all the hard work and ingenuity you can muster won’t always be enough to make the rent. They know that Caesar’s game that is being played on their turf this week, and the only invitation they have is one to clean up the stadium afterward.
In that light, the eight foot fence makes sense. It’s been there all along anyway.