by: Bryan Leavoy Updated:
CHARLOTTE, N.C. - A scene of chaos and confusion inside and outside the Democratic National Convention may not bode well for supporters trying to see President Barack Obama when he speaks on Thursday in Charlotte, N.C.
A series of attendance and security crackdowns during Wednesday night’s convention left some Democrats furious as former President Bill Clinton spoke to a capacity crowd at Time Warner Cable Arena.
Channel 2’s Justin Farmer, a producer and a photographer left the arena for a quick dinner and returned about 8 p.m. to find every door closed and a crowd slowly building outside.
It took only about 15 minutes before the crowd started chanting, “Let us in” and some vocal members of the SEIU started to demand answers and chant “Organize.”
A short time later, a couple emerged from the front of the crowd and told Channel 2 it was not worth fighting to get in and that they were told a fire marshal had ordered all doors shut until a full head count could be conducted inside.
About 30 minutes after security officials closed the doors; they opened one door and announced they would allow people in one at a time, much to the dismay of the hundreds outside who started to push their way toward the glass entrance.
It took about 10 minutes for the Channel 2 Action News crew to squeeze through the door with crowds pushing and police yelling back at the crowds.
Door closures happened sporadically throughout the remainder of the night leaving delegates, congressional staff members and media locked out for stretches of time.
Arena Floor Access Closed
Security in the arena requires one color badge to get in, but a separate color badge to enter the floor area where the delegates are sitting.
Throughout the week, a floor pass allowed you to easily walk past security and into the arena bowl among the delegates; however a call was made just before Clinton spoke on stage to shut down all access to the arena bowl.
Dozens of people lined up at section tunnel entrances pleading to get inside. Channel 2 staff members, who were also kept out of the bowl and unable to enter the television live shot area, saw one member of the California delegation crying and explaining to a Secret Service agent that she needed to get inside to vote for Obama during roll call.
Georgia delegates told Channel 2’s Lori Geary they were unable to access their seats earlier in the night because non-delegates were sitting in them. It’s not clear if they ever made it inside the arena bowl to their seats to cast their vote in the nomination of Obama. Delegates who left to use the restroom told Geary they had no warning that they would not be able to return. Georgia Democratic Chairman Mike Berlon told Geary, "this is crazy," as crowds built behind where the delegation sat.
Clinton continued to speak and crowds in the hallway continued to build, but security officials would not allow them to enter. The floor area remained very crowded, but less crowded than Tuesday night when party members stood in aisles and sat on stairways through speeches by first lady Michelle Obama and keynote speaker Julian Castro.
Television crews from across the country and frustrated Democrats remained outside even after Clinton’s remarks. Some, who had no chance to report live to their home cities, decided to turn their cameras on in the hallway and make the crowds the story rather than the Clinton speech.
Some people who had left just to go to a restroom were fuming; others were briefly appeased when House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi stopped to speak with members of her delegation stuck in the hallway.
Watch Parties Replace Stadium Event
The long lines, huge crowds and increased security could again be pushed to the limit Thursday night as the Democratic Party attempts to accommodate an event originally scheduled for the 65,000 seat Bank of America Stadium across town.
The president spoke on an afternoon conference call to the thousands who will not be allowed to enter the arena for his speech.
Dana Lemon, a funeral home owner from metro Atlanta, made the drive to Charlotte with friends to see the president. She had a stadium pass but was able to obtain access to the arena on Thursday night.
"So we're actually going to be able to see him tonight. Now all of my friends will not be able to, but a couple of us will be able to see him inside the arena," Lemon told Farmer. "It's really sad and disappointing for them."
Sharisse Jefferson, of Atlanta, told Geary she and her family are staying outside of Charlotte with non-refundable hotel reservations and no tickets to see the president. Jefferson wants the president to come to the viewing party to briefly address the crowd there.
The Democratic Party has set up watch parties across Charlotte to accommodate people like Lemon. The Charlotte Convention Center grand ballroom, which holds 4,200 people, will host one event. Participants will have to register on a website.
Others who participated in Obama’s 931 campaign program will get tickets to see the president the next time he visits their home state.
Obama’s campaign co-chair Eva Longoria; the vice president’s wife, Jill Biden; Sen. John Kerry; Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid; and Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton will speak Thursday night before Vice President Joe Biden and Obama.
Channel 2 Action News plans to be on the floor when the president accepts his party’s nomination.
Stay with Channel 2 Action News and WSBTV.com for continuing coverage of the Democratic National Convention.
Channel 2's Justin Farmer and Lori Geary are reporting from the convention all week. You can also get live updates on Twitter from @WSBTV and @WSBVOTE.