Thursday, September 6, 2012

President Obama needs to offer hope Thursday night

In 2008, Barack Obama owned the word "hope."

In 2012, with Obama on the brink of accepting the Democratic presidential nomination Thursday night and running for re-election, that ownership is in question.

Obama used to use the “H” word constantly. It was part of the title of his best-selling 2006 book – “The Audacity of Hope.” That book expanded on his electrifying keynote speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, the one that made people believe Obama could be a presidential candidate.

Said Obama in that 2004 speech: “In the end, that’s what this election is about. Do we participate in a politics of cynicism, or do we participate in a politics of hope? … It’s the hope of slaves sitting around a fire singing freedom songs, the hope of immigrants setting out for distant shores, the hope of a young naval lieutenant bravely patrolling the Mekong Delta, the hope of a millworker’s son who dares to defy the odds, the hope of a skinny kid with a funny name who believes that America has a place for him, too.”

That skinny kid with a funny name was Obama, of course, and we know a lot more about him now. Obama has been president for close to four years. And the giddiness that many felt on the day of his election in 2008 has been replaced by the reality of the problems that still plague America.
So in his DNC speech Thursday night – moved from Bank of America Stadium indoors to Time Warner Cable Arena because of the threat of rain – Obama will need to again inject hope into the Democratic faithful.

For a politician who wants to change things, hope is a powerful four-letter word. Bill Clinton knew that. He had the good fortune to be from Hope, Ark., and he memorably ended his 1992 nomination acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention by saying, “I still believe in a place called Hope.”

DNC delegates in Charlotte want Obama to link himself strongly with “hope” once more, even though he’s now running as an incumbent instead of an outsider.

“This speech is extremely, extremely important,” said Emanuel Jones, a state senator from Georgia who is also a convention delegate. “Four year ago, even eight years ago, our president really seized upon the mood of the country. We were hemorrhaging jobs. We were mired down in war. We needed hope. I needed hope. He came along at the right time and the right moment. And now we need it again.”

Said Bob Livsey, a DNC delegate from California: “I think President Obama still owns the word ‘hope.’ We’re out of Iraq. We’re winding down in Afghanistan. I’m very happy myself with Obama Care. There’s a lot to be hopeful about.”

But now Republicans are using the word “hope” against Obama.

Mitt Romney said in his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention last week: “Hope and change had a powerful appeal. But tonight, I’d ask a simple question: If you felt that excitement when you voted for Barack Obama, shouldn’t you feel that way now that he’s President Obama? You know there’s something wrong with the kind of job he’s done as president when the best feeling you had was the day you voted for him.”

That was a good line.

It is far harder for an incumbent to harness hope. There is no “first-date” feel with the voters anymore. Once you have served as president, you have inevitably disappointed a number of people who wished you had done something different.

With Obama, there is also context to consider, said Elizabeth Redenbaugh, a lawyer from Wilmington and a North Carolina delegate: “When he took office, we were standing at a precipice, about to fall into an economic pit. He was able to keep us from that.”

Still, even the most positive delegates understand that Obama hasn’t been perfect. “Hope hasn’t been fully realized yet,” Redenbaugh said. “But President Obama needs four more years.”

We are less than nine weeks from the election. And by now, two things are clear:

First, the race between Romney and Obama will be extremely close.

Second, if Obama hopes to win, he better light it up Thursday night.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The road (trip) to Charlotte for a UNCG senior

I wrote my column for Tuesday's newspaper and online about one of the nearly 6,000 delegates in Charlotte -- a 21-year-old senior at UNC Greensboro. Here's the beginning of it -- you can click on the link for more.

Road trip!

You may remember saying those two words in college yourself and what they implied. The enthusiasm. The craziness. The lack of planning.

Keylin Rivera, a senior at UNC Greensboro, is on a road trip. But hers is a little different than yours was. The 21-year-old from Gastonia is a delegate for North Carolina. A few months ago, she successfully campaigned in a one-day election with homemade posters and T-shirts to win a spot over “a lot of people who had been doing this longer than I’ve been alive,” as she said.

Of the close to 6,000 delegates in Charlotte for the Democratic National Convention, Rivera is undoubtedly in the running for “Most Excited.”

Bubbling with enthusiasm, she has been undeterred by little details like the fact she didn’t have a place to stay in Charlotte until a few hours before she arrived. She simply found one – a spot in an acquaintance’s apartment – with the help of Twitter.

