Blog : September 2012
iReporters' personal stories of Middle East protests »

Kevin Hutchinson was supposed to have a relaxing week in Cairo. Instead, he found himself holed up in his hotel, in the midst of violent protests.

He's no stranger to chaotic experiences. The Calgary, Canada native currently lives in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and his travels have taken him to Khartoum, Sudan, during a rebel attack; Hong Kong, where mafia killings took place in his hotel; and Islamabad, Pakistan during a suicide bombing.

“I’m not sure if trouble has a knack for finding me, or if I have a knack for finding trouble,” he said.

Protests against an anti-Islamic movie trailer on Youtube began in Egypt and have spread to other countries, as far away as Australia,  within the past two weeks. After demonstrators laid siege to the U.S. embassy in Cairo, the violence spread to the streets, just outside Hutchison’s hotel.

“On Thursday [September 13th] the amount of protesters increased considerably and I was able to watch quite a bit of the events unfold behind the hotel,” he said.

“Much to my surprise, it continued to escalate into the evening, I began to post iReport videos showing the clashes between the protesters and police.”

Despite this, Hutchison made it to the wedding inside the hotel that night as planned, though hundreds of guests declined to attend. “Within a few hours, the reception hall was filled with tear gas as the protests turned to riots outside the building.”

Soon Hutchison was told that protesters surrounded the hotel, so the entire building was on lockdown.

“It almost seemed implausible to me that, for one, this protest/riot was still happening and two, that the police were being backed up – they were not holding their lines.  It wasn’t like there were tens of thousands of rioters;  there were a lot, but I’ve seen far larger crowds controlled with far more efficiency.”

Riots continued through Friday, and Hutchison, stuck in his hotel, sent more footage to iReport.

“Some of the heaviest fighting took place next to my room, on the street separating the Shepherd and Intercontinental,” he said. “The rioters would move up, the police would push them back but then fall back to a spot farther back than the original spot they held.”

By Saturday afternoon, the protests had calmed down to the point where he was able to leave his hotel and return to Dubai.

Riots also spread to Tunisia on that Friday, and the American Cooperative School of Tunis was ransacked. iReporter Gabe Bredy’s father is the superintendent of that school. The two of them cleared the compound of looters, though not before much of what was there was destroyed or taken, including the school's computers.

Bredy told his story to iReport, and a week later, reflected on what happened.

“It has been an emotional week, and the attacks felt very personal to a lot of people,” he said.

“I think the situation is improving in Tunis. Tunisians are a lovely, moderate people and are ashamed of their actions on the 14th. I know most here are eager to rebuild and reopen. The spirit of service among international teachers is strong, and people just want to begin teaching their students again.”

Hutchinson also shared his thoughts on the future of Egypt after this incident.

“If the newly elected government of Egypt cannot lead its own people through times like this without calling for protests and reaction, rather than calm and action – it needs to get the hell out of the way and allow a more suitable government take its place. The people of Egypt - my friends there - deserve this.”

Posted by:
// September 21, 2012
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iReporters rock the DNC »

Excited and ready to rock, the three winners of CNN's contest to attend the Democratic National Convention hit the ground at full speed. Veteran iReporters Omekongo Dibinga and Melissa Fazli and newcomer Willie Harris documented almost every step of the way. If you don't believe us, just look at all the iReports they sent!


Day 1


We kicked off with introductions and a taste test at the CNN Grill, an existing restaurant that CNN took over to host politicians and tastemakers during the convention. From spotting Sen. John Kerry and journalist Tom Brokaw, to spending a few minutes with CNN's Soledad O'Brien, the iReporters were awestruck from the start.


When night fell, the iReporters headed to Time Warner Cable Arena for the big night of speeches. Newark, New Jersey, Mayor Cory Booker's speech on education inspired Harris, who wants to be a teacher some day. And Michelle Obama "knocked her speech out of the park," said Dibinga. "Talking about success meaning helping people not just making a lot of money and closing the door behind you, that was excellent," he said.


Day 2


When an iReporter shows up in a suit paired with a red iReport shirt underneath, you know it's going to be a good day! Four local iReporters and two iReporters in town for the convention joined us for an iReport meet-up. CNN director of photography Mark Hill and on-air promotions producer Danya Levine came by to give the iReporters some tips on photography and interviewing. Read some of their expert tips here.


Former President Bill Clinton tore down the house during his keynote speech, according to the iReporters. Fazli felt Clinton "totally rocked the arena" and commented on the long standing ovation he received as he took the stage. Dibinga appreciated that Clinton was the first politician he had heard acknowledge that "we're better off than four years ago."


When Obama joined Clinton on stage, it was a dream come true for Fazli, who volunteers for Obama's campaign. "I was emotional about it because I've been talking about this man for four years on iReport and to finally see him in person with my own eyes was just amazing to me," she said.


