by Steven DiFiore
The crowds were large after a two-year hiatus, which isn't surprising given the cabin fever induced by pandemic fears and lockdowns. In any case, the Charlotte PRIDE festival has returned to the Queen City and with more than 275,000 attendees, a record setting number, over the course of the weekend it was clear to all that the hunger for such a celebration remained alive and well. Not only were attendance numbers elevated for this twenty-year Charlotte tradition, but also the mood and energy of the folks who walked around checking out each booth that lined the streets of Uptown Charlotte was electric.
In the midst of generic blue or white pop tents, the gold and black canopy of the Libertarian Party of Mecklenburg County's booth shone with distinction. An AstroTurf "lawn" beneath the canopy contributed to a novel and welcoming political outreach style. Though the heat was stifling at times and the threat of rain hung over the festivities on Sunday, the intrepid volunteers of the Libertarian Party booth had some of the best outreach success of the past year.
Charlotte, a volunteer and At-Large Committee member, used her past experience hawking wares at Renaissance Fairs to great effect, engaging passers-by in a friendly and lively manner. Jeff Scott, Mecklenburg LP Chair, and I, both long time volunteers, availed ourselves of years of experience to promote the Party and our work, highlighting future opportunities for and with our organization. If the fact that our sizable cache of Libertarian Party Swag items was completely depleted by the end of the weekend is any indication, our efforts were well received. This engagement was much more than merely handing out rainbow Gadsden Flag hand fans or applying colorful Torch of Liberty temporary tattoos.
Our World’s Smallest Political Quiz display, prominently set up at the front of the booth was by far our best conversation starter. Over 300 people took the time to fill out the quiz and have a conversation about both the questions and what Libertarians are all about. These conversations are, of course, the most vital part in any outreach effort. It spreads awareness of our Party, the Movement, and the philosophies at play in equal measure. The quiz is also fun, or, at least the hundreds of folks we spoke with over the course of the weekend seemed to think so. For many, placing a sticker (who doesn't love stickers after all) on the political landscape board is where our outreach ended. With a heartfelt thanks for a fun experience, they moved on to sample other parts of the festival.
However, a few wanted to know more and those remain for me as the best moments of the whole weekend. From meeting a UNC Charlotte student interested in starting a University Club to an apolitical small business owner who is interested in single-issue coalitions around local zoning and land use policy, these encounters open the door to some interesting future prospects for our Party Affiliate. We connected happily even with those who are still unsure about everything our Party stands for, or anything outside the Team Red/Team Blue paradigm, which led to fruitful conversations. Rather than engage in argument or debate, and always resisting the urge to "own the Libs" in this case, our volunteers walked the path of dialectic and mutual respect. Even when we couldn't find points of meaningful agreement, which is very rare, by never getting angry, frustrated, or mean, both parties found that points of disagreement were merely that, a minor point of disagreement. No one bore hard feelings either way and our interlocutors always walked away feeling good about their interactions.
That's what it is all about really, leaving a lasting and positive impression in the hearts and minds of those we meet. Our Party Affiliate has seen amazing growth this past year and with the many new connections we have made during this year's Charlotte PRIDE festival we are looking forward to continued growth and fostering positive meaningful change in our communities.