Dizzying heat and humidity - and a near-torential downpour - didn't stop protesters from participating in the first day of events they have scheduled for Democratic National Convention week.
About 100 showed up at Area 15 in NoDa on Saturday for Festivaliberación, a day of workshops and musical performances. Local organizers welcomed a few buses of protesters who come directly from the Republican National Convention in Tampa. Police were nowhere to be found.
Two of the most popular workshops of the day, "Hip Hop in Activism" and "How Wall Street is Burning Democracy," were held inside Area 15, a congregation space mostly for activists and artists.
Charlotte City Councilman John Autry, a Democrat representing District 5, popped in to check out some of the workshops.
“This is encouraging stuff, for people to brave these kinds of elements and their spirit is still undeterred,” Autry said as he looked in on the hip-hop workshop. “It’s very special to me because of my background... it sort of germinated in this sort of thing: organizing.”
Festivaliberación — Spanish for Liberation Festival — was put in motion in April by United 4 the Dream, a youth-based advocacy group, created in 2010, that focuses on immigrant and minority rights.
“Our mission for this was to bring together [people] that fit into a broad spectrum of political involvement,” said organizer Loan Tran, adding that many of the activities were geared to beginners.
But old to young, black to white, the crowd was undeniably diverse.
Some who attended were new to protesting. Alex Bynum, a UNC Charlotte freshman, had heard about the festival through a friend and sat in on a few workshops. One conversation that resonated with him, he said, was on targeted boycotting, where instead of focusing on defunding an entire industry, activists choose to boycott a specific company. As organizer and Action NC member Luis Rodriguez put it, groups that exercise targeted boycotting don't just boycott the entire gasoline industry — they stop buying from Chevron.
Most of the workshops were led by veteran activists, who prompted questions and encouraged discussions. In one that focused on corporations changing democracy, group leader Hillary Lehar asked participants to describe methods of protest that had worked in their communities. Most agreed that the Occupy movement was affective in its 99 percent vs. 1 percent message.
"It really resonates with people," said Bynum, who sat in on the discussion.
With so many different people representing so many different movements and organizations, Saturday’s festival gave everyone a chance to put their thoughts together before the main event on Sunday: the March on Wall Street South.
Saturday also showed hints of what different local organizers have learned through events they coordinated around Charlotte over the summer. For the first time at such an event, organizers directed journalists to spokespeople, who wore pink badges.
“It’s not a hierarchical thing,” said Zaina Alsous, a UNC Chapel Hill student. “We’ve had some members of media attend events and they find the craziest person they can find on the fringes of the movement and ask them what they think. We don’t know what those people may say and we don’t want anybody to run away with our message.”