Even after Dodd-Frank?
Protesters seen from WCNC’s AirStar 36, gather at Frazier Park before taking to the streets of uptown Charlotte Sunday, September 2, 2012
Is this a protest or a kid’s party?
A slip and slide? I wonder whose parent bought that.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. Portraying Charlotte as an emblem of a financial system gone awry, about 800 chanting and sign-wielding protesters launched a march through uptown Charlotte with calls for reform.
While turnout was lower than some organizers had hoped, it exceeded the protest crowds in Tampa for the Republican National Convention. There, demonstrations that had been expected to attract thousands drew just hundreds as Hurricane Isaac swept past.
The protesters come from a coalition of more than 90 local and national groups, from Students for a Democratic Society to Veterans for Peace.
Beginning at Frazier Park, northwest of uptown, demonstrators paraded past many of the buildings that mark Charlotte’s rise as a financial center, including the headquarters buildings of Bank of America and Duke Energy, the nation’s largest electrical utility.
At the march’s start, about 100 police officers lined both sides of the parade route, but there appeared to be few clashes with protesters.
Among the few signs of trouble: On an overpass on the parade route, police spotted a man with large rocks in his hand, looking like he was getting ready to throw them, said Police Chief Rodney Monroe. When officers approached the man, he dropped the rocks and ran, Monroe said. He has not been apprehended.
Police also arrested two people, one for wearing a mask and carrying a concealed knife, and another for assaulting a government official, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. Medics also treated two people who suffered heat-related ailments, but those people weren’t hospitalized.
Anna Wright, from Boone. was taken into custody at College and Third Streets by CMPD during the Sunday protest in Charlotte. A friend said she was arrested after refusing to remove a scarf that covered her mouth and nose. Caroline McMillan –
(No muslims offended?)
Demonstrators waved homemade signs and chanted: “Banks got bailed out. We got sold out.”
For many protesters, Charlotte’s a natural target.
Organizers have said they want to make a major stand in Charlotte because it is the nation’s second-largest financial center, after New York City. Protesters for the Occupy movement and other causes argue that the big banks have done too little to prevent home foreclosures, saddled students with high-interest loans and funded environmentally destructive practices.
North Carolina’s right-to-work laws have inflamed union activists, and the city’s burgeoning Hispanic population has brought immigration issues to the fore.
Some environmental groups, meanwhile, have targeted Duke Energy, which they view as a major polluter.
Duke has drawn protesters’ ire for its use of coal and for its investments in nuclear energy. They have called on the company to focus its resources on renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar power, which generate fewer emissions and less waste.
Duke says its critics fail to acknowledge the company’s efforts to retire its oldest, dirtiest coal-fired power plants and invest in cleaner technologies.
Duke has come under fire for its reliance on coal, a major source of air pollution, and for two rate hikes since 2009.
Bank of America has said it doesn’t comment on individual protests.
Officials for Wells Fargo, which has its East Coast headquarters in Charlotte, have said their foreclosures and delinquency rates are considerably below the industry average, partly because of efforts to prevent foreclosures.
“Our priority is to prevent as many foreclosures as possible by working with financially distressed customers – and we want them to know we are there to help them,” the bank said in a statement.
But some protesters question why the Democrats chose Charlotte for their convention.
“The fact that Obama is accepting the nomination in a corporate location is pretty horrendous,” said TJ Amos, 51, a psychotherapist who is part of Occupy Asheville. “I want to choose someone who is not controlled by corporate dollars.”
Hundreds of bystanders also turned out to watch the march. Among them were Charlotte Chamber of Commerce President Bob Morgan and City Council member Andy Dulin.
“It’s fun, a heck of a parade,” said Dulin, who was standing on the sidewalk along Trade Street, wearing a Romney/Ryan hat. “This is the American process taking place and I made sure I came down to watch.”
The marchers – representing the unemployed, undocumented immigrants, gay rights activists and many others – stretched the length of a city block. About 800 people joined the march, police estimated.
Some protesters lamented the lower-than-expected turnout.
“Why aren’t there more young people?” asked Richard Conely.
