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Student researcher Ilayda Orankoy sees for herself why mobs are powerful and scary

Between the time I first obtained a position on Dr. Banaszak’s research team and when we actually left for Cleveland, I spoke to a number of people about my summer job--family, friends, even a University Health Services doctor when I came down with a poorly-timed cold a couple days before the convention. In all these conversations, there were two questions I was asked the most:

1. “Wait, are you a Republican?”

To this,  I usually hastily explained that the purpose of the trip was to conduct research about protesters, not to participate in protests ourselves or attend the convention.

2. “Are you scared/worried/anxious?”

Now, this question threw me for a loop every time. While I typically responded that I was “scared but excited,” fear (in any form) never really set in. Even after getting briefed about the possibility of tear gas or police intervention, the thought that I could potentially be in danger never truly occurred to me. That’s not to say that I wasn’t aware of what was going on. Between the media’s speculation and the palpable tension in both political parties, going to the RNC warranted some trepidation, at the very least.

Arriving in Cleveland and witnessing firsthand the tall, cage-like barriers and the seemingly endless stream of police officers, however, did help put things into perspective. The city was clearly prepared for the worst, and I needed to acknowledge that the worst might happen. I can’t say that I was any more ‘fearful’ than I was when I initially set out, however; being surrounded by so much security detail at such a publicized event made me feel, well, secure.

On Tuesday, my team attempted to attend a flag burning. The scene did not allow for research; there was simply no way to squeeze through the crowd of media and police to begin the interviewing process. But we did manage to see snippets of pretty much everything that we had been told to be on the lookout for: anarchists with black bandanas over their faces, a brief scuffle between protesters, and a police blockade--all while a man with a megaphone and a violently anti-LGBT sign droned on about the sinful nature of women, gay youth, and non-Christians. (We would later find out that the burning resulted in a brawl between police and protesters.)

I think it was then when I fully recognized the intensity that protest can carry. While being warned about what demonstrations can lead to is well and good, most precautions are left in the realm of theory until one actually comes face-to-face with a real life situation.  When I found myself in this one, I learned, that a crowd can have a powerful mix of emotions and energy:  excitement, anger, curiosity, exasperation--and yes, a little bit of trepidation.