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Causes: In the streets and in Democratic convention

Delegates to the Democratic National Convention are gathering in Charlotte, North Carolina to nominate Barack Obama for a second term as president. Others are in Charlotte trying to build political momentum for a cause.

Yesterday the streets of downtown Charlotte were filled with protestors.

(Sound of drums and chanting) "Education not deportation!"

Police say some 68 different groups were allowed one parade to express their discontent about their causes. Everything from abortion rights, ending the war in Afghanistan, immigration, bank bail-outs, corporate welfare, labor rights, the list goes on and on.

These groups either want their voices heard by the Democrats in Charlotte, or simply want to shout that neither the Democrats nor the Republicans are taking up the policy issues they want addressed.

But, there are quieter protests taking place within the Democratic party. Some party members are working within the framework of the convention to push their causes.

Michael Heaney is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Michigan. He’s in Charlotte to observe how these groups work and what kind of affect they have on public policy.

Heaney says the Democratic party is often described as a party of interest groups.

“What you really see is when you come to the convention, you see lots of different groupings. Labor, women, African-American, different ethnic groups, environmental interests, health care. And all of these groups get together and organize as groups, talk about their issues, talk about their role in the party.”

The early 20th century humorist Will Rogers noted –quote, "I am not a member of any organized party — I am a Democrat."

Heaney says that’s somewhat justified. All the different interests that make up the Democratic party have always made it seem less disciplined than the Republican party.

“The Republican party is really much more organized both along ideological lines and along state lines. So, when you go to the Republican National Convention, you see that most of the organization is around the state level.”

LG: So, even though we are going to see dozens of different interest groups meeting to talk about their cause, to find out how to get more political support for their causes, we also saw a protest the day before the DNC started for those people who still felt they don’t have a voice in the party.

“There are a lot of people on the left side of the political spectrum who feel that President Obama and the Democratic party have let them down, there are some issues, at least, that there’s not much difference between the Democratic Party and the Republican Party. So, for example, on the issue of war, Obama’s policy in Afghanistan today looks a lot like President Bush’s policy in Iraq four years ago. So, people are trying to raise their voices and say, ‘This isn’t right and we want you to hear us as well.’”

But the fewer than one thousand protesters with their many different calls for seemingly unrelated issues nearly outnumbered the people watching them march through Charlotte.

And the police presence seemed to be equal to the number of protesters.

Whether it’s ending the war, or ending corporate welfare, or getting immigration reform, or chucking the two-party system for something new, if there’s a groundswell for any one of these issues, it’s not yet made its mark on the Democratic National Convention in the street.

Maybe within the convention halls, some like-minded delegates will make more progress on some of those issues.

(Story has been updated to correct Michael Heaney's title.)

Lester Graham reports for The Environment Report. He has reported on public policy, politics, and issues regarding race and gender inequity. He was previously with The Environment Report at Michigan Radio from 1998-2010.