50K people didn’t see president Thursday

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Rainy forecast cancels stadium speech, leaves locals all wet

By Jesef Williams

My smile turned into a big frown in a matter of minutes. Excitement was quickly replaced with disappointment.


I was stoked beyond measure to receive highly coveted credentials to see President Barack Obama accept the Democratic presidential nomination Thursday night, Sept. 6, at Charlotte’s Bank of America Stadium.

I had actually taken the day off from work in March in anticipation of me being there – among more than 70,000 people expected to fill the stadium on the final night of the 2012 Democratic National Convention.

While the actual drive to the stadium takes about an hour and is a little more than 40 miles, my friends and I chose another route.

Tuesday night, we discussed specific plans, such as how early we wanted to arrive at Panthers’ stadium and which LYNX Light Rail station we’d leave from.

That night was going to be epic – the type of event you “live to tell you kids and grandkids about.”

My supply of belongings was to include two cameras and a video recorder, along with a notepad and pen to jot down thoughts and remarks during the night. But I never took any of those items because, for me, the moment never happened.

Perhaps it was all a dream, or maybe a figment of my imagination. Did I really have lower-level seats to see the president of the United States speak?

I’m pretty sure the answer was yes. But a shaky weather forecast has caused me to question reality.

The first two days of the DNC were held at Time Warner Cable Arena, an indoor uptown Charlotte facility that shielded convention-goers from the rain that had dampened the area for days.

The final day of the convention was set for Bank of America Stadium. But DNC officials, fearing the chance of a storm, announced Wednesday morning that the president’s speech would be moved to TWC Arena.

“I hate to tell my children. They’re going to be so disappointed,” Lancaster resident Mandy Powers Norrell said Wednesday after getting the news.

She and her husband, Mitch, had “community credentials” for themselves and their son and daughter. They knew the experience would be one their kids would remember for a lifetime.

I was also a community-credential holder – one of the estimated 50,000 people who were denied access Thursday inside TWC Arena, which only holds about 20,000 people.

Erica Simpson, who also had a community credential, took the news in stride.

Instead of focusing on her own disappointment, the Lancaster resident thought more about those who spent so much time, money and energy to travel to Charlotte for Thursday’s speech – only to get the bad news a day beforehand.

“I just hate it for the people who came long distances,” Simpson said.

“My heart goes out to those people,” she said. “My only inconvenience was having to stand in line for a ticket.”

Simpson, who had attended DNC-related events Tuesday and Wednesday, opted to take in the president’s acceptance speech Thursday at a watch party in Charlotte.

Alston DeVenny of Lancaster was also relegated to watching Obama on TV. He, too, had expected to be at Bank of America Stadium.

This would have been DeVenny’s second time seeing Obama; he was in Washington, D.C., in 2009 for the inauguration.

He also saw Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush several years ago.

However, DeVenny admits he had mixed feeling about Wednesday’s venue change. He doesn’t like big crowds, but decide to look past that uneasiness in order to witness history.

“In a way, I’m a little relieved,” said DeVenny, who adds that he’s glad the president’s message was communicated, nonetheless.

For me, Thursday’s event wasn’t about political spin and it was to be greater than any political party. 

It was all about civics and being in a venue in which people around the world were focused.

Think about how cool it is for a major convention to be so close to Lancaster. Though I got the chance to experience some of the energy and culture during Monday’s CarolinaFest (which was also considered the unofficial kickoff to the DNC), I’m sure it pales in comparison to what Thursday would have been like.

Although a major political convention may not be this close (and presumably accessible) again, I’ll keep hope alive that I’ll see a U.S. president one day.

I’m still young.


– Jesef Williams is a reporter for The Lancaster News