Julie Brown, a member of the Occupy movement, is escorted from the Iowa Democratic… (Michael J. Crumb / Associated…)
Reporting from Des Moines — Four years ago, Des Moines crackled and hummed with the wattage delivered by the waves of the young — voters, volunteers, activists — banded together for the purpose of electing Barack Obama to the presidency.
It’s different now, of course. Obama is the incumbent. The Republican primary is the show in town, not the Democrats. But some of the young people who were here then are changed as well.
One of them is David Goodner, who sat in a plastic chair Monday in the ragged space the Occupy Des Moines movement has taken in the city’s East Village. “The very people who supported Obama in ’08 are the Occupy organizers,” Goodner said. “That same energy has shifted from the electoral arena to the streets.”
Goodner is a volunteer with the local movement (they don’t have titles), and this week will be joining what activists here hope will be hundreds of people trying to transmit their message of income inequality while GOP candidates crisscross the state before the Jan. 3 caucuses.
The goal, Goodner and others here said Monday, is not to disrupt or interfere with the caucuses, but to spend the week beforehand taking “direct action” around Des Moines, something likely to involve marches, sit-ins and perhaps arrests. “We’ll be laying a little human equity on the line,” Goodner said.
More than 30 have been arrested here during the last two months, including some at the local headquarters of the Democratic Party. Protesters also heckled Newt Gingrich at an event last week.
It’s made some here nervous that the caucus process next week will be rockier than usual, but said Stephen Toothman, a spokesman for the group, ‘We will not be going to the caucuses at all.” The movement will, instead, encourage caucus-goers to vote “uncommitted” as a sign of protest.
The goal more than anything, although the organizers won’t say it, is likely to be media attention. But activists handily outnumbered reporters at a news conference Monday. Several members of the movement gave testimonials. “I’ve lived in Iowa my entire life,” said one volunteer, Shawn Gude. “I’m proud of having grown up in a state that values hard work, humility and helping your neighbor. But those values aren’t reflected in our government or our economy.”
One man in the small crowd asked whether the members of the movement were planning on registering as Republicans at the caucuses to support Ron Paul as an antiwar candidate.
“Obama was an antiwar candidate,” another man in the audience cracked.
“Occupy Des Moines will not support any political candidate,” Toothman said.
Goodner is a community organizer, like the president once was. But he sounds as though he’s soured on the man he voted for, and he seemed untroubled by the suggestion that a failure to support Obama this time around could propel Mitt Romney or another Republican to the White House.
Obama, he said, gave birth to the Occupy movement when he pledged that as president, things would be different. “He failed to deliver,” he said. Any candidate that can widen the tax base, secure Medicare and Social Security, end "Wall Street greed" and limit campaign spending would merit his support, he said.
"He said, ‘We were the change,’” Goodner said ruefully of the president. He and the others here seem ready to go on without him.