But this political manifesto, like others before it, is more of a Christmas wish list than a literal agenda. Like the Bible, party platforms are cobbled together and hammered out over time by several different factions with diverse agendas. Also like the Bible, they shouldn't be taken literally. They're aspirational things, peppered with a lot of fiction. What is not in them is often more telling than what is.
But thanks in part to the Democrats' odd choice of Charlotte as its party city, that dreaded P word is in evidence right out in the open. That is because there is a dearth of hotels and motels to house all the conventioneers. So when the rich people came to town looking for lodging, the poor people previously housed in the city's temporary digs have been unceremoniously kicked out of them. Charlotte's homeless population skyrocketed an unbelievable 40% in 2010 and another 20% last year -- an increase caused in large part by impoverished rural families fleeing to the city to take advantage of its shelter system.
News reporters converging on the city can't help but notice all the poor people living on the streets. They are literally tripping over them on their way to the heavily policed elite events.
The New York Daily News tells the story of Lakia Ramsey, who was forced to take refuge in a church when her welfare motel jacked up its rates without warning. "They kicked us out like we were trash," the 28-year-old mother of two small children told the News. Another family had been renting a room and paying for it from the husband's low-paying restaurant job in Charlotte. They are now sleeping on a cement loading dock in order to make room for the out-of-towners.
Poverty is so rampant in what is known as Wall Street South that the Charlotte News Observer even has a specialized indigence beat. Fred Clasen-Kelly, the reporter who writes about poor people, was himself interviewed by Democracy Now! this week. He said that Charlotte is big on boosterism, trying to tout itself as a booming city in the New South. The propaganda campaign has been so effective that struggling people have flocked to this ephemeral Mecca hoping to find a better life. And the same big banks that caused so much misery and hardship in the first place now literally loom over hordes of people sleeping on the streets and waiting in bread lines.
The ironic part (he says) of being here at the convention is all these thousands of people going to very fancy parties with lots of suits on are really less than a mile away from the city’s largest homeless shelters, in places like Crisis Assistance Ministries, where people go for financial assistance to get—to stop eviction and to keep their power on. And so, it provides quite a contrast if you walk just a short distance from the convention site and the corporate towers that are downtown. Every morning, in these places like Crisis Assistance Ministries or the homeless shelter, you’ll see hundreds of people lined up outside waiting for food, waiting for money to be able to stay in their homes.
According to an Observer story co-written by Clasen-Kelly, members of the Occupy movement have been trying to recruit the city's poor people to join in their protests, without much success. The poor often have no faith in politics and may suffer from physical ailments preventing them from marching. Others have to work at more than one minimum wage job just to keep body and soul together, and haven't the spare time to demonstrate. The article didn't mention that the massive police presence in Charlotte also tends to put a damper on resistance by people for whom police brutality is an ongoing reality of daily life. After the Occupiers and conventioneers leave, they'll be stuck there.
But they're still for President Obama, who despite their disappointment in him, is more palatable than Mitt Romney. For the marginalized minorities, Obama is the thin patina of aspiration covering their layers upon layers of despair.