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Convention Draws Variety of Interests, Characters

Stephen Kimel and his wife Greta Kimel attract costumers to take pictures at their photo booth which was set-up at a street festival for convention goers ahead of the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, September 3, 2012.
CHARLOTTE — U.S. Democrats are holding their national convention in Charlotte, North Carolina this week to formally nominate President Barack Obama for a second four-year term in office. Modern political conventions mainly serve as a vehicle to build party unity close to the election. But they also draw activists, special interest groups and assorted personalities from across the country, many with their own agendas.

The Democrats are in town this week and the streets of Charlotte are filled with characters.

Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina

DAY ONE: The Charlotte in 2012 Host Committee holds 'CarolinaFest 2012,' a family-friendly, Labor Day celebration and convention week kick-off event open to the public

DAY TWO: Democratic National Convention Chair Antonio Villaraigosa officially begins the proceedings. Committees determine the agenda and conduct Democratic Party business

DAY THREE: Delegates vote for the Democratic Party candidate for president

DAY FOUR: President Barack Obama will accept the Democratic nomination at an outdoor stadium. The event is open to the public
As delegates file by, Christian street preacher Justin Edwards says it is time for them to make a choice.

“Which hand will you fall in? Will you fall into His right of judgment or will you fall into His left hand of love?,” he said.

Edwards is one of several street preachers, organized by Scott Smith of Florida, who attend high-profile events like the conventions and the recent Olympic Games in London.

“It's a little bit of an exercise of freedom of speech and freedom of religion, and thankfully in this country we still have those rights,” he said.

A short distance away, Daniel Robertson is trying to sell a program about the Democratic convention filled with pictures of President Obama.

Robertson had little luck trying to sell the same merchandise to Republicans last week at their convention. For obvious reasons he is having a lot more success with the Democratic crowd in Charlotte.

“I was actually in Florida for the Republican convention and this is like a carnival compared to what was there. This is great. So many friendly people and the atmosphere is wonderful,” he said.

Others are on a more serious mission this week in Charlotte. Sleeter Dover is a Democratic delegate from the western state of Wyoming.

Dover is a 65-year-old African American who grew up in segregated South Carolina, not far from Charlotte. Dover has searing memories of those early years, including the time his sister was jailed for trying to integrate a local bowling alley.

Dover never thought he would see that day nearly four years ago when Barack Obama became the first African American president. Dover is aware that enthusiasm for the president is down a bit from 2008 but he says he is driven to help Mr. Obama win a second term in November.

“We don't need enthusiasm. We need a good memory and determination, and that's enough for us,” he said.

Older African Americans in particular saw Barack Obama's election as a watershed moment in U.S. history, an event that validated a decades-long struggle for equal rights.

Sleeter Dover says he has a personal investment in Obama's re-election in November.

“If not, I see this country headed in a direction back to the days when I grew up in rural South Carolina, and I don't know about everybody else, but I'm not going back!,” he said.

The Obama campaign is counting on a strong turnout in November from African American voters, by far the president's most loyal group of supporters.
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    Jim Malone

    Jim Malone has served as VOA’s National correspondent covering U.S. elections and politics since 1995. Prior to that he was a VOA congressional correspondent and served as VOA’s East Africa Correspondent from 1986 to 1990. Jim began his VOA career with the English to Africa Service in 1983.