Sunday morning was not a dress rehearsal. We were on the highway by 7:16am, zooming towards Charlotte through the mountains of West Virginia. Our first stop, of course, was the New River Valley Gorge, also known as the “Grand Canyon of the East.” It was…pretty nice. Starved for breakfast, we followed highway signs to “Smokey’s”, a restaurant tucked into the back of a campground. We chowed down on a delicious buffet that turned out to be free when Jack and I were misidentified as white water rafters staying at the campground.
The drive to Charlotte was brutal at times. Bursts of rain splash against valiant but useless windshield wipers like water balloons. The endless mountain slopes kill your gas mileage on the way up and leave you a sitting duck for the highway patrol on the way down. When we finally did make it to Charlotte, its office towers rose in the distance like Vegas casinos in the desert, the first major city we’d seen since leaving New York.
I rendezvoused with Sally Newman at the Airport Roadway Inn, one of the seediest motels I’ve ever seen, and I’ve stayed on the outskirts of Detroit, Vegas and Myrtle Beach. My receipt made it clear that no refunds were available after 20 minutes, so depending on what you’re there for…work fast. You might remember Sally Newman from such previous adventures as the 2008 Democratic Convention and Newt Gingrich’s South Carolina Victory Party. Sally had gotten in earlier for the March on Wall Street South, an Occupy sponsored protest targeting the national banks with major headquarters in Charlotte, most notably Bank of America. The protest had been a bit of a disappointment. I’m not sure why it had been scheduled for Sunday. Granted, it is easier to assemble protesters on a weekend, but with Charlotte still pretty much empty, and few cameras rolling, I wonder what can be gained by a small-scale demonstration.
If anyone could make us feel better about dissent in any and all circumstances, it would be Amy Goodman. Her fearlessness inspired me the first time I heard her speak circa 2002, and today she is an absolute rock in the oft-fractured left-wing movement. Her speech centered on the importance of movements in an era when the hyping of bipartisan bickering obscures the bipartisan consensus, especially over war policy and military spending. Calling out her professional counterparts, who will just bathe in air time this week, she asked how “pundits can spend so much time talking when they know so little about so much.”
I left the room to grab a beer, and walked back in just as she was speaking about an activist named Petri Dish. As she announced, “Petri Dish is here tonight,” the room turned to look at me as I walked down the aisle. To break the awkwardness, or perhaps increase, I declared, “I am not Petri Dish,” and continued walking to my seat.
Goodman, like many of her generation, seems like an icon that will be difficult to replace. But despite my love for Amy, it’s hard not to be discouraged about “movement building.” Consider that four years after a financial meltdown so epic that the federal government had to bail out private banks and other financial companies for billions, perhaps even trillions of dollars, two years after the Tea Party vowed to “take government back” and one year after Occupy Wall Street electrified the world, the Republican Party has nominated Wall Street vulture Mitt Romney, and the Democratic incumbent is giving his acceptance speech in Bank of America Stadium. For the titans of power, it seems nothing can shake this country from their grasp.
After Goodman’s speech Sally and I hit up the Unity party, a GLBT celebration in a swanky uptown club. I was reminded of how little people outside of New York walk when I asked for directions. The parking attendant looked like I’d hurt him personally. “Oh man, Ninth and Tryon!? Ok, you from here? No? First you have to talk ALL the way to Tryon. Then you’re going to make a left and walk straight up for a while. That’s the way you need to do it if you’re not from around here.” Of course, Tryon was only one block over, and uptown was gridded, so we could have taken any route. We walked there in 15 minutes.
Getting in was another matter, but our friend Kat worked some wonders with the press people, and soon we were taking wild photos and throwing back gin and tonics. We met a pair of singing lesbians, who do fun political songs like “Legitimate Rape” and “Dear Chick-Fil-A.” As always, the GLBT political community put on a heck of a party. I next taped a radio show at a Ramada hotel, and waited in an alley for Sally to pick me up and get us to the Milestone Club, the legendary rock venue known for catching acts like Nirvana and REM on their way to the top. Kittens Ablaze played there during the Southern Tour of 2008. A one-eyed bouncer let us in after giving me flack for my passport, and we kicked back Pabsts and jammed to the music. This was going to be a good week.