The 61-year-old Atlanta resident, who was in town to show solidarity and take photographs, contrasted the gathering with protests he remembered from the 60s.
“The issue was the war and the draft,” he said. “There’s nothing like that that’s really made people say we have to get out there today. When Occupy started happening last year, I thought there would be lots of people coming out.”
Blasting corporate giants
Several hundred police officers from Charlotte and other N.C. cities lined the sidewalks near the Bank of America headquarters at Trade and Tryon streets, where protesters spoke out about the big banks.
“At this point, we are literally foreclosing on our neighbors every day with our tax dollars,” said Detroit foreclosure attorney Vanessa Fluker. “I have friends fighting in the war in Afghanistan and Bank of America is trying to throw them out on the street every day.”
Several speakers told the crowd that they believed Bank of America is damaging the country and the environment. They called for an end to foreclosures, and for bankers to be prosecuted for their role in the financial crisis. They also tied Bank of America to Duke Energy, saying the bank financially supports energy from coal.
“Climate change is a crisis and it’s happening now. We know this as we watch drought rip the U.S.,” said Todd Zimmer, a Charlotte-based organizer with the Rainforest Action Network.
Among the signs waved by demonstrators: “Tax the Banksters. End plutocracy,” “Bust up the Banks” and “I came for the police brutality.”
Dump trucks blocked streets to keep demonstrators on the designated parade route.
Shortly before 3 p.m., the chants echoed down Stonewall Street.
“Keep the coal in the mountains,” protesters shouted.
In front of the Duke Energy headquarters tower, activists took aim at the energy giant.
Beth Henry, 58, a former Charlotte corporate lawyer turned environmentalist, took the microphone, telling the crowd that Duke’s actions have led to climate change and drought.
“To leave our children a ruined world, all we need to do is let companies like Duke Energy keep doing what they’re doing,” Henry said.
Henry said that as the country’s largest utility, Duke Energy could lead the way in clean, safe energy production. But they chose to focus on profits instead.
“We march today because it’s everybody’s job to leave future generations a livable world,” Henry said.
In a statement Sunday, Duke said it had shut down 23 coal-fired power units in the past two years, and planned to shut down more in the years ahead. The company said it has also opened 13 solar-power projects in recent years, and that it buys solar-generated electricity from other companies.
In addition, the company said it has spent $7 billion in recent years to build four state-of-the-art power plants – two coal-fired, two natural gas-fired – featuring some of the world’s most advanced environmental controls.
Although police kept a heavy presence at the demonstration, there appeared to be little friction with protesters.
One exception: Anna Wright, from Boone, was taken into custody at College and Third Streets. A friend said she was arrested after refusing to remove a scarf that covered her mouth and nose.
Authorities did not release the names of the two protesters who were arrested.
In preparation for the DNC, the city of Charlotte passed an “extraordinary events” ordinance, which prohibits some items and actions, including masks or scarves covering people’s faces.
The ordinance also gives police the ability to search people’s backpacks if officers believe they are carry items that could used as weapons.
But a number of protesters had backpacks and weren’t searched by police. In addition, some protesters had scarves covering their faces and weren’t bothered by officers.
During the protesters’ stop on Stonewall Street beside Duke Energy, police escorted one of the marchers onto the sidewalk to examine his backpack. Inside the pack, an officer found a mask and pair of gloves. When he asked what the gloves were for the man replied that police sometimes throw tear gas and the gloves were for throwing it back at them. The protester was allowed to return to the march..
Officers on bikes and on foot walked along either side of the street as the protesters walked.
Police Chief Monroe walked at the front of the march, using a headset to issue orders to officers. A police helicopter hovered less than 100 feet over the ground, making a wide circle around the demonstration.
“We said it all along, that we were going to have a peaceful, family friendly march,” said Occupy Charlotte spokesman Michael Zytkow. “We expect at the end of the day for the news to be about the stories that people have come out here to tell.”
Troy Lee, 25, a Charlotte native who lives in the Elizabeth neighborhood, came out to watch and hear some of those stories firsthand.
“When you’re born and raised here, you don’t see this,” Lee said, sitting on a wall along Stonewall Street. “You don’t see this kind of police presence. It’s a new city this week.”