CHARLOTTE, N.C. Their numbers never approached the 2,000 to 10,000 for which authorities braced. Waves of police officers, on bikes and behind batons, were felt to have stifled dissent. Rain soaked their events as it did the Democratic convention itself.
But leaders among the protesters who shared Charlottes biggest stage also declared victory in getting their messages out.
Protesters reached a détente with police, who heavily outnumbered them but allowed demonstrators to march with relative freedom. And while Charlottes banks and Duke Energy were consistent targets, the 90 groups represented were able to vent on a vast array of other issues, from corporate influence on politics to warfare to abortion.
Organizers insist that far more people took part in Sundays March on Wall Street South than the 800 police estimated. Some say lines of police prevented spectators from joining the parade.
It was a great showing of people from all walks of life coming out to express their grievances, said Michael Zytkow, 26, an Occupy Charlotte organizer.
While Charlotte recently enacted an extraordinary events ordinance to handle such demonstrations, he said, my goal is to make protests like this an ordinary event in Charlotte. The former high school history teacher thinks the past week brought local activists closer to achieving that goal.
From the beginning, Mecklenburg has shown a strong rebellious streak, Zytkow said, referring to Charlottes Revolutionary War history as a rebellious hornets nest. We need to embrace this legacy and draw inspiration from it.
Columbia University journalism professor Todd Gitlin, author of a book on the Occupy movement, said its clear that college students today are not as likely to join protest movements as those of the 60s and 70s. Thanks in large part to the fragile economy, students now are much more worried about their careers and more accepting of the way things are, he said.
Social media has also become a popular tool for social activism. Still, Gitlin said he expects marches and other forms of 60s-style activism will continue long into the future.
The 60s made that part of the landscape, he said.
Making their point
Asheville activist John Penley, who was arrested Tuesday for crossing a police line on uptown streets, called the demonstrations a success.
I really feel like we did a great job, Penley said.
The Vietnam-era veteran demonstrated in support of Bradley Manning, a U.S. Army soldier who has been imprisoned since May 2012 and is accused of leaking documents to WikiLeaks. Penley said he thinks his own arrest and approximately 36 hours spent in Mecklenburg County jail helped show how serious he and other activists were.
Greenpeace hammered Duke Energy all week to cut its support for the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council, a corporate-funded group that writes model legislation. Charlotte-based organizer Monica Embrey said Greenpeace was able to confront Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers and get a direct response he said hes hearing us loud and clear.
I feel really great that we were able to stand in connection with a lot of groups who were mostly focused on banks, she said.
A lot of people from out of town were unfamiliar with Duke. People know Bank of America. They know Wells Fargo. They understand bailing out banks and foreclosures. I dont think there is a ton of attention outside (Dukes) local communities to their impact on communities and on global climate.
A show of force
Police ranks swelled to nearly 4,000 for the week, with more than half the officers coming from out-of-town departments. They made 25 arrests in five days of protests.
Separately, a Charlotte man charged with a traffic violation had his bond set at $10,000 after a police officer identified him as being on a terrorist watch list. The man, who claimed police were trying to silence him during the convention, was released when a judge reduced bond to $2,500.
Prominent liberal journalist Amy Goodman said the large law enforcement presence at Sundays march, which she attended, squelches participation.
It frightens people from coming out to protest rallies, she said. Protests have made this country great. We shouldnt let ourselves be bullied by the militarization of police.
Goodman told the Observer the protesters numbers were significant because their views represent the opinions of many Americans. In some way, people feel theyre not a part of either party, she said. Its not a fringe minority.
Members of the American Civil Liberties Union were in Charlotte this week to monitor how police handle the demonstrators and educate protesters about their rights.
The overwhelming force authorities used to control demonstrators was questionable, but we were pleased to see police allow demonstrators with many different messages to march and speak so close to their intended audience of convention goers, said Chris Brook, legal director of the ACLU of North Carolina.
Gary L. Wright and Fred Clasen-Kelly contributed.