Editor’s note: On Labor Day, Florida Courier reporter Ashley Thomas was on a flight back to her home in Florida from Virginia when she ended up with a seven-hour layover in Charlotte, N.C., because of bad weather. Taking advantage of the time, she headed to Downtown Charlotte, the site of the Democratic National Convention.
BY ASHLEY THOMAS
“Welcome to Charlotte, host of the 2012 Democratic Convention. The local time is 6:15,” said the flight attendant as we arrived at the Charlotte-Douglass International Airport.
I reach for my cell phone to start tweeting for the Florida Courier’s twitter page (@flcourier).
As I step off the plane and walk up the Jetway, I wonder if huge signs would greet the delegates who were coming from all over the U.S. and its territories to the convention. Nope. At least not from terminal E.
Downstairs is a completely different story. There are flags, streamers and balloons’ red, white and blue taffeta decorated plants everywhere. Many DNC volunteers are holding up signs. Some signs are for “specialty transportation” guests while others just say “transportation.”
I walk over to a volunteer and ask where I can get more convention information and she points me to the DNC welcome desk. Three volunteers – Reginald, Sharon and Lewis – greet me with a smile and start handing me stuff. One item is the 2012 Convention Guide that had a bus route and map inside to help delegates find their way around the city.
After finding the hotel shuttle bus Florida delegates were assigned to, I decide to try my luck and hop on. I knew the delegates were staying at the Marriot. As long as the bus – Bus 1 – could drop me off there, I knew I’d be just fine. Wrong.
Before boarding the bus, I bump into a gentleman outside who also appeared to waiting for a shuttle bus. He was wearing a volunteer tag and had some Democratic paraphernalia on so I decided to chat with him a bit.
His name was Jose Blanco and he had traveled all the way from Alaska to attend his first convention. Blanco said he wanted President Barack Obama to make it real clear why Mitt Romney was wrong and why he was right. I asked him his thoughts on why Romney was wrong and he responded “How much time do I have?” He then started talking about “the value of human beings” health care and jobs.
I also asked him about the possibility of voters not turning out the same in 2012 as in 2008, to which he said, “That is possible, but I’m a volunteer in Alaska and I hope to get people out, I’m optimistic.”
The next set of buses pull up and I bid Jose farewell. I find bus B1 and confidently step up to the door.
Missourians on bus
On the bus, there is a police officer to my left and a young man I learn is from Florida on my right. Apparently most of the delegates flew in the night before or had earlier flights.
The officer tells the bus driver how “tight” security was in downtown Charlotte. He’s right. On almost every corner is a cop, a firefighter, an EMT or a secret service agent. I later saw an officer peering through binoculars; he had a gun. I chose not to jaywalk.
While still on the bus I listen to the trio sitting behind me discussing social networks and how it helps get their message out. If I heard correctly, they prefer Twitter over Facebook. I ask them if I can snap a picture of them and one chooses not to be in the picture and the other two lean over in the aisle. I later find out they have traveled from Missouri and are State Senator S. Kiki Curls and Kansas City, Mo. Mayor Sylvester James.
Lighting up the night
We arrive as closely as possible to the host hotel, but its about seven blocks away. I drag my luggage behind me (thank God for rolling wheels) and pray that the rain stays away. I realize that the hotel we were dropped off at was a Marriot, but not the one I wanted.
The Florida delegates were at a hotel 10 blocks away. I reached for my flip-flops and kept it moving.
While walking through Downtown Charlotte, I passed a few vendors and stopped at the table of an Atlanta businessman named Abdullah. I decided to purchase a button that read “Say it LOUD, I’m for Barack and I’m PROUD.” The buttons were one for $3 or two for $5, but I just bought the one.
People were walking by in evening attire, and I wanted to know where they were going. Turns out there was an affair over at the Nascar Hall of Fame called “Light up the Night,” but it was invitation only. Hmmph.
The ideal classroom
While still making my way to the Marriot with the Florida delegates, I passed a young lady who didn’t appear to be a local so I stopped her to chat. She was Atiya Clark from Rocky Mount, N.C., and this was her first convention.
The 18-year-old University of North Carolina student was at the event as a runner for Fox News. As a political science major she explained how she was looking forward to her duties behind the scenes as a runner as well as the president’s upcoming speech.
I asked her about the potential lack of engagement from young voters during this election cycle. She said she thought it was “more important than in ’08. It affects everybody. Some people put it off as I’m young, I don’t have to vote, it doesn’t matter, but it does matter. Student loans, health care, our future.”
My thought on Atiya: That girl is going places.
Close look at ‘Not a perfect man’
I greet another vendor named O.O. “Everyone thinks I’m kiddin’ when I say my name is O.O,” he offers. He pulls out his passport. and I say “Oh?’’ And he says “O.O.’’
O.O. is selling art pieces that I found to be very unique and definitely conversation pieces. I focus on one particular piece about the size of a poster board. It’s the type of picture made up of many smaller pictures. The picture is a closeup of Obama and is titled “Not a perfect man.”
O.O. explains that “of course Barack Obama said that before he ran, ‘I’m not a perfect man and I won’t be a perfect president’ and he actually reminded people of that when he announced that he was seeking reelection. It (the art piece) is inspired by that quote. He said he also wanted to be surrounded by people of opposing views. The not a perfect man quote reminded me of the ‘I am a man sign’ of the sanitation workers, (in Memphis, Tenn.) I Googled civil rights and added pictures from the movement as well as those who are protestors.”
Florida hotel, finally
When I finally make it to the hotel, I immediately spot Phil Giorno, the chair of the Volusia Florida Democratic Party. I am happy to know I’m at the right hotel.
I walk over to the lounge area and have a seat. Members from the Florida Black Caucus are chatting away.
“Yes, Obama is definitely going to win this one,” says one person.
“It’s going to be a tough one though,” pipes in another.
“Your hair is so nice. I haven’t seen it like that before,” chimes in another voice.
I love my sisters. We can go from one topic to the next and never miss a beat.
Don Miller from “The Don Miller” radio show comes over to chat with the Caucus members. I then see Florida State Rep. Mia Jones of Jacksonville and DeLand County Commissioner Vonzelle Johnson. I was delighted to see so many strong Black personalities in the same room.
I chat with a passerby before realizing the time had drawn near. I had to get back to the airport.
Charlotte was just a layover for me. And I’d just been told John Legend was the entertainment for the evening. Hmmph.