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Political Dissent: A part of 'democracy' on display in Charlotte

By Ashahed M. Muhammad -Asst. Editor- | Last updated: Sep 13, 2012 - 3:43:32 PM

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Arizona State University student Tony Verdugo, 22, joined protests in Charlotte, N.C.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (FinalCall.com) - The largest city in the state nicknamed the “Queen City,” became the center of America’s political universe as the Democratic National Convention was held here Sept. 4-6.

As was to be expected, an overwhelming number of those traveling to the city for the DNC were vocal and enthusiastic supporters of Barack Obama’s presidency, however, many came to express anti-war, anti-capitalist, and pro-environment sentiments they believe are being ignored by both parties.

Inside the Time Warner Arena Sept. 5, Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Maryland) was interrupted by CODEPINK co-director Rae Abileah calling for an end to U.S. involvement in foreign wars, and an immediate end to deadly drone strikes.

Outside, CODEPINK continued their activism. Seventy-one-year-old Joan Stallard, also of CODEPINK, held a sign reading “We Need A PEACE President.” She traveled from Washington D.C. and was critical of U.S. involvement in regime change in Libya, as well as the healthcare bill that is actually being celebrated by Obama’s administration as an accomplishment.

CODEPINK co-director Medea Benjamin, who also traveled to Tampa, Florida to protest the Republican National Convention, told The Final Call several things motivated her and members of the organization to come to Charlotte to voice their dissent.

“We think our elections have been bought and sold,” said Ms. Benjamin. “Both parties are a part of the game, and it really means that one person, one vote doesn’t make that much difference any more, it’s what corporations are giving towards the elections and for the ads they are buying,” she added.

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Ms. Benjamin believes people should be ready for change following a decade of America at war. Mr. Obama promised peace, yet even after winning the Nobel Peace Prize, he escalated drone wars in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and now, there is a march towards war with Iran.

“Ten years of war and counting, and it doesn’t matter whether it’s George Bush or Barack Obama, we’re in this war economy and it’s big business for the people who make the weapons and get the contracts,” she added.

Ms. Benjamin said unlike what she observed in Tampa at the Republican convention, which she described as “a sea of old White people,” there is more diversity in the Democratic Party. She also said she harbors no personal animus towards Mr. Obama.

“I like him. I’ve had a chance to meet him twice, he’s a lovely man, his wife is a lovely woman,” said Ms. Benjamin. “It’s not about the individual, it’s about the policies, it’s about the system,” she added.

Many of America’s residents are still facing foreclosure, and crippling debt through federal student loans is being experienced by those who seek college educations. Despite the fact that there is more grassroots activism within the Democratic Party, activists say neither party adequately speaks to the needs of the poor.

Hip-hop activist Jasiri X was in Charlotte bringing to an end a two-week tour across the country performing at programs put together by coalitions of organizations on what is considered the “progressive left” of the political spectrum. He joined other members of the arts community at an event Sept. 5 called “UndocuNation” organized by activists fighting against dangerously xenophobic anti-immigrant rhetoric and sentiment growing in America.

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Renee Edwards, a self-described “diehard” Obama supporter, from Dallas, Texas.
Earlier that day, protesters supporting the “Undocumented No Papers No Fear Riders” held a bilingual demonstration, after several had been arrested. All of them were undocumented.

Twenty-two-year-old Arizona State University student Tony Verdugo, though an American citizen, was one of those protesters.

“As president he has deported more people than any other president in history,” Mr. Verdugo said. “We want to see if he’s willing to change that. Does he want to be remembered as the president that has deported the most people?” he asked.

Protesters said they want to see the president go further than his recent pronouncements in favor of the deferred action plan for the Dreamers. They want to see him use his executive authority to end deportations.

The “March on Wall Street South” movement also brought together many protesters voicing a variety of grievances primarily focusing on the inequality of America’s financial systems.

“I found out that North Carolina is the lowest unionized state in the country and it is the second biggest banking capital behind New York City,” said Jasiri X. “To have (the convention) here in a state where unions are not strong and where banking is huge … it seemed like a strange choice,” he added.

Throughout the days of the convention—and under the very watchful eye of riot police—members of The Occupy movement camped out and held protests at various locations downtown.

