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Democrats typically count labor groups among their most loyal supporters, but President Barack Obama is likely to get a chillier reception this election than in 2008. As the least unionized state in the country, North Carolina has an anti-union reputation and many labor groups were disappointed in the choice of Charlotte for the Democratic National Convention. Other groups are also making their presence at the DNC felt, including a coalition known as Occupy Wall Street South. We check in with what’s happening outside the official convention site.
- Ana McKenzie News and culture editor for Creative Loafing, Charlotte, NC
- Allende Alcala Organizer, Occupy Charlotte
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 in Washington and from the GROUNDCREW studios in Charlotte, N.C. welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Later in the broadcast, a look at conventions past when nominating events were far from predictable and anything but choreographed.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIBut first, as the home of the country's largest bank, Bank of America, Charlotte, N.C. is sometimes referred to as Wall Street South. A coalition of groups known as Occupy Wall Street South took to the streets here yesterday and they're not the only ones taking issue with Charlotte this week.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIThe Democratic Party typically counts labor groups among its most loyal supporters, but as the least unionized state in the country, North Carolina has an anti-union reputation and many labor groups are very unhappy about the choice of Charlotte as the location of the Democratic National Convention.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIWe'll be checking in on the Labor Day parade happening here today. Joining us to discuss what's going on outside of the convention hall is Ana McKenzie, news and culture editor for Creative Loafing, an alternative publication based in Charlotte, N.C. Ana McKenzie, thank you for joining us.
MS. ANA MCKENZIEThanks for having me.
NNAMDIAlso with us in studio is Allende or Allende Alcala. He is an organizer with Occupy Charlotte and March on Wall Street South. Allende Alcala, thank you so much for joining us.
MR. ALLENDE ALCALAIt's a pleasure.
NNAMDIIf you'd like to join this conversation, if you have comments or questions, you can call us at 800-433-8850. Do you think the Occupy movement is a factor in this election? Is Labor Day more than just a day off from work for you? How do you mark the day? 800-433-8850, you can send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Send us a tweet @kojoshow or simply go to our website, kojoshow.org, and join the conversation there.
NNAMDIAllende, yesterday was the march on Wall Street South here in Charlotte. First, can you explain to audiences who maybe are not familiar with Charlotte why it's known as Wall Street South and what the plan was?
ALCALAYes, basically Charlotte is the second-largest financial capital outside of Wall Street itself. We have Bank of America, Wells Fargo, a lot of the major banking institutions in this nation that call Charlotte home.
ALCALAYou cannot walk down the streets of Charlotte without seeing the domination of these giant towers and, you know, they own pretty much everything in this landscape and so we just wanted to make sure people were aware and draw that attention to Charlotte for what it is.
NNAMDIThe march yesterday included a coalition of groups. Who took part?
ALCALAYes, we're the coalition that march on Wall Street South. It's an organization of over -- a collection of over 90 organizations, some local here in Charlotte, statewide and also nationwide. And basically, it's just a collection of different groups standing up for the different issues that are still facing the people today in the streets.
NNAMDIWhat were some of the issues that were focused on yesterday?
ALCALADefinitely drawing the symbolism and the reality of money and politics being here in Charlotte. Having the Democratic National Convention here, it is a great symbolism that we feel that Barack Obama himself would be accepting his presidential nomination at Bank of America Stadium. So, you know, the undue influence that these big institutions have over our political system is definitely something we wanted to raise up.
ALCALAImmigration issues, we had the Undocu Bus, a bus of undocumented workers who started in Arizona. No papers, no fear, came all the way across the United States here to join us. We represent on all different levels. It was like a sea of humanity and many, many issues were raised up yesterday in solidarity.
NNAMDIAna McKenzie, you covered the march. What was the scene? Can you describe it for us in Charlotte yesterday?
MCKENZIESure, yeah, exciting. Especially, I know Allende and a lot of people and some local activist groups had been working for months leading up to this march. I know it was really exciting for them. A lot of people turned out, more than the Republican National Convention protest in Tampa.
