CHARLOTTE - No, Obamania is not a thing of the past, quite the opposite in fact. Michelle and Barack hugging, Barack with his dog Bo, the complete family portrait... all plastered on t-shirts, books, photos, pajamas, pins, badges, mugs, cushions and posters.
"Business is picking up fast," says Delia, who has sold more than 400 $3 badges in the space of a few hours.
The Democratic National Convention has barely begun, but the party has already started in Charlotte, NC. It’s joyous, enthusiastic and certainly more diverse than the Republican National Convention in Tampa last week. Hotel managers and car rental services were complaining, though, that they had not received as much business as they had hoped, causing them to lower their prices. But there is still time, with 35,000 people, delegations of supporters from 50 states, 9,000 delegates and as many journalists arriving.
For Barack Obama, choosing Charlotte as a host city was a risky move, considering he won North Carolina by a very narrow margin in 2008. The state now has an unemployment rate of 10 percent, two points below the national average. Republicans have gone door-to-door in the past few days trying to convince the city’s poorest to vote for them. But for the moment, it looks like they have failed: Charlotte has rolled out the welcome mat for Democrats.
Country fair meets VIP party
"Welcome to Charlotte," we hear throughout the day. The atmosphere in the streets of Charlotte is a mix between a country fair, a political protest and a VIP party. Definitely not for the claustrophobic.
There are activities for children, doughnut vendors, street musicians, a troop of cheerleaders and stands for all kinds of petitions... where doctors sign petitions to reform the health system and military wives sign petitions to bring back the troops. “Vote Democrat: you’ll save your ass,” says an old black woman’s sign.
It's difficult to move through the tight crowd: lots of families, celebrities and talk show hosts being gawped at by the masses. There are tourists in shorts, young activists in their Sunday best and girls dressed in sparkly lamé and stilettos on their way to some private party. Like the Academy Awards: here it’s not about the accreditation; it’s about scoring an invite to the best parties.
Hare Krishnas and handicapped Mormons
Opponents of all kinds harangue the crowd, like the Zionist militant denouncing Obama in front of the convention center, or the Republicans riding around the town with a sign that reads: "Democrats = Socialism + Corruption." A couple of handicapped Mormons hand out pamphlets in favor of Obamacare, a Hare Krishna type left over from the '80s tries to convert people whilst Evangelists hand out anti-bacterial gel.
We walk past numerous opponents of abortion - some of which are holding up disgusting, bloodstained signs - but they do not earn much attention. Hundreds of Occupy Wall Street protestors arrive, trying to regain momentum. They are guarded by a police escort. For the moment there hasn’t been any trouble, thanks to a formidable police operation with officers on bikes, on horses and on foot being drafted in from all corners of the country. And the convention hasn’t even started yet…