Day 3


Some veteran iReporters shared a "heartfelt moment" as they met face-to-face for the first time, reminisced Fazli. Dibinga, Fazli and Egberto Willies have known each other through iReport for almost four years. Meanwhile, newcomer Harris took to the streets asking people what they hoped to hear at Obama's speech that night. His poignant questions revealed job creation, health care and education as the biggest topics convention goers wanted addressed.


Worrying that we wouldn't get in to see Obama's speech, we headed to the Arena five hours early. The speech had been scheduled for a larger stadium until fears of severe weather forced a change of venue. We were sitting high up in the rafters, but we snagged seats for the entire group! The energy inside the arena grew and grew until President Obama took the stage.


Harris may only be 23, but he called the experience of being at the DNC the "single-most exciting thing that has happened in [his] life," he said. "Being part of the speeches, hanging out with CNN staff and everyone was so nice. It was just a great experience. I'm just at a loss of words."


Dibinga felt "unexpectedly inspired" as the convention wrapped up. "I'm really inspired to go back and do my part in really helping build a better country where there's less of me and more of we," he said. Fazli was also moved to do more, but in a political sense. "It was history in the making. It was a big pep rally. Getting all fired up like that has inspired me to get more involved with the Obama campaign," she said.


You can look back at all the best iReports from the three contest winners, as well as stories from other iReporters and CNN employees, through our DNC 2012 Open Story. And, if you're curious about iReport's experience at the RNC in Tampa, read about it here. While we take a breather after the conventions, stay tuned for information on the presidential debates coming this October.

Posted by:
// September 10, 2012
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Conventions spark the art of satirizing »

The Republican and Democratic National Conventions kicked off the presidential election race of 2012. The conventions brought delegates from across the country together, spotlighted celebrity appearances, showered convention-goers with balloons and confetti and inspired political satire.


The RNC and DNC were saturated with layers of satire. Comedy Central's Jon Stewart and his band of comedic coorespondences poked fun at both conventions on the Daily Show. The satirical site the Onion had a parody field day at the expense of both Democrats and Republicans, and CNN's iReport site also saw a resurgence of political satire during the conventions.


While attending the RNC, iReporters Luis Ramirez and Tim Young -- who go by Bread8 Productions -- produced a satirical video called "Which foods are Republican." They went around the RNC asking political and media personalities like Republican Party politician Rick Santorum, former Republican party presidential candidate Herman Cain and CNN's Wolf Blitzer, which foods they consider Republican.



Initially, Bread8 Productions was inspired by the overpriced cost of food at the RNC, but through their satirical video they also wanted to see if things like food reflect party affiliation. "We know Republicans have a hard time stomaching the issue of illegal immigration, but there were lots of empanadas," Ramirez said.


He says the weirdest answer he got while shooting the video was from Rick Santorum who answered with 'blackened alligator.' "But the most common answer to [the question] was 'American foods,'" Ramirez said. "I am not sure what that means."


For some it was the food, but for others it was the people who inspired satire. Clint Eastwood sparked controversy with his improvisational conversation directed at an empty chair that a fictitious President Obama was sitting in, during his speech at the RNC.


Adam Forstadt and Chris Wylde took Eastwood's speech, which the Twitter realm dubbed as "Eastwooding," and satirized it into the iReport video "Clint Eastwood vs Obamachair." In the video, Wylde imitates Eastwood's speech with humorous undertones.



Forstadt says the video was inspired not only by the speech, but the nature of celebrities at the conventions as well. "I don't think celebrities and politics mix, unless they have a true understanding of the issues," he said. "Clint just looked like a crazy old man up there and that's ultimately what we were trying to capture with this video."


Both videos generated thousands of views on CNN's iReport. But there were many commenters who quickly came to the defense of the GOP, offering criticism for the lack of content satirizing Democrats.


On CNN iReport's Facebook page, user Tommy OvertheTop Trittipo said in response to "Clint Eastwood vs Obamachair": "Heaven forbid CNN would ever cover Obama-related satire."


And on iReport, user Halliod said: "So I guess it is ok when celebrities come out to endorse Obama, but when a celebrity does not he could be censored for speaking out publicly."


But others defended the videos, asking whether some commenters understood the nature of satire.


User Sleepo said in response to the same iReport: "The creators of this video aren't saying that Eastwood shouldn't have done it, they're saying that it was hilariously weird -- and a perfect target for parody."


Satire has been a part of American politics since the establishment of the thirteen colonies. And political satire is not new to CNN iReport. Over the years, political cartoonists contributed satirical commentary to the site.


The recent iReport parodies are striking up an array of conversations with the CNN audience. So we wanted to know what are your thoughts? How do you feel about political comedy, and why do you think comedy aimed at Democrats is less prevalent on iReport?

Posted by:
// September 7, 2012
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iReporters own the RNC »

Going into the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida, a lot of things were up in the air as Hurricane Isaac bared down on the Gulf Coast and the first day of the convention was canceled. But then we met the three iReporters who won CNN’s contest to attend the RNC -- Alex Anderson, Elizabeth Lauten and Matt Sky -- and we knew this funny, talented group could handle whatever came our way.