NNAMDIYeah we observed that in Tampa the protests there tended to be small but it could be that the weather may have been a factor since they were expecting either a tropical storm or a hurricane, neither of which hit Tampa directly.
MCKENZIERight, yeah, so we might have gotten some protestors that missed Tampa for that reason. A lot of police, none in riot gear that I saw, but, you know, police came from -- I was taking sort of a mental -- making a mental list. I saw police from Richmond, Va., Atlanta, D.C. I heard grumblings that there were cops coming in from Chicago.
NNAMDIWe saw police from Chicago and we saw police from South Carolina here, as a matter of fact.
MCKENZIERight, yeah. So I mean, just a ton of cops, no riot gear, Billy clubs were on their belts, overall very peaceful, very exciting, you know. Cops straddled the crowd for the entire three and a half mile march, but, you know, minimal conflict between the two groups. So it was overall, I think, a success.
NNAMDIAllende, can you give us a little more background on the protest movement locally here in Charlotte?
ALCALAI can give you back as far as I know, when I first became involved was October 1st.
ALCALAThat was the first day Occupy Charlotte came into existence and I think it was kind of a revitalization of activists' activity in protest culture here in Charlotte. We know there's a long legacy that had been here prior and so we just -- but it was like a re-invigoration of energy. And so from that point, we've kind of just kept the ball moving and kept the energy going in just trying to grow and get more and more people involved and aware and get them that feeling of strength and to get off up the couch and come out there because there is something that you can do.
NNAMDIIf you have questions or comments, you can call us at 800-433-8850. Do you think the Occupy movement is a factor in this election? What do you think of it? 800-433-8850, you can also send email to email@example.com. Allende, it's my understanding that Occupy Charlotte was evicted from Marshall Park here last January, but have apparently negotiated to occupy the park again during the Democratic National Convention this week.
ALCALAYes, we held land not actually at Marshall Park. We were at what was called the People's Lawn, 600 East Trade, at the old courthouse and we were evicted in January. The city council and I believe CM PD foresaw the DNC coming.
NNAMDIThe CM PD being the Charlotte Metropolitan Police Department?
ALCALAYes, yes, so they foresaw the DNC coming and they kind of wanted to make sure that the city appeared clear and so they had a two-prong strategy. Or what they did was put in place some local city ordinances that made sleeping in a public places illegal, therefore giving rationale to evict us from the park.
ALCALAWhat it also did was make homelessness itself illegal.
ALCALABecause now basically in the city you can be arrested for sleeping anywhere in a public place and so what we were doing was just that.
NNAMDIAnd I guess the interpretation of an ordinance that says sleeping in a public place is illegal, you interpret as saying that essentially being homeless is therefore illegal?
ALCALAYes sir, that's exactly what it was.
NNAMDIAna, when you joined us two weeks ago on this broadcast, you mentioned a vague threat by the hacktivist Anonymous that something might happen at the DNC. Has there been any more information about that?
MCKENZIEThere hasn't actually and I think both protestors and Charlotte police were pretty thrilled that none of them showed up yesterday. We didn't see any Anonymous. We didn't see any Black Bloc which has been -- they were at Tampa.
NNAMDIYou're not supposed to see Anonymous, are you?
MCKENZIERight, right, technically you're not, yeah, but they're pretty easy to spot, they wear masks and...
NNAMDII guess so.
NNAMDIHere is Clement in Lanham, Md. Clement, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
CLEMENTHi Kojo, nice talking to you. I've been trying to get to you for a while. I do enjoy your program, to start with.
CLEMENTI do have one question for your guests today. I mean, we've been hearing a lot about the Occupy movement and it has been going on with occupying Wall Street, occupying whatever. My question is this, how do you read the progress of the Occupy movement?
CLEMENTIs there anything that is changing based on that? Do we expect more changes to the Occupy movement and so on? So I just want to know what the progress is on how to read their progress. Thanks.
