CHARLOTTE — Charlotte welcomed the world to the Democratic National Convention with a street party on Monday.
Organizers called the festival Carolina Fest, and it included food, T-shirts, live music, voter registration drives and political messages, mostly from a leftward bend.
With Democrats condensing the convention schedule to just three days, the street party was seen as a way to entertain out-of-town guests and give something back to residents of the area, who are putting up with roadblocks, snarled traffic and other delays.
“This is a great party,” said Dennis Hall, a delegate from Oklahoma. “It’s a nice diversion from the hullaballoo of what’s coming.”
Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx opened the festival by saying his goal for the party and for the whole convention week is to make people have the same feeling he felt in 2008 in Denver when President Barack Obama was nominated.
“I never would have thought that four years later we would take the restrictions off of a physical space and invite people from all over the country to downtown Charlotte to Trade and Tryon street to enjoy the opportunity to touch and feel this convention,” Foxx said.
Thousands of people ignored the heat for the party. Predicted thunderstorms held off for most of the afternoon, but rain had arrived by the late afternoon.
With live music from artists like North Carolina’s James Taylor, face painting and vendors selling hot dogs and barbecue, Carolina Fest could at times be hard to distinguish from any other street party.
But there were plenty of reminders of this week’s political agenda. A bus from Doctors For America made its last stop after starting at last week’s Republican National Convention in Tampa. The organization’s goal Is to ensure everyone in America is able to get affordable, quality health care.
The most popular items for sale had Obama’s image — T-shirts, buttons, portraits and even towels to wipe away the sweat.
Carl Washington bought one of the Obama buttons. The New York native moved to Charlotte 10 years ago and was impressed with the party and the convention so far.
“I didn’t think they would be able to pull it off, but I think they are proving they are a big-time city,” Washington said.
The party also attracted people from the other end of the political spectrum. A street preacher railed against homosexuality and told people they shouldn’t vote for Obama because of his lack of morals or Romney because he was a Mormon and accepted abortion in limited circumstances.
Monday’s holiday also wasn’t forgotten. The North Carolina AFL-CIO had a “hug-a-thug” booth, where union members were giving out free hugs along with information about organized labor. They called people over by saying: “Free union hugs from the folks who brought you today.”