By MITCH WEISS and MICHAEL BIESECKER
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) - When protesters began arriving in Charlotte for the Democratic National Convention this week, they were filled with hope. For months, they predicted that thousands would travel to North Carolina's largest city to express their anger at economic policies that they say hurt the poor. They believed that the government was still looking the other way while big banks continued to foreclose on struggling homeowners. They wanted to vent about the human toll of war.
But the massive protests never materialized. The centerpiece was supposed to be the March on Wall Street South. But that demonstration _ two days before the start of the convention _ drew 800 people. Organizers had earlier predicted as many as 15,000 would come.
Still, as protesters trickled into a city park to pitch tents during convention week, they marched. Sometimes the protests were spontaneous _ in the middle of the night. Other times they were planned as protesters blocked intersections in the city's downtown in defiance of a city ordinance requiring a parade permit.
As they get ready to leave Charlotte after the convention ends Thursday, some protesters said they were somewhat disappointed with the small turnout, overwhelming police presence and limited access on streets. But none said they regretted making the trip.
Mark Apollo and Katrina Corbell met last year over scoops of donated Ben & Jerry's ice cream during the Occupy Wall Street protests in New York. For the last week, the couple has shared a small orange tent in a Charlotte park and participated in marches near the site of the Democratic National Convention.
Apollo, a 50-year-old U.S. Army veteran originally from New Jersey, joined the Occupy protests in October after years of volunteering with environmental groups.
Corbell, a 34-year-old master's student in counseling psychology, left her home in California the following month and went to New York to join the movement after seeing a Web video in which she says a police officer pepper sprayed a female demonstrator in the face without provocation.
Before coming to Charlotte, they were in Tampa to protest at the Republican National Convention. They see little difference between the two major parties, which they say represent the interests of big banks and corporations. A fundamental goal of the Occupy Wall Street movement is to end the flood of special interest money flowing to political campaigns and conventions.
Apollo said he watched "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" streaming on his smart phone this week to remind himself why he continues to protest. In the 1939 classic, Jimmy Stewart is an honest man appointed to a vacant seat in the U.S. Senate only to find himself confronted by the corruption of politicians he once admired.
"I believe in the original democratic principles of the United States," Apollo said. "I just believe the corporate system has been screwed up by a lot of corrupt individuals."
After leaving Charlotte, they plan to make their way to the areas south of New Orleans inundated during Hurricane Isaac to help rebuild before returning to Manhattan for the anniversary of the Occupy protests in Zuccotti Park on November 17.
The dim glow of a streetlight bounced off the chrome handlebars of Perry King's bicycle. Shirtless and wearing a pair of shorts and sneakers, he wrestled with the handbrake, tugging and pulling, until he finally got it to work. He sighed. It was a long day _ a long week, he said.
The 57-year-old King is among the protesters who have been camping in a city park a few blocks from the Time Warner Cable Arena, the site of the Democratic National Convention. But it might as well be miles away.
Although King has marched in several protests, he has never gotten closer than a few blocks to the arena, where President Barack Obama will make his acceptance speech Thursday night.
With every protest, the demonstrators have been followed closely by police. Officers on mountain bicycles, horses, motorcycles and foot have tried to block the protesters' path to prevent them from veering off designated parade routes.
Angry, King said the city's action violated the First Amendment free speech rights.
"If you shut down protesters, soon they won't allow demonstrations. If we're not out here, they'll take our rights away," said King, a social worker in Washington, D.C., with two grown children.
King was drawn to Charlotte to rail against the U.S. military. He says the U.S. should stop using drones to hunt and kill suspected terrorists, saying too many innocent people are caught in the crossfire. And he's afraid the government will begin using them domestically. "I don't know how long it will be before we use them to assassinate drug dealerson street corners. The United States is spreading terror," he said.
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