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Pick up a sign, dammit! 

You say you're an American; well here's your chance to actually be one

Though papers in a filing cabinet might suggest otherwise, I've never been an American.

I've certainly felt like one, but not often.

The first time was on Sept. 11, 2001, the morning that I and my potty mouth sat in our regular 7th grade haunt: the principal's office. Pink referral in hand, I waited in the reception area and sulked at the thought of Brother Charles summoning me to his office for the zillionth time.

"You may come in now, Ms. McKenzie" would grumble out of him, like boulders inching down a mountain. Little did I know that this visit would be different.

Just after the second morning bell, I remember the phone started ringing. And it kept ringing. And ringing. "Good morning, please hold, Good morning, please hold," chirped the receptionist. Moments later, Bro. Charles jumped from behind his office door and announced in a near-shriek to no one in particular, "We've been attacked!" The bane of my junior high existence, evil in a Cosby sweater, turned into a sad panda bear that needed a hug. Confused, I turned to the television mounted on the wall. ABC News looked like it was playing an action movie.

My young brain spent the entire day processing things it hadn't dealt with before. I felt sad and scared but took comfort that everyone else did, too. Most importantly, I learned a valuable lesson: Being an American is tough sometimes.

It's also wonderful.

I felt that the day I got into college and the night I watched a black man become president. I saw it when I drove from California to North Carolina last year.

But I've never gone to war or sacrificed someone I've loved for my country. I've never represented it in office. (I've voted, but Super PACs probably negate most of the ballots anyway.) I've neither fought to be educated in American universities, nor have I ever taken a test to prove my citizenship.

Like I said, I've never really been an American.

Lucky for me, I get a crack at it next week.

President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, foreign dignitaries, lobbyists, senators, CEOs, musicians and movie stars are days away from visiting the Queen City for the Democratic National Convention. Forget the convention. I'll be outside watching front and center as Americans exercise their country-given right and tell all those VIPs and CEOs exactly what the fuck is wrong with this country.

The great part is, you can watch, even participate, too.

Saturday's Festivaliberación (Liberation Fest) is a day-long concert and festival centered on youth and immigrant rights. From noon to 10 p.m., the festival will feature teach-ins, discussions and workshops aimed at educating voters about important issues. It's at Area 15, 514 E. 15th St. Check out the group's Facebook page for more information.

Then, on Sunday, the Coalition to March on Wall Street South will hold a rally at Frazier Park starting at 11 a.m. After the rally, the coalition, which umbrellas everyone from environmentalists to Occupiers, will start its march through Uptown at 1 p.m., briefly stopping in front of Bank of America and Duke Energy's headquarters. The park event will feature discussions, a social-media tent and art-making for children. Leave your car at Eastland Mall and take a bus to the park. Or, if you're bringing a van or bus, park on Graham Street. Organizer Elena Everett encourages people to bring lots of water and strollers for the three-mile march and says both the rally and march will feature translators for Spanish speakers and American Sign Language interpreters for the hearing impaired. Bring signs.

"We really want to create space so people can lift their own issues and speak in their own voice," Everett told me.

Then on Monday, workers will convene for the Labor Day parade at 10 a.m. at the "free-speech zone" in Uptown. Expect everyone from federal postal workers to domestic workers, day laborers, farmers and poultry plant employees. They'll convene at Wedgewood Baptist Church, 4800 Wedgewood Dr., from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m., to speak about their experiences and encourage more unions to come to the South. Take the Lynx and get off at Tyvola Road and South Boulevard or drive.

Dante Strobino, a native Charlottean and field organizer with UE Local 150, encourages people to come out and learn about the contentious history between unions and the South and get a better understanding of wages and working conditions.

Don't be scared. James Holmes wasn't in a union or a member of Occupy Wall Street. Neither was Osama bin Laden.

Pro-choice, pro-life, Republican, Democrat, liberal, conservative, tea party, Catholic, Jewish, black, white or Treky, pick up a sign. Even if you've done it before, that was 40 years ago, hippie. Yell at the top of your lungs. Meet some new people.

Don't sit in your office and tweet. Don't avoid the crowds and then watch them later on CNN. The action is happening outside your door. Do something.

Who knows. This could be your last chance.

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