Live from the DNC: Power and vulnerability

Monday was Labor Day, and rather than starting their convention, the DNC chose to throw a big party for the city, filling Tryon Street (Charlotte’s Main Street) with vendors, bands, displays, free museum admission, and a festive atmosphere for all. Mobility was a bit limited by road closures, disruptions of public transit services, and large swaths of the city being closed off by security forces. But if you could get there, Labor Day afternoon promised a good time, capped off by a free concert by NC native son and longtime activist James Taylor.

The remnants of Hurricane Isaac, now floating around the country in small marauding bands, decided to join the party as well, periodically blowing through with a brief storm and some strong winds. The excited crowd was not dampened by a periodic shower, though, and the party rolled on for the entire afternoon. Spirits were high as Taylor took the stage, when, in the middle of his second song – “Shower the People You Love,” ironically – the bottom fell out. It poured and poured and poured. The wind howled, standing the flags surrounding the stage at attention. The band tried to play anyway, but the weather was too much and forced them to quit after just fifteen minutes.

The crowd began to thin, slowly. Being soaked anyway, there was no reason to hurry. My family was trapped near the entrance to a bank tower, hemmed in by a throng of wet people but happy to be under a large overhang. As movement became easier, we decided to be still – we were relatively dry and confortable – when we were approached by several police and the manager of the Bank of America building we stood near. “You must leave now and seek shelter. There is a tornado on the ground within five miles of here, and you need to find a safer place.”

I looked, inquisitively, into the completely empty building behind him. The lobby was totally empty, able to hold hundreds. Not to mention the thirty floors stacked on top of the lobby. Was this an emergency or not?

“We are recommending,” the building manager said, “that you proceed to walk down the block, around the corner, and seek shelter in the parking deck there.”

“Move along, folks. Please take him seriously,” a cop said, half pleading. Behind the officer, a number of delegates with lanyards and badges began filing into the building lobby. So did dozens of wet police officers. They were moving quickly to a more secure location.

If you don’t have a lanyard and a security clearance, this is what security looks like: being urged to seek shelter from a potential tornado in a parking deck. I have two preschoolers, ages four and two. The people next to me had five children, from one year to ten years. There we were, standing with small children eight feet from a huge building built to withstand powerful weather systems. And we were told, “You are unsafe. Please proceed 1500 feet through the weather to seek non-shelter.”

So it is for the vulnerable in Charlotte this week, but really every week. Thousands of children, including ones my kids play with every day, have little to no security. No food security. No housing security. At times, no physical security in violent neighborhoods. One wants to believe that if crisis really strikes, if the bottom really falls out, that those with relative security would welcome the vulnerable. Would show a little hospitality. Would be moved by the sight of beautiful children in danger.

There was a fence around the building instead. “Move along, folks,” we heard. “Go be vulnerable somewhere else. Around the corner, where we cannot see you.”

Lord, have mercy.

Greg and Helms Jarrell

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We are founders of a community of hospitality in west Charlotte. With the help of our neighbors, we are learning to love God and others.

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