Although critics say the Occupy Movement has failed to state a clear focus, the Iowa City participants come close to agreeing on one matter of far-reaching importance – they don’t like any of the contenders for president of the U.S. – including the current one – Barack Obama.
That was the consensus of an informal survey of 60 Occupy Iowa City participants that was conducted over several days. Obama got the most votes – 14 – among the candidates, but he was a distant second to “no one,” which got 32 votes. U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, (R-Tex.), came in third with 10 votes. Four went to candidates not running, including U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Occupy Iowa City participants are part of a national Occupy movement that has involved about 1.4 million in the U.S. and several other countries.
The Iowa City survey took place at night before and after the daily general assembly, which occurs each evening at 7 o’clock in College Green Park. About forty participants continuously showed up. They shivered together as the sun went down, along with the temperature, but they said they remained determined to stick together for their cause.
Mary Vasey, 57, of Iowa City, sat in the back of a large conference room at the Iowa City Public Library during a public forum they called “Let’s Talk and Listen: Occupation Iowa City.”
“I voted for Obama in ’08, and I’ll probably vote for him again, that is if he gets the message,” said Vasey, whose hair was white, speckled with black. “That’s what this is all about – getting the politicians to understand the message.”
As the panel began to discuss developments of Occupy Iowa City in the past month, the room filled with well-dressed people. After sharing their personal stories about becoming involved with Occupy Iowa City, panel members answered questions. When asked which candidate they support overall, if any, the room of 30 people filled with chuckles at first, then an eruption of laughter.
Ben Shonkwiler, 28, a veteran with long brown hair and a thick beard, answered quickly, “No one. This is not a political movement; part of the problem is politics.”
Shonkwiler, from a small town in northwest Iowa, said he fought in Afghanistan with the Marine Corps directly after graduating high school and has been camping in College Green Park since the occupation began on October 6.
“While some people do have individual preferences, overall we do not want to put another politician in office who is easily corruptible,” Shonkwiler said. “We don’t support the system, so we don’t support a candidate.”
Occupy Iowa City spans all political parties, creating a movement united sans leadership but with a common purpose.
The community includes about 20 tents, a solar panel, wireless Internet and a permanent structure.
Veterans in wheelchairs, young men sporting dreadlocks, and well-groomed college students make up part of the diverse crowd. Their unifying motive is to fight what they see as corporate corruption in politics.
“The Occupy movement has been very consciously non-partisan,” said Ed Flaherty, president of the Iowa City Veterans for Peace Chapter. “There has been a consensus that political parties have done a lousy job. Both had opportunities to address the problems and they both have taken a pass,” he added.
Critics of the Occupy movement nationally say it does not have one message. At the Occupy Iowa City gatherings, however, more community responsibility and less corporate influence in government has emerged as common themes.
Occupy Iowa City participants also pointed to commonalities among participants – young and looking for work.
Victoria Watson, another member of the “Let’s Talk and Listen” panel, said, “The majority of people is very young in Occupy Wall Street, mid-to–late 20s, unemployed and can’t find work. A lot of them support Obama; however, we did protest him in Des Moines collectively because money from Wall Street has gone to his campaign.”
Watson, 28, who said she works 70 hours per week as a waitress, bartender and yoga studio manager, said, “Mainly, we are against the amount of money we have in politics currently.”
Protests and demonstrations like the ones in Iowa City have taken place in 1,581 cities across the United States, according to Occupytogether.com, a website formed to document all occupy movements. Those numbers have caught the attention of candidates for the Republican presidential nomination. And, for the most part, they have been critical.
Herman Cain told the Wall Street Journal, “I don’t have the facts to back this up, but I happen to believe that these demonstrations are planned and orchestrated to distract from the failed policies of the Obama Administration.” Cain, former CEO of Godfather’s Pizza, also said the protesters should blame themselves if they don’t have jobs or are not rich instead of blaming Wall Street and banks.
Mitt Romney said on CBS that the movement was “dangerous” and “class warfare.”
Paul, who has consistently placed third in national polls, and now with Occupy Iowa City, has always campaigned for ending the Federal Reserve, a principle that is seen on many “Occupy” protest signs throughout the country.
“When spontaneous movements occur in a country, the Johnny-come-latelies like to join and redirect the original intent of the Occupiers. So for that reason the political people get involved and try to get hold of the message, and I think that’s been the case on both sides,” said Paul in an interview with AmherstPatch.com in New Hampshire.
Obama recently said at a news conference, “People are frustrated, and the protesters are giving voice to a more broad-based frustration about how our financial system works.” He added, “The American people understand that not everybody has been following the rules, that Wall Street is an example of that.”
Flaherty of Veterans for Peace, a non-profit organization of veterans that publishes information on what it says presents the true costs and consequences of war, said, “If you look at what’s happened in the last 10 years, no one feels comfortable, or should feel comfortable with what’s been going on. It seems to be working in the sense that it has a lot of people outraged. The politicians either abuse Occupy or they are extremely cautious.”
Shonkwiler, the Marine Corps veteran, talked about his frustration with the political system at the Nov. 10th forum.
“I fought a war I didn’t believe in. Now, I’m fighting for something I believe in,” he said.
(Abbey Moffitt is a senior journalism student at the University of Iowa’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication)