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Sunday, August 26, 2012

As Protests Loom, Videographers Gather in Tampa


The white and blue bus sat atop a small plot near the edge of downtown Tampa that had recently been renamed “Romneyville” as protesters from around the country gathered to pitch tents and unroll sleeping bags.

Blue lettering spelled out the words Mobile Broadcasting News on the side of the bus. Inside, the vehicle was outfitted with sleeping bunks, sconce lights and a ventilation fan.

Working in the cramped interior were Chappell Howard and Flux Rostrum, who sat at wooden tables where three laptop screens displayed images that had been recorded on video earlier that day.

Mr. Rostrum, who has traveled the country for years filming protests, said that the bus, a 1995 International Bluebird that runs on recycled vegetable oil, would be a headquarters for people documenting rallies, marches and other street actions during both the Republican and Democratic conventions.

As protesters tricked into Tampa before the convention, videographers were joined by another sort of documentarian, called livestreamers, who broadcast events onto the Web in real time as they are unfolding.

That sort of immediate dissemination of raw footage, Mr. Rostrum said, had provided a potent tool to show interactions between police and the public and to create a record of fleeting, sometimes chaotic moments that otherwise might be lost to conflicting memories.

“They can't say you're editing it and twisting the story,” he said on Friday. “It's live happening right in front of you.”

During the convention, he said, he and others would be airing their footage on the Mobile Broadcast Web site.

Video has played a significant ro le during recent conventions and large-scale protests. Mr. Rostrum was among a group of people who contributed footage from the 2004 convention in New York to a collective called I-Witness Video. After the convention, video assembled by the group was used as evidence to refute testimony by police officers in a court case involving the mass arrests of hundreds of protesters.

Four years later, during the Republican gathering in St. Paul, officers surrounded a house where about a dozen I-Witness members were staying, handcuffed them and held them for hours. None of the collective members were arrested but they said that the authorities looked through their computers and cameras.

Livestreaming was widely used by people connected to the Occupy Wall Street protests that began in New York last fall and then spread to dozens of other cities.

Mr. Rostrum said that he was running a 24-hour livestream from the bus that showed “Romneyville,” which was organized b y a group called the Poor People's Economic Human Rights campaign. He said the stream showed the evolution of the encampment, which sprung up on Aug. 20 on a lot rented from an army navy surplus store that stands about a mile from the Tampa Bay Times Forum where the Republican delegates will gather.

Mr. Rostrum said that before arriving in Florida he had been in West Virginia with his bus documenting conflicts between police officers, miners and people protesting strip mining.

Others in the slowly growing camp had also arrived from far-flung spots. There were people who had hitchhiked from places like Baltimore, New York and North Carolina. There was a group that had traveled on a bus from Gainesville and a woman who had ridden a motorcycle about 100 miles from Orlando.

By Friday night about 30 tents had been pitched between the army navy store and a ramp leading onto Interstate 275. As a breeze blew through the camp some of the inhabitants gathered unde r a black plastic tarp that stretched between Mr. Rostrum's bus and a nearly identical bus that housed a mobile kitchen that had last been used at the Rainbow Gathering, an annual utopian assembly that was held this year at Cherokee National Forest in Tennessee.

Those beneath the tent said that they had traveled to Tampa to exchange ideas, air opposition to the Republican platform and to try to grapple with what they described as disturbing realities that gripped the nation.

“I think a movement of ordinary people can mitigate some of the problems we have,” said Tom Over, 44, an independent journalist who had arrived from Columbus, Ohio. “There's so much money in politics it's undermining our democracy.”

Diamond Dan Whitaker, 74, from San Francisco, recited a short poem that he said “came to me like a revelation, like a voice in my head.”

Some people ate rice and beans. Somebody scrubbed a kettle that had been used to prepare the meal. Pe ople sitting at a small wooden table stacked with fliers for upcoming protest marches listened to a jazz radio station as cars whizzed past toward the interstate. A helicopter with green and red lights made a few passes overhead.

Surveying the scene, Charlie Meyers, 22, from Little Rock, Ark., said it reminded him of his first days at the Occupy Wall Street encampment last fall in New York.

“It's a lot like Zuccotti Park, Mr. Meyers, 22, said, “Except here we are allowed to have a kitchen.”