Making Your Voice Heard, and Hoping Someone Hears It

The week of the DNC has passed, and people of all stripes have made their opinions known to large and small audiences from the streets of Charlotte, to a world-wide television audience.  Having both been a Legal Observer for small factions of marching protestors and having also listened intently to the speeches given each night from the floor of Time Warner Arena, I cannot help but hold some continuing sense of disillusionment with the depth and breadth of political discourse in our country.  I also hold out great hope that our First Amendment rights will continue to trickle and weather the stone that makes up our political structures.  As voters and citizens, that is how our founders intended our votes and voices to work.

On Sunday, I along with several other students from Charlotte Law began working with the National Lawyers Guild as Legal Observers for the various protest marches scheduled for the week of the DNC.  The ordinances passed by the City of Charlotte required scheduling marches to help them ensure that the citizens of Charlotte were assuaged of their fear of the chaos and mayhem they told us comes with too much free speech.  While I wonder how free anyone would feel while marching in a rolling box of police officers, I will say that Charlotte Police Chief Rodney Monroe impressed me several times this week with his willingness to both listen to, and bargain with the various protest groups.  He was ever present, and was a calming force for both the police and protestors.  I also never once saw a police officer try to restrict the verbal content of the various protests.

Police Chief Rodney Monroe confers with an Occupy Charlotte protester. They were able to reach the compromise that the protesters’ demonstration could continue down the street provided they marched only on the sidewalk. Photo Credit: Evan C.

I was equally impressed with the bravery and resolution of the various protest groups inside the box.  While there were several groups represented, I was closest to a group of undocumented workers marching with No Papers, No Fear, anti-war protestors with Code Pink, the banking reform advocates with Occupy Wall St. South, and anarchists associated with the black rubber boot hat wearing Vermin Supreme.  While smaller in number than anticipated by both the protestors and the police, each group made their opinions heard as best and as loud as they could given the circumstances.  I observed for a total of four days during the convention, but Sunday was by far the largest and most diverse in terms of opinions voiced.

Each night, I tuned in to see if any of the speakers with the DNC would address the concerns of the protestors I walked with.  I also watched the speakers at the RNC the week before.  The maxim coined by James Carville, “It’s the economy stupid.” certainly received top billing with the speechwriters at both conventions.  I guess if you want to win an election, trying to avoid the topic would be futile and unwise.   But the concerns I heard expressed by the protestors delineated problems that, while marginal in terms of securing four more years, are unavoidable realities.  Having Hispanic mayors or US Senators speaking at your convention certainly gives the impression that you might be concerned with undocumented workers, but I never heard any meaningful policy directed at dealing with the fact that there are 11.5 million undocumented people living in our country, nor the truth that physically deporting that many people is not just impractical, it’s impossible.  Avoided also was the reality that the war in Afghanistan is soon moving on into its thirteenth year with no clear date as to when that will end.  President Obama suggested that we would see the end of our occupation by the end of 2014, but soon backed away from making that a promise.  The most popular of the protestors concerns in terms of words used by speakers was banking reform.  Obama has touted his successes in addressing some of the systemic problems in the banking industry; however, it doesn’t seem that many on either side of the issue are satisfied with the policy thus far enacted.

The lasting impression I will carry from all of this is that there are people who really care about the details of our governmental policy.  I watched the police arrest six very brave young adults who were opposed to the manner by which energy companies operate within the regulatory framework of our national energy policy.  I wonder how many of the people making sarcastic remarks in the comments section of the article on charlotteobserver.com were arrested in their youth for something really important like drinking underage?  Anyway, I also recognize that politicians keep their rhetoric in the shallower water as diving too deep might just associate you with that small group of people willing to brave city ordinance, police, heat, rain, and the disdain of those less passionate about expressing their opinion.  After all, how much can 500 people marching in a confined space bordered by police really mean to winning an election anyway?

Oh, I almost forgot about Vermin Supreme.  I definitely didn’t hear anyone on any stage match his offer of free ponies to each citizen. Bummer…

By: Cleat Walters III

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