I took a different approach to covering the convention on Wednesday, leaving the arena and venturing out to the streets. I even ditched my suit jacket for a blue Adidas track top. Of course I kept the tie.
I also avoided Time Warner Cable Arena and the EpiCentre until dark, opting instead to venture into the streets. I rode in back of a bicycle-driven carriage manned by a long-haired hippie from Plaza Midwood. We went in search of the heart and soul of the Democratic Party: the activist base advocating for justice.
We found our champions around packed halls of the Convention Center and on street corners.
The Disillusioned Environmentalist
Barack Obama's 2008 campaign was helped in no small part by the fundraising dollars of environmental activists from northern California all the way to southern Appalachia. They felt personally invested in his cause. Four years later, some feel betrayed. One of those activists is Ann League. Originally from Lancaster, S.C., she has spent much of her life in Tennessee's coal country.
League was exposed to the horrors of strip mining, and it changed her life.
“I had bought 25 acres of land and was in the process of building my dream house,” League said. “My spouse and I were out in the woods checking the trails out, and we came upon a couple of truckloads of people who weren’t out there having fun; they were out there looking at an area that was about to be clearcut and then strip-mined.
Three months after the mining started, her well water turned bright orange. She has been involved in the movement to end the practice of mountaintop removal ever since.
“We had been in the fight for so many years and had such great hopes for President Obama, but ... we’re still struggling,” League said.
She has a clear picture of what Obama needs to accomplish in his second term that could only come to life if he has the guts to buck the powers that be and go all the way for the environmental movement the way he has gay rights. She said he should try to pass the Clean Water Protection Act, the Appalachian Citizen’s Health Emergency Act and the Appalachian Restoration Act.
"Those three pieces of legislation would do wonders to protect Appalachia from the scourge of mountaintop removal,” League said.
The Hopeful Veteran
For decades after World War II, if you wanted to get into politics you had to be a veteran. But after the Vietnam War, the trend has changed to favor chickenhawks more than willing to sacrifice the sons and daughters of the poor but unwilling to ever don a uniform. Obama has never served. Mitt Romney famously favored the draft during Vietnam and then dodged it by going on a Mormon mission to France.
But state Democratic leader and Army Reserve Capt. Cal Cunningham is not that type of politician. After 9/11, Cunningham switched his service from the Naval Reserves to the Army because “the bad guys were on the land." After being redistricted out of the state Senate, Cunningham heard the call to service for his country on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan.
Cunningham returned from the latter last October and for his distinguished service was awarded the Bronze Star and prestigious MacArthur Leadership Award. Now he is helping Obama by joining with Vice President Joe Biden’s son Beau to lead up the group Veterans for Obama.
During the RNC last week there wasn’t much focus put on our foreign wars, and that concerned Cunningham and the veterans he’s organizing.
“There are 83,000 U.S. forces on the ground in Afghanistan, and [Romney] doesn’t even mention the conflict that has been going on for 11 years," Cunningham told me. "In his 59-point economic plan he doesn’t mention the word 'veteran' once,” Cunningham said.
He wants Obama to renew his support of veterans in his Thursday speech.
“What I want to hear the president talk about is that he kept his pledge to get us out of Iraq and fulfilled his pledge to end Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” Cunningham said. “It is rare for those on the left to own national security issues the way we do now, and it’s because a community organizer from Chicago gets it and has done the things a commander in chief should do."
With Bible thumpers preaching the word of “Jeesuss” and activists on both sides of the abortion debate hawking extreme pictures, Uptown is awash with the crazies.
But every now and then you will find a unique local on the corner winning the moment. That was the case with Sam Miller of west Charlotte. He donned a top hat and century-old suit to make his point. His “Republicans for Obama” placard attracted camera-totting fans all day. Miller is actually a liberal Obama supporter but is using his gimmick to attract attention - and add to the weird ambiance in Uptown.
He said the president has done a good job of making the most of a difficult situation in a divisive country. Miller's spirit and eagerness to vote is rare among young people in Charlotte.
This wasn’t the first time Miller has dressed as an ancient historical figure for an event, and his shared love of facial hair with obscure Civil War general Ambrose Burnside made his costume a perfect match. (Who has ever dressed up as Ambrose Burnside? His uniqueness gave him major style points.)
Miller partied in Uptown Tuesday night with the delegates and planned to again on night No. 2. His dedication to creativity — and ability to wear a dark suit in Charlotte in September — means he deserves all the free booze he can get his hands on.