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Sunday, Aug 31, 2008, 2:24 pm

RNC 2008: Of Twitter & Tasers

By Jeremy Gantz
My RNC 2008 began in Chicago at noon Saturday, after I took my seat on a bus idling outside of Union Station. Behind me sat a handful of early 20-somethings heading to St. Paul with one express purpose: to challenge the Republican Party - although they seemed as unsure what shape this challenge might take as the city's preemptive police department.

We were barely out of Illinois and the convention already tasted authoritarian: A guy sitting directly behind me read aloud his cell phone's Twitter feed from The Uptake (a great citizen journalism outfit covering RNC protests closely), so I learned about house raids and detainments occurring as we rolled through Wisconsin. It was already getting ugly, 48 hours before the convention was set to begin.

The conversation behind me turned to RNC 2004, and NYPD mass arrests. Two young men spoke with reverence for those protests, although neither were there and both sounded leery of being arrested this week.

"(Mass arrests) won't happen."

"It happened in New York."

"You're right."

Might this convention spark something like the WTO protests in Seattle nine years ago? It seems nearly impossible: police have had too much practice.

So much practice, in fact, that St. Paul's police department (in consort with the FBI?) decided to weaken and control protesters through early raids and confiscations of electronic gear (although the RNC Welcoming Committee did seem to have more than that) - and vehicles. As our bus drove through St. Paul around 6:30 p.m. or so, we passed this Earth Justice bus surrounded by cruisers. The bus was being impounded, leaving all of its passengers stranded on Interstate 94, Twitter relayed to the disgusted protesters behind me.

Not long after that, one said: "I'm more afraid of Tasers than being arrested." A woman responded: "It's not that bad. It burns."

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Jeremy Gantz was the Web/Associate Editor of In These Times from 2008 to 2012. His January 2011 cover story for the magazine, "Terrorist by Association," was selected as a finalist for the Molly National Journalism Award 2012. He is now a contributing editor to the magazine, focusing on labor issues.

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