January 3, 2012

The Underwhelming Force Of Social Mobilization

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The sign boards and slogan "This is what democracy looks like" that occupiers adopted from Occupy Wall Street at Occupy the Caucus headquarter on Tuesday, January 3. Photo by Ya-chen Chen.

After a week of protests and dozens of arrests at the headquarters of the many Republican presidential candidates, the Occupy protesters in Des Moines were virtually absent from scene Tuesday, even as the eyes of the nation were focused on the Iowa Caucuses.

“We want to make it clear that we’re not going to be disruptive today,” said Stephen Toothman, a 43-year-old Des Moines resident at the Occupy Des Moines headquarters. “There’s a lot of people from certain organizations who are accusing us of wanting to be disruptive.”

A sign on the back wall of the headquarters of Occupy Des Moines recommended that participants caucus and vote uncommitted. But a woman at the information desk said that recommendation was not the official Occupy Des Moines policy. It was brought by a visitor who was allowed to hang it high on the wall among the dozens of other hand-painted posters behind the bandstand where the occupiers host their live stream—a live chat show for occupiers, she said.

“We’re going to get Romney!” one man yells.

The woman at the information desk glared at him, motioning to the reporter asking her about Occupy plans, and exasperated, asked what the point was to having a stealth operation.

But if they had any operations today, that stealth part of it was a total success.

Accept for a late night protest by a couple at the Romney post-caucus celebration at Fort Des Moines Hotel,  the Occupy Movement was not visible.

At the Occupation site in Stewart Park, Matt Dannevik was taking it easy. He is a transplant occupier. He came in from Omaha on December 26.

“Today is a day of relaxation. We’re having a celebration party later tonight,” said Dannevik.

Occupation tent encampment at Stewart Park, located just a few blocks from the State Capital. Photo by Mike Anderson

He’s celebrating “the success of the occupation.” In addition to keeping busy with protests, the Occupiers have been dealing with the weather.

They had been prepared for vandalism, but as one participant put it, “My tent was vandalized by the wind.”

At a morning Occupy Des Moines meeting, around a dozen occupiers took seats in front of a set of white boards. Three are visitors from Lawrence, Kan. The discussion at hand is the previous night’s occupation of the Mitt Romney caucus-eve rally.

Caitlin Strain, a 45-year old woman wearing thick glasses and a tassled Hawkeye hat over her hijab, said she was one of those escorted out of the Romney rally.

Strain said she has been arrested five times in the occupy movement. She has been with Occupy Des Moines since Oct. 9, and has been camping in Stewart Park since Oct. 13.

In the media room, Toothman prepped for an evening meeting. Behind his computer is a framed picture of his son and daughter, along with random documents, a large mug and a bag of gas station doughnuts.

From his perspective, it is not anti-climactic for the caucuses to go on unimpeded by the Occupiers. In one measure, they’ve achieved what they set out for.

“I’m gauging success by the fact that the message about corporate politicians has gotten out far and wide across the country,” said Toothman. In another respect, as Toothman describes it, this simply can’t be the climax of their movement, because there is no end in sight.

In the meeting, there was some discussion of marching at the offices of Principal Finance. But it soon became apparent that idea was unrealistic, because they can’t get enough members on a weekday afternoon, especially for marching against the largest building in Des Moines.

The itinerary was narrowed down: cleaning up the building, an afternoon vigil in the park from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. and a press conference at 9.

As far as the campaign is concerned, Toothman said this is the beginning of a new phase.

Toothman is excited to see the resistance in New Hampshire and more is planned in South Carolina and throughout the year till the November general election.

For now, the Occupy Des Moines headquarters is finishing off balloon towers and rocking out to music videos from Youtube projected on the wall.

“We’re starting to look like the Republican Party,” one man jokes.

(IowaWatch Staff Writer Mike Anderson contributed to this story)

 

2 thoughts on “The Underwhelming Force Of Social Mobilization

  1. Pingback: 2012 Iowa Caucus Watch LIVE | The Iowa Center for Public Affairs Journalism

  2. Pingback: Santorum and Romney Vied for Tie in Iowa | The Iowa Center for Public Affairs Journalism

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