Downtown Charlotte, N.C., home to the national headquarters of Bank of America and regional headquarters of Wells Fargo, was buzzing with delegates and supporters of the Democratic National Convention and Democratic Party, one of the two big capitalist electoral parties in the United States.
This show did not go uninterrupted. A protest called by Rainforest Action Network and Greenpeace crashed the party on Sept. 5. Hundreds of protesters rallied at the offices of Duke Energy, one of the biggest polluters in the country, according to many environmentalists. Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers co-chaired the “Charlotte in 2012” convention host committee.
DNC delegates looked on as Occupy Wall Street activists, radical environmentalists, anarchists, socialists and communists chanted into bullhorns. The march was led by a piece of Astroturf shaped like a dollar bill with Rogers’ picture in the center, symbolizing that corporate money, not human needs, defines the politicians’ agenda.
As the rally ended, protesters took to the streets in defiance of police orders to remain on the sidewalk. The march continued through the streets, escorted by scores of police on bicycles.
An announcement during the march called on people to assemble at 5th Street and College Street at 5 p.m. in defense of political prisoners held in U.S. jails. These include the Cuban Five, five Cuban men who infiltrated Miami-based paramilitary groups that have carried out terrorist attacks on Cuban civilians.
The police told demonstrators they would be required to walk on the sidewalk. However, when protesters arrived at 5th Street, the rules were ignored as the marchers stayed in the street. Sheriff’s deputies and police officers tried unsuccessfully to shove the crowd of nearly 300 onto the sidewalks.
With chants of “Whose streets? Our streets!” the crowd soon descended a steep hill leading to the heart of “Wall Street South,” where thousands of DNC delegates crowded the sidewalks.
Next: ‘Free the Cuban Five!’
Traffic stopped at the 5th Street and College Street intersection. Surprised delegates heard calls for President Barack Obama to free the five Cuban heroes held unjustly in U.S. jails. A “mic check” educational on the facts of their case was broadcast to the public from the middle of the street, where protesters were surrounded by police.
Occupy Charlotte activists and organizers who mobilized for the March on Wall Street South on Sept. 2 used social media to organize the 5 o’clock gathering highlighting the case of the Cuban Five. The event was part of the international call to action on the fifth day of every month until all Five are released and allowed to return to their homeland.
Dante Strobino, a North Carolina-based union organizer, began the rally by explaining who the Cuban Five are and how they came to be in prison for opposing terrorism. Caleb Maupin, a youth organizer of Workers World Party, spoke in defense of socialist Cuba and why socialism is needed in the U.S.
A banner with the faces of the Cuban Five was unfurled, and placards with the slogan “Obama: Give Me Five” were distributed.
Though the police pushed for the demonstrators to move, they remained in the intersection. During this time, Yen Ancala of Occupy Charlotte fired everyone up when he pointed to the Bank of America headquarters and expressed the crowd’s anger at this symbol of the global 1%.
When the rally finished, everyone marched down the center of the street chanting “Free the Cuban Five!”behind a banner with pictures of Gerardo Hernandez, Ramon Labanino, Antonio Guererro, Fernando Gonzalez and Rene Gonzalez. Other chants were in support of political prisoners Mumia Abu-Jamal and Leonard Peltier and others trapped within the U.S. prison system.
The march ended at Marshall Park, where Occupy Wall Street activists had renewed the Charlotte encampment days earlier. No one was arrested.
The 14th anniversary of the Cuban Five’s arrest in Miami is Sept. 12. A concert featuring Vicente Feliu, who sings in the nueva trova style made famous by Silvio Rodriguez, will be held Sept. 12. A public meeting on Sept. 14 will emphasize the international campaign for justice for the Five. Both events are in Washington, D.C.
Caleb Maupin and Cheryl LaBash contributed to this article.