Day 1


Tuesday was all about taking in the excitement. We watched the speeches by Ann Romney and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie from the CNN Grill, where CNN had built a restaurant and TV set to host politicians and tastemakers during the convention. We settled in while actors Stephen Baldwin and Evan Handler, politicians Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, and journalists Tom Brokaw and David Gregory, to name a few, milled about, and CNN's Piers Morgan took a moment out of his dinner to meet the contest winners.


As the evening came to a close, we couldn’t wait to see what was in store for us next.


Day 2


Wednesday a handful of other iReporters in Tampa that week joined us for a photo walk with CNN photographer David Holloway and photo editor Shana Darnell, who shared tips on framing, lighting and how to best capture protest images. iReporter Carol Lim put a few of their tips into action later on as she documented the small demonstrations around the city, including a man on a cross protesting the war on drugs. We had just enough time for a group photo in front of police on horseback before a thunderstorm drenched us.


After drying off, a few of us headed back towards the convention area and and stumbled across a shirtless man wearing a boot on his head. "Welcome to Romneyville, please take off your pants," he shouted from a megaphone. It was none other than the wacky presidential hopeful Vermin Supreme, who put down the megaphone for a few minutes to share some zombie survival tips with iReporters Luis Ramirez and Tim Young.


Afterwards, Matt Sky, his girlfriend, Julia Lundy, and I wandered into the Forum to snap some photos as busloads of delegates started taking their seats. The Texas delegation, all wearing khakis, blue dress shirts and cowboy hats, took quite a liking to the iReporters. Sky talked about Romney and Obama's views on the economy with an alternate delegate for awhile, and Lundy found herself in a heated discussion with another alternate delegate.


Day 3


We kicked off the final day of the RNC with a taste test at the Grill and surprise visit from Wolf Blitzer – and then let the iReporters out on the loose. They had a lot on their plate: Interviewing politicians about their messages for undecided voters, getting speech reaction and documenting quirky sights of the convention.


We watched Wednesday night’s speeches from the Forum, and though we were high up in the nosebleed seats, the excitement of the crowd was electrifying. First came Clint Eastwood’s surprise address to an invisible President Obama. Then Marco Rubio, and then Romney took the stage.


Lauten, a conservative voter, marveled in the excitement on the convention floor just before Romney's acceptance speech. And Sky, a left-leaning Independent, thought Romney gave a powerful speech, but questioned the part where he asked if America was better off than four years ago. Going back to Bush-style economics "might not put us in a better place," he opined.


After the end of Romney's speech, more than 100,000 red, white and blue balloons dropped from the ceiling. "I loved it. It's one of the moments I waited for all night," Lauten said. "The crowd was much more excited and hopeful than the 2008 crowd," she added, referring to her experience at the 2008 RNC.


It was bittersweet bidding farewell to the iReporters. Lauten reminisced about all the great people she met at the convention and put together a highlight reel of her biggest interviews. The biggest thing Sky took away from the convention experience was "a better understanding of how similar we are," he said in his wrap-up video. Despite our politics, "most of us want to see this country prosper," he said. And Anderson must still be reveling in seeing Newt Gingrich, meeting Piers Morgan and and having Eastwood "make [his] day" during the final night.


You can look back at all the best iReports from the three contest winners, as well as stories from other iReporters and CNN employees, through our RNC 2012 Open Story. And be sure to check out the Democratic National Convention Open Story as the convention kicks off in Charlotte, North Carolina, this week.

Posted by:
// September 3, 2012
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Crowdsourcing fans, rejoice: Star Wars Uncut returns »

Our friends at Vimeo couldn’t have summed it up better: “Three years ago in a galaxy not so far away, interwebular genius and former Vimeo developer Casey Pugh spoke, and the Internet answered. His call to arms galvanized the most powerful of online hordes: Star Wars nerds, nearly 1,000 of whom came together to create the sublime crowdsourcing triumph that is Star Wars Uncut.”


For the unitiated, Star Wars Uncut is a crowdsourced, shot-for-shot recreaction of Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. Fans were invited to claim and recreate 15-second-scenes from the film, which were then edited together in order. The individual clips are great on their own, but together they form a hilarious, unique and endlessly creative remake.


Here at iReport we’re big fans of the project (in fact, I talked about it at a Creative Mornings speech on crowdsourcing this summer), so you can imagine our excitement when we found out that Star Wars Uncut just announced the next chapter of the saga: Empire Strikes Back Uncut.


Bravo, guys. We can’t wait to see the final product! You can claim a scene and learn more about the project here. (Hurry: Scenes usually get claimed quickly!) Let us know in the comments if you decide to participate, and share your ideas for other creative/awesome/why-didn’t-we-think-of-that-first projects that we should try out on iReport. May the Force be with you.


p.s. Speaking of sci-fi, be sure to check out our before and after photo gallery of iReporters at Dragon*Con. We had a great time meeting everyone this weekend!

Posted by: katie // September 3, 2012
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