Sun September 2, 2012
Protester And Convention Delegate Straddles Both Worlds
One of the people marching Sunday in protests tied to the Democratic National Convention will also be on the floor of the convention in a couple days as a full-fledge party delegate. WFAE's Julie Rose introduces us to a Charlotte man with a split identity: party insider and activist outsider.
Activists from around the region have spent days in a Charlotte warehouse painting and taping signs for today's march. Gautam Desai is right at home among them.
But he's also perfectly comfortable over at Mecklenburg County Democratic Party headquarters where he's first vice chair and member of the state party executive committee. What a weird spot to be in - marching through Charlotte chanting for change in the political system one day and the next cheering that system from the inside as a convention delegate.
But Desai feels no disconnect.
"That's just who I am and I cannot jettison one or the other identities or spheres," says Desai. "It falls on few people, to be the bee - to cross-pollinate."
Desai's path to political cross-pollinator began in India. He studied Gandhi's legacy and got involved in poverty and peace initiatives.
Sixteen years ago, just shy of his 30th birthday, Desai emigrated to Columbia, South Carolina for a master's in international business. He and his wife parlayed their careers in business and medicine into a comfortable middle-class life.
But the South proved fertile ground to Desai's passion for social justice and environmental causes, so he's rearranged his life to focus most of his time on them. Never did he imagine a role for himself inside a political party. But the fervor of the Obama campaign in 2008 sucked him in.
"Canvassing, door knocking. . . that experience really energized me," says Desai.
Before long he was helping recruit Democratic candidates as a local party leader, while still active in groups like Democracy NC that are openly critical of the Democratic Party for allowing itself to be influenced by corporate money.
That makes for some awkward conversations, admits Desai.
When activists doubt his sincerity, he points to Egypt, where the protesters toppled a dictator, but didn't get the reform they hoped for: "They fought such a revolution and what they got in terms of a choice was a Muslim Brotherhood and a military-backed candidate."
And to party loyalists offended that a convention delegate would have the gall to march at the DNC, Desai gently reminds them of the larger Republican threat.
"Protesters alone or electoral means alone are not going to defeat some of this extremist agenda," says Desai.
When fiery speeches are underway on the convention floor this week and cameras pan the crowd, Desai will be the one clapping politely, but deep in conversation with other Democrats about the how to combine the strength of the two worlds he inhabits: activist and party insider.