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Picking up after the protesters

CHARLOTTE — It is a few ticks past 6 a.m. on Labor Day in Protest Bedroom U.S.A., known as Marshall Park on McDowell Street in Charlotte, and the people who were so loud on Sunday are quiet, motionless even, in their tents and sleeping bags.

Up ahead, against the background of the silvery spray from a fountain, there is movement, a slim figure walking with purpose, then stopping, then walking again.

It is Matthew Hoffman, 33, who says he’s of Charlotte, but that’s all he’ll say of his address. He is picking up trash.

“If you’re looking for food,” he says to a stranger, “there are some cans over there.”

Hoffman is wearing a dark T-shirt. His dark hair is longer than a businessman’s, but shorter than a rock star’s. His voice is sturdy, his sentences are crisp and well-organized.

“I’m not even with these guys,” he says, explaining that he is in the park simply because he supports protesters, no matter their cause.

“Protests always play an important role,” he says. “All great ideas start out as a protest.”

He is cagey about his employment status. “Underemployed,” he says, grinning. He has been a sandwich maker, but “I’ve made no attempt at a career yet.”

He is equally evasive about politics. A Democrat and likely voter, Hoffman nevertheless hasn’t settled on backing President Obama for a second term. He is an ardent fan of Hillary Clinton’s, and he wishes that Obama had ditched Vice President Joe Biden and picked her for a running mate this year.

“She has done all the hard work,” Hoffman says, “and she gets none of the credit.”

He could be describing himself, for he is the only person in the park cleaning up after a Sunday of protests.

Leaving the trash behind, he says, draws insects, and when they invade, well, pretty soon the folks inside the tents wouldn’t be so still.

Gently, he gives the protesters an elbow to the ribs.

“Taking out the trash,” he says, “some of these kids might not think about that.”

Stasiowski can be reached at jim.stasiowski@thedolancompany.com.

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