Convention Sit-Ins

09.05.12

Odd DNC Bedfellows: Immigration, Occupy, Anti-Abortion Protesters

Sure, the anti-abortion protesters were expected in Charlotte. But the immigration advocates, and the Occupy activists? Don’t they feel any kinship to the Democrats? Michelle Cottle on why more are protesting this convention.

You can’t swing a dead cat here in Charlotte without whacking an anti-abortion protester brandishing giant posters of bloody, dismembered fetuses.

What can you do? It’s the Democratic convention. The party is proudly pro-abortion rights. That sort of thing is to be expected—and, for the most part, ignored by the hordes of delegates and reporters milling about.

More interesting are the not-so-predictable folks popping up to vent their outrage. People like, say, immigrants’  rights activists, whom you might expect to feel a certain kinship with the party that, at least relatively speaking, isn’t quite so eager to deport them.

But there they were on Tuesday afternoon, a hearty band of undocumented workers kneeling in the middle of a central intersection, surrounded by a gaggle of gawkers and several dozen heavily armed police officers dispatched to manage the spectacle.

Upset over the Obama administration’s deportation policy, the workers knelt silently atop a brightly colored banner proclaiming “No papers, no fear.” A collection of supporters stood nearby waving signs and chanting (in Spanish) “Hold on” and “You are not alone.” 

Adding to the pathos, the fickle Charlotte skies chose that moment to unleash a biblical downpour on the entire tableau. The rain only complicated the police’s unpleasant task of securing the plastic wrist cuffs on the grim-faced workers and loading them into the paddy wagons.

“I had to decide if I was going to the RNC in Tampa and have confrontation or to the DNC and have communication.”

Several blocks south of the convention site, the rains also had been muddying up the encampment set up by the Occupy movement. All around Marshall Park, wet clothes and blankets had been stretched out to dry on every available surface.

By contrast, the protesters’ spirits hadn’t been dampened much. Most I spoke with were decidedly upbeat about what all agreed was a much better turnout for this convention than for the GOP lovefest in Tampa.

A key reason for the larger showing, ironically, is that many of the Occupy types see the Dems as less objectionable than their GOP counterparts.

Not that anyone loves the Democratic Party, mind you—and certainly not the president. Indeed, bitter disillusionment with the once idolized Obama are what drove many folks to the movement, explained anti-war activist turned Tea Partier turned Occupier Michael Pellagatti. Thus the commonly heard calls to try Obama as a war criminal and the homemade poster that colorfully declared, “Obama is a fucking traitor.” 

But at least Democratic delegates are open to the movement’s message, said New Yorker Yoni Miller, who has been with Occupy since Day 1. At the RNC, he said, “there was no room or desire for any dialogue among the delegates.” At least with Dems, he said, “we’re all united in wanting to make things better.” The delegates “get it,” so “there’s a bigger opportunity for change.”

Another Occupier who goes only by the name Dee put it this way: “I had to decide if I was going to the RNC in Tampa and have confrontation or to the DNC and have communication.”

Not that there’s likely to be all that much communication this week, what with all the security checks and police barriers and general chaos that come with a convention.

Indeed, around 3 p.m. Wednesday, several dozen Occupy protesters grabbed their signs and headed down to the same intersection where the deportation sit-in had occurred the day before. The rain was gone, and the crowd of spectators was bigger. But with all the conventioneers pushing and shoving and scrambling to make their way to this event or that, the mass of protesters further clogging the streets prompted looks less of intrigue than annoyance.

No one ever said change was easy.