NNAMDIAllende, how do you define progress in the Occupy movement?
ALCALAI think progress in the Occupy movement is -- it's not one single thing. As we've learned from movements in the past that these are -- they're organic. It's the times and the people that really make the movement.
ALCALAAnd think just having people engaged, lifting up the real issues that are facing America not just, you know, the politics as usual or what's going to be spoken about and how to get elected in a DNC and RNC, but raising the people's agendas so people are aware that they're not the only ones that are suffering.
ALCALAAnd we know that that is the case because people are feeling empowered and we feel like that is progress in itself. But how it's going to meld and change and move into new avenues and how it's going manifest itself from here on out, I don't think anybody knows.
ALCALAWe just know that there are plenty of us who are committed and so many people are suffering and so we have to stand up and so that's what we're here to do.
NNAMDIClement, thank you very much for your call. We're talking with Allende Alcala, he is an organizer with Occupy Charlotte and March on Wall Street South. Joining him in our studios here in Charlotte is Ana McKenzie, news and culture editor for Creative Loafing, which is an alternative publication based here in Charlotte, N.C.
NNAMDIAna, on to labor unions, which have long been among the most loyal ground troops for Democrats, including President Obama in 2008, but that may not be quite the case in this election. What's going on?
MCKENZIERight. So basically North Carolina has a very, very long and contentious past with unions. It started probably in the 1920s. North Carolina was, at one time, one of the largest exporters of textiles in the world and mill bosses took advantage of the relatively cheap and uneducated labor.
MCKENZIEThe Depression hits, workers are laid off. Those that remain have to basically pick up the slack. They start, grassroots movements start forming. Unions from the north start moving in and basically workers start to strike.
MCKENZIEAnd the National Guard is sent in. You know, there are really, really, really violent meetings between policemen and National Guards and workers. And so ever since then, there's been a very strong resentment toward unions and, as you know, you said earlier North Carolina is the least unionized state in the country. So basically unions are upset that the Democrats chose to hold their election in Charlotte.
NNAMDILabor unions, however, like corporations, can now give unlimited cash to political campaigns, but it seems that a lot of unions might be scaling back their contributions rather than ramping up this election cycle.
MCKENZIERight. Well, actually, it's sort of interesting to talk about labor unions and money, especially in North Carolina, because we are a right to work state. Public sector employees are essentially prohibited from paying union dues. They're allowed to join them. They just can't pay union dues so without money, they're weak so that's a problem here.
ALCALAI just want to say that the coalition of March on Wall Street South Occupy, we stand very much in solidarity with the union workers here. One of the things -- one of the reasons that we were told that the DNC came to the city is because it's one of America's beautiful cities and so we just stood with the sanitation workers who work day in and day out to keep the city clean.
ALCALAThese workers have been fighting an ongoing battle just asking for some basic workers' rights. We went to a city council meeting. The city council and the mayor came in about an hour late so we asked some of these workers what would happen if they came that late to work. And, you know, they said they could face three months without pay. They could be terminated. They have all these things that could be used against them, so we just want to say that we stand with them as their struggle is our struggle.
NNAMDISpeaking of workers and pay, here is Krish in Sterling, Va. Krish, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
KRISHHey, Kojo, I really enjoy your show. I just had a quick question because the entire Occupy movement has been going on for a while. How many real workable hours are we losing because we get all these people together and they do what they do? You know, why would we much rather not repurpose those all to doing something useful for a change?
NNAMDISo you're saying that if all of the people who participated in the Occupy Movement simply abandoned it and got jobs instead, we would all be better off?
CHRISI wouldn't say abandon it. We have a right to protest so we should protest. But that said, you know, what are the protests even about? Why would I much rather not repurpose it -- not all, some portion of those odds to adding back to the economy?
NNAMDIHere is Allende Alcala.