Read more here.

Monday, September 3, 2012

A rookie protester from Charlotte gets some satisfaction

Eric May, who painted himself green to resemble the Incredible Hulk, holds up the sign he carried during Sunday's protest march in Charlotte.

Here's my column from Monday's newspaper on a rookie protester from Charlotte:

Eric May woke up on Sunday, painted himself Incredible Hulk green in 20 minutes, threw on an anti-Obama T-shirt he had bought online, grabbed his “I’m Mad as Hell” sign, and got his wife to drop him off at his first-ever protest march.
May, 41, is a handyman who has lived in Charlotte for the past 15 years. He doesn’t strike you as someone who’s incredibly mad when you talk to him.
“I don’t have anger issues,” he said. “I’m the easiest-going person you’ll ever meet. This just represents how I feel politically. I think it gets the point across.”
There were about 800 protesters Sunday who first gathered in Frazier Park and then marched through uptown Charlotte. This was a come-one, come-all sort of protest – you could protest anything you wanted. Hundreds did. There were immigration protesters and war protesters. There was a protest rapper. There was a group that wanted to save America’s postal service.
But the majority of protesters had a financial bent, and May was one of those. He doesn’t believe banks should get government bailouts, but he doesn’t think individuals should get them, either. So he’s not exactly in agreement with either the 1 percent or the 99 percent.
“I would characterize myself as independent to libertarian,” May said. “I just believe in small government, low taxes and self-responsibility. I work hard. I’ve never been bailed out. I’ve never been given anything. I pay a lot of taxes. I feel like people need to have some self-responsibility, and I think that would go a long way to make us a stronger country.”
As for painting himself green, it wasn’t the first time.
In the spring, May and several buddies dressed up as “The Avengers” and ran the 5K “Warrior Dash” through mud and other obstacles at Rural Hill in Huntersville. “I was the Incredible Hulk,” May said. “That got a lot of attention. So when I was coming up with sign slogans and throwing around things to do with being mad, one of my buddies said go as the Hulk and be mad as hell. That’s how that came about.”
May believes in less government, not more. He has thought about running for political office but hasn’t yet. He votes regularly. He said he voted for Libertarian Bob Barr in the 2008 presidential election and will vote for Libertarian Gary Johnson this time around.
May got to Frazier Park – a park not far from the Carolina Panthers’ practice fields where he had been a couple of times before to walk his dog – a little after noon Sunday. Unlike many protesters, he had no official group to join, and he didn’t find anyone else he thought who believed exactly what he did.
“I was a little bit of a lone wolf out there,” May said.
When the march began at 1 p.m., the protesters marched slowly in a line that stretched for about one city block. May found a spot near the back, with some Occupy Charlotte protesters behind him and some immigration protesters in front of him. He marched most of the route, listening to the speeches and marveling at the high number of police who lined the way.
“It seemed like it was organized well,” May said. “I thought the speakers were pretty good, although I didn’t agree with some of what they were saying. I just felt like I had to do this once. I’m not sure whether I’ll do it again or not.”
By 4 p.m., May was back home in south Charlotte. He was starting to remove the green paint and get back to his regular life. A wife. A dog. A job.
He had held up a sign saying he was mad as hell for more than three hours. But all in all, when I talked to him once more after the protest, he sounded satisfied.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

10 best signs at the Charlotte protest march

None of these signs made the top-10 list, but check below for the ones that did.

These were my 10 favorite signs at the protest march in Charlotte Sunday that drew about 800 protesters. Some of these are serious and some weren’t. Most were held by protesters, but a couple of these I spotted in the crowd.

I’m making no comment here on whether I agree with the protesters' particular issue or not -- I just liked their signs. In no particular order:

1. I am generally displeased with our state of affairs
2. Quit Coal – Plug into the sun
3. Undocumented, unafraid
4. Save America’s Postal Service
5. Stop Killer Drones
6. Bankrupting America
7. What’s disgusting? Obama’s union busting
8. Make Out Not War
9. I’d rather die on my feet than live on my knees
10. I came for the police brutality

Saturday, September 1, 2012

DNC reminds me of first Panther playoff game

For much of Charlotte's recent history, our biggest moments have had something to do with sports.

The ascendance of Charlotte as a banking town has drawn enormous attention. But when it comes to standing in the white-hot glare of a spotlight for a short period of time, the Democratic National Convention has a lot in common with the NFL, the NBA and the Final Four games that Charlotte has hosted.

