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The Democratic National Convention was held in Charlotte Sept. 4-6, 2012. WFAE's comprehensive coverage of the event is found here.

Why Speak To An Empty Field When There's A Busy Corner Nearby?

Activists looking to be heard during the DNC have criticized the city's "free speech zone" as a waste. It's a microphone in an empty lot at the edge of Uptown. Who would bother competing with noisy traffic and helicopters to be heard in an empty field?  Only twelve people, so far.

Steve Widdows liked being at the microphone enough that he came back for a second go the next day.

He stoops over the microphone, head bent so that it's hard to tell if his eyes are open.

"The very bottom of the fornication barrel - there sits sodomy, right on the bottom, the worst!" he shouts.

In one hand, a clipboard hangs limply at his side. He doesn't seem to notice the traffic behind him or the vast expanse of dirt and weeds in front. The lot is empty but for me and the two city workers in charge of the area.

Widdows speaks as though to a fervent congregation: "Many of you in North Carolina hearing me right now, you have come to Christ in your life and you got saved!"

When he steps off the platform, I ask who he was talking to that whole time.

"To be honest with you, I don't really focus on 'Is somebody hearing me?'" says Widdows, in a voice much softer than his preaching. "I was gonna preach out to the cars and face out that way, but I didn't feel led to. I just felt led to preach that message and whoever heard whatever part they heard, it's gonna help 'em."

And he's not done. Widdows leaves the "free speech zone" in search of a busy corner Uptown.

I suppose when you're comfortable preaching to people inclined to ignore or avoid you on the street, an empty field's not such a stretch.

But it is for the next group. They're briefly stymied when the city worker asks which way they want to face - toward the street or the empty field?

The sound speakers are facing toward the field, so they do, too.

"We're the Community Singers of Charlotte here to sing of songs of community and peace and love and freedom amidst our differences," says Carol Raedy. 

Ukulele in hand, Raedy leads this chipper group of ten in singing "This Land Is Your Land" and a few other folk tunes.

Soon, they've had enough of the "free speech zone."

They're used to singing at retirement homes, festivals, farmers markets - places where at least they have an audience.

"It's kind of a shame (the free speech zone) is out here where nobody can hear us," says Raedy. "But we're gonna go find a place where there are more people."

Maybe that's what the seven people did who signed up for slots after the Community Singers, but never showed. 

Eighteen are on the schedule for Thursday - including Steve Widdows who'll preach to this empty lot one last time.