ALCALAYes, just specifically a lot of us occupiers do have jobs. I work in a local high school as an academic advisor. I go to work every single day. My involvement in Occupy is the time that a lot of people would spend on the couch watching TV, watching cartoons or surfing the web. So I feel like -- for myself personally I feel like it's the best way to spend my time amongst the people.
ALCALAAnd like I said, that we have many people who work, some who don't by choice or a lot are unable to work. And that's one of the reasons we have to stand together is that there's not -- the infrastructure of jobs that are being created or a platform by either party that I feel personally. And so that's why we have to raise our voice.
NNAMDIThe perception expressed by that caller, Ana McKenzie, is that people he sees or thinks he sees in the Occupy Movements are generally people who are not working. What is your -- having covered the Occupy Movement talk a little bit about who participates.
MCKENZIEYou know, I really do think -- I think that there certainly are people who affiliate themselves with the movement who, you know, might be unemployed. But there are quite a few who are employed. You know, to speak to the city workers that Allende was talking about earlier, I was at that city council meeting with him. And a lot of the city council -- or, I'm sorry, a lot of the sanitation workers that I spoke with had actually just come off their shift to attend the city council meeting. A lot of them had been working for, you know, ten -- nine, ten hours straight.
MCKENZIEIt's arduous labor. They took time out of their sleeping schedules to come to these city council movements. They don't necessarily -- I wouldn't necessarily say that they call themselves occupiers but the fact that Allende and some of his buddies were there showing support and solidarity I think says a lot about both the Occupy Movement and the population that it resonates with.
NNAMDIToday of course is Labor Day. Unions around the country have had a tough time of late with a number of states passing laws restricting collective bargaining, including in the state that made national headlines, Wisconsin, which last year rolled back collective bargaining rights for public sector workers including teachers and fire fighters. Wisconsin, you should know, was in fact the first state to provide collective bargaining rights to public employees. That was back in 1959.
NNAMDIBut last week we spoke to Jim Hoffa, president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters about what he calls the war on workers. We've got a clip.
MR. JIM HOFFAWell, it's a great opportunity to go both to Madison, Wis. and to Columbus, Ohio to speak to 50 or 100,000 people and be part of those rallies when we rallied on behalf of the right for collective bargaining of public employees. These politicians have come to us saying, we're just after the teachers. We're just after the public employees. We're not after you, meaning the teamsters or rather unions. And we said, no we stand together as a united labor movement and we believe, you know, an injury to one is an injury to all. And that's always been our method.
MR. JIM HOFFASo we're fighting back and we're proud of what we did in Wisconsin. We were able to take the senate back to stop any more crazy legislation. We were able to roll back what Kasich did in Ohio with SP5 where he was trying to take away collective bargaining rights. But there is a war on workers and one of the easiest thing is to go after teachers, go after EMS drivers, go after janitors. When did they become the bad people? These are the people that go to college, that have college degrees. It seems to me that after you do that you teach our children that you should have a right to, you know, a good wage and health care and a pension when you retire.
NNAMDIAnd Jim Hoffa's president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. Allende, what other events are planned for this week?
ALCALAThere's just -- there's a bunch going on. To be honest I've been so consumed yesterday was my main focus. I kinda had the blinders on but today we do have a southern workers' assembly. It's going on right now in the city. We're planning some solidarity actions with people who are actually facing foreclosure from Bank of America at this moment, to let them know that the community has not forgotten about you, that we stand with you and we care about you. And just a bunch of other things going on.
NNAMDIAllende Alcala. He is an organizer with Occupy Charlotte and March on Wall Street South. Allende Alcala, thank you so much for joining us.
ALCALAThank you for having me.
NNAMDIAna McKenzie is the news and culture editor for Creative Loafing, an alternative publication based here in Charlotte, N.C. Ana McKenzie, thank you for joining us.
MCKENZIEThank you for having me.
NNAMDIWe're going to take a short break. When we come back, a look at conventions past when nominating events were far from predictable and anything but choreographed. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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