Charlotte has long been NASCAR's hub. By the 1980s, it had grown used to the crowds in excess of 100,000 at Charlotte Motor Speedway to watch legendary drivers like Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt. But racing was considered only a Southern sport back then, so the city didn't really feel like it was big league until it got its first big-league team -- the Charlotte Hornets, in 1988.

That team spawned the sort of endearing enthusiasm that is hard to imagine now. The first Hornets team lost 76 percent of its games, but still led the NBA in attendance and was celebrated after the season with an uptown parade. About 30,000 people showed up, and they dropped 4,000 pounds of confetti on the pleasantly surprised players.

I joined The Charlotte Observer as a reporter in 1994, the week before the men's Final Four tipped off in Charlotte.

Charlotte's center city was basically an office park then, with nightlife nearly non-existent. So organizers concocted the "Street of Champions" -- a four-block facade of temporary bars and restaurants that were shoehorned into empty storefronts.

Although it barely lasted longer than a soap bubble, the "Street of Champions" didn't seem ridiculous at the time. It seemed necessary, because fans needed something to do between games.

Richard Vinroot was Charlotte's mayor during that Final Four. "Now we've got a lot of real stuff in uptown," Vinroot said in an interview, "and not a lot of made-up stuff."
Vinroot now serves on Charlotte's host and steering committee for the DNC -- "a token Republican," as he said. A former basketball player at North Carolina, he is well-versed in both politics and sports.

"As a one-time event, the DNC certainly doesn't compare with having the NFL here every Sunday," Vinroot said. "But on a national and international stage, I can't think of anything bigger than this, other than the Super Bowl or the Olympics."

While the convention's first two days will take place at the arena where the Bobcats recently strung together the worst season in NBA history, it shifts Thursday for President Barack Obama'speech to Bank of America Stadium -- home of the Panthers, quarterback Cam Newton and a resounding sense of optimism about this year's squad.

That 70,000-seat stadium opened for the Panthers' 1996 season and has hosted a number of major gatherings since, including a Rolling Stones concert, a Billy Graham crusade and two playoff wins versus the Dallas Cowboys.

Of all those events, I've never seen Charlotte as giddy as it was before the first playoff game in the stadium on Jan.5, 1997. The Cowboys were America's team and the defending Super Bowl champions, with a Fab Four of Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, Michael Irvin and Deion Sanders. The Panthers were hard-hitting no-names. But Carolina won.

What's going on now in Charlotte has the feel of that first NFL playoff game of 15 years ago. There's a giddiness to this, and an unpredictability, too.

We are worried and happy. Ecstatic and irritable. Despite all the prep work, we're not totally sure we're ready.

And while this time there are no footballs or basketballs in sight, the same feelings of trepidation and exhilaration remain.

This is new enough to us that we still wonder: What will others think of us? What sort of job will we do? Is everyone going to have a good time?

Unlike a sports event, the ultimate outcome of the DNC is pre-ordained. Obama -- who on Saturday was already on his "Road to Charlotte" tour -- will accept the Democratic Party's presidential nomination once again on Thursday night.

So there is no mystery about the ending.

But getting to the end? That's what will make DNC week in Charlotte so provocative.

Parents, kids and the makeover at TWC Arena

It was cool walking through Time Warner Cable Arena Friday after its $7-million makeover. I joined about 4,000 people who did so during the open house and was struck by the number of people who brought their children and grandchildren on the tour.

Erika Burley-Wilson, a Charlotte dentist, held her 10-month-old son Ellis as she walked on the arena floor.

"This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience right in our hometown," she said. "It’s an exciting time for Charlotte. We get to show what our great city is all about. And I brought him because -- even though he’s too young to understand it – I want to take photos and at least document that he was here."

Renee Alsop brought her sons directly after they finished a half-day of school – nine-year-old Cameron and six-year-old Evan.

"We wanted to see where history would happen," Alsop said. Said Cameron: "It was pretty cool to think where you’re standing is going to be on TV in a few days."

"I didn't think it would look like that," Evan said. "It's so big!"

My first column on the Democratic National Convention -- noting the similarities and differences between the DNC and some of the big sports events Charlotte has hosted in the past -- will appear in Sunday's Charlotte Observer and online. And there is a ton of good coverage -- and photos -- about the run-up to the DNC right here.