Downtown Charlotte is abuzz as Democratic National Convention delegates, media outlets, and big-name politicos make their way to caucus meetings and other preliminary events underway until tonight’s kick-off addresses by First Lady Michelle Obama and others. The anticipation signals Democrats’ desire to galvanize, once again, a voting base that will connect with President Barack Obama’s platform and vision for four more years of leadership. Talk within the convention halls will surely center on these goals, but Tuesday morning, just a couple miles away, Rev. Jesse Jackson spoke of the need to “democratize democracy” and others spoke of the need for a persistent pursuit of peace and equality for all at The Harvest Center in one of Charlotte’s hardscrabble neighborhoods.
Ten minutes away from the official convention events, about 75 other “delegates” have gathered at the The Harvest Center. They are part of another assembly of self-professed “progressive Democrats” who, too, are sending delegates to sketch out alternative visions of a democratic future. The groups are meeting concurrently with the official DNC gathering. Tuesday’s program, organized by the Progressive Democrats of America, was headlined by Jackson, president of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, and John Nichols, a blogger who famed novelist Gore Vidal once named a “giant slayer.”
While the DNC is situated within the comfort of Charlotte’s downtown (and alleged to be the reason for the spike in motel fees and the displacement of low-income and poor individuals and families), Progressive Central 2012, as it has been named, is being held in a Charlotte neighborhood that was historically notorious for crime. Visitors to the Charlotte Convention Center or Time Warner Cable Arena might notice the presence of many volunteers, police personnel, and checkpoints along the periphery, while visitors to the gathering of “progressive Democrats” will be greeted outside the entrance by volunteers and a model “killer drone,” a sign of peaceful protest of the much-debated U.S. war tactic.
The progressive Democrats pushed an anti-war agenda while the Democratic National Committee seemed to put forward something starkly different—a foreign policy that includes war as a necessary path to peace. For example, contrast the placement of the “killer drone” at The Harvest Center with the placement of a picture of Osama Bin Laden as a slain symbol of the success of anti-terrorist war in a multimedia presentation that opened (with cheers) the official Women’s Caucus meeting at the DNC. This juxtaposition bears a telling distinction between the Democrats officially representing the party at the DNC and those self-proclaimed Democrats who have chosen to literally modify their Democratic affiliation by virtue of a self-defined “progressive” politic and label.
The Feminist Wire was on hand to hear only the opening remarks provided by Nichols and Jackson, which lacked the luster and exhilaration of even the brief remarks provided by Nancy Pelosi at the opening of the Women’s Caucus. However, listening to Jackson wax poetic about his work with Martin Luther King Jr. and his 1988 campaign that, he said, brought “a third rail of conscience” to the Democratic Party and paved the way for Obama’s 2008 primary upset of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was, at moments, moving. In his 15-minute address, he championed a “new and different South,” one where we “don’t have to live on the segregated side of segregation, where you only get shadows and never sunlight.” If only the applause had mirrored his own enthusiasm.
It was even more intriguing to watch Jackson harken King at a podium situated in front of a banner that read “Bust Bank of America” across from a “Stop Killer Drones” poster in a room comprised of mostly older white progressives who could have easily resembled the panel of speakers at the DNC Women’s Caucus, though the ages of the panelists were more diverse. The progressive Democrats’ audience and DNC Women’s Caucus panel evidenced a lack of racial diversity. Yet, all of the Dems, regardless of their claim of progressiveness or not, a short distance away, did broach policies that impact our nation’s marginalized citizens such as universal health care and “freedoms to vote.”
Maybe the only difference between the gatherings are the spaces that they are actually occupying—the space in the U.S. political imagination and, quite literally, in Charlotte proper. And maybe, that small difference is really immense after all.