Six protesters were arrested Sept. 6 at a demonstration in front of the Duke Energy Center, located less than a half a mile away from the major staging grounds of the DNC.

Occupy movement member Patrick Jay, 33, traveled from Colorado Springs to join the protests in Charlotte. He mentioned specifically Pres. Obama’s signing of the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) into law as a major motivation for him making the trip. He like many other protesters, sees no major difference between the country’s two main political parties.

“I would say for years we haven’t had a choice, whether it was Democrats or Republicans, it was pretty much the same choice—a matter of choosing between the lesser of two evils,” said Mr. Jay. “My solution would be for a revolution, for the overthrow of the government,” said Mr. Jay.

When pressed further, he insisted he does not advocate violence, however, “It very well may lead to that,” he added.

Contrasting the energy and spirit in 2008 with the atmosphere at this year’s convention, in the opinion of Jasiri X, the Democrats feel nervous and perhaps even “a sense of fear” when faced with the prospects of a Romney/Ryan administration.

“Four years ago it was more about really making history and seeing Obama as this transformative figure that could fix America, whereas this year, it’s really more like troops preparing for war,” said Jasiri X.

Renee Edwards, from Dallas, Texas described herself as a “diehard” supporter of President Obama. She was a delegate in 2008 and although she hasn’t agreed with every single decision made by the president, she is still a strong backer.

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Participants in the ‘No Papers, No Fear! Ride for Justice’ campaign.
“We have 300 million people in this country so there is no way to please and accommodate 300 million people,” said Ms. Edwards. “You have to take what you believe, or the most pressing issues and deal with it and on any given issue you are going to have the pros and the cons.”

Michael Steele, former chairman of the Republican National Committee, said critique and discussion of alternate viewpoints is an important part of the American political landscape and there is nothing wrong with it, as long as the focus is on policy and not the person.

“There’s a difference between criticism of policy and criticism of person. I’ve never criticized the president personally because I’m fond of him. I admire his accomplishments, I just have a fundamental disagreement with his policies and that is a legitimate discussion,” said Mr. Steele. “Last time I checked, Booker T. Washington and DuBois had a fundamental discussion about policy effectively in the Black community. Even Martin Luther King and Malcolm X had different perspectives on how to prosecute civil rights.”

Overwhelmingly, Blacks belong to the Democratic Party, however Mr. Steele said an option for young Blacks who have political differences with the president, and who want to have a voice in the development of America’s future is to look at other political options, such as the Republican Party. When asked what benefit that would serve, Mr. Steele said, “One word: Leverage.”

“Leverage your opportunities. Put yourself in a position where you get the most out of the political opportunity,” said Mr. Steele. “The party won’t change unless people change it, that’s going to come from fresh faces and voices coming into it. When I joined the party it wasn’t the most welcoming thing that ever happened to me, but I stayed the course.”

In 2008, the Green Party nominated former U.S. member of Congress Cynthia McKinney as the party’s candidate for president. Rosa Clemente served as Ms. McKinney’s vice-presidential running mate. She has been consistent in her criticism of policies of the Obama administration and referred to the the Democratic National Convention as an “infomercial” devoid of any real substantive discussion of issues.

This year’s Green Party nominee is Dr. Jill Stein. She was in Charlotte during the convention along with her vice-presidential running mate Cheri Honkala holding press conferences and meeting with people, in conjunction with the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign.

In an email to supporters, Dr. Stein wrote:

“We know that inside the corporate-sponsored convention hall, there are many glowing speeches and lots of well-funded spin. But out here, the reality remains that nearly half of Americans live in or near poverty.”

Arthur, an ardent Ron Paul supporter from Michigan who declined to give his last name, walked around with a sign showing his desire to see Ron Paul and Barack Obama on the same ticket.

“They would make the perfect team like Kobe and Shaq,” Arthur said.

Going forward, Mr. Steele said regardless of who wins the election, he believes everyone should desire to be involved in shaping the future of the country.

“How do we define what America looks like? How do we define what Black America looks like? I plan to be a part of that discussion whether folks like it or not,” said Mr. Steele.

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