Welcome to Obama World

by Robert Costa

Charlotte, N.C. — Around noon on Monday, the first crew I run into at Carolina Fest, the opening festival of the Democratic National Convention, is Code Pink, a group of anti-war women. They wave their arms and casually sway to the live pop music from a nearby stage, where an unknown band is playing Top 40 covers.

It’s no surprise that Code Pink, which is notorious for infiltrating events, excels at getting attention. The pins they give away, which read “Make Out, Not War,” are popular with the sweaty revelers who slowly pass by this busy corner of Tryon Street.

But is the complete Code Pink message getting out? That’s what the pink-shirted activists are wondering. They have booklets that talk about how money should be rooted out of politics, says Karen Boyer, a Code Pink volunteer, and she hopes people will consider those progressive ideas.

Alas, it’s the kiss-themed pacifist pins that are winning the day. They’re everywhere. As one of many liberal groups at the DNC’s sprawling fair, and one that isn’t ladling free food, that’s probably the best Code Pink can hope for.

“We are women for peace,” Boyer explains, as she pauses from her pamphleteering. “As for me, I am somewhat disappointed with the president, who I hoped would be a champion for peace.”

Boyer isn’t the only liberal here who is disappointed with Barack Obama, who four years ago captured most of this crowd’s imagination. A few of the Democrats on the streets of the Queen City still talk about the president’s last campaign with fondness, but the tone is mostly wistful with remnants of worship.

The party, however, goes on. Democrats are on a nostalgia trip this week, and Carolina Fest resembles a flea market for Obama die-hards. It’s almost cultish, with nearly every item for sale related to the 44th president. Never once do I spot an item of Biden memorabilia or Pelosi swag.

At one stand, not far from the pink ladies, there are black-charcoal drawings of Obama looking pensive at a cabinet meeting. At his side: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “The Audacity of the Dream,” the frame reads. A T-shirt on the table has the same image.

A few steps away, there is more stuff. “OBAMA-BLING.COM,” a banner reads. This tent is bustling. There are Obama pins and brooches, and a variety of metallic rhinestone items with safety pins on the back. “Fun pins for serious times,” the saleswoman tells me, gesturing toward the display.

For lefty moms, there is a cutesy bib store on the same block. “Reform Day Care,” reads one bib, and another reads “National Rattle Association.” Two young mothers laugh as they hold up and admire the colorful cotton. One of the mothers wears a pro-choice sticker, and the other is wearing a gaudy piece of Obama bling. They snap up three items.

I walk a few blocks to the “Legacy Spotlight Village,” where a traditional African dance is being performed next to “Field to Fork,” an organic-farming tent where you can find information about owning backyard chickens and “eating real food.” Zach Current is leading a free class for children about how to make an organic pizza. “C’mon, take it easy on the oregano,” he instructs the children, who nod obediently.

Across the gravel, a large group of children and college students are putting their hands in paint and then placing them on a canvas. “Leave your mark!” a sign says. In this part of the festival, there is also a “friendship garden,” and the AARP tent is humming with activity.

Later in the day, as part of this six-hour extravaganza, James Taylor and the actor Jeff Bridges play short musical sets. Both performances are shortened by rain.

No one really seems to mind. They didn’t get the music they were promised, but almost everyone got some bling.