The Occupy Wall Street movement is getting ready to occupy the presidential campaign.
Iowa activists are planning to “shut down” campaign offices of all presidential contenders in the week leading up to the Jan. 3 caucuses in the hope that direct confrontation with the political system — at a time when hundreds of journalists will have descended on the state to cover the first official battle in the Republican presidential primary campaign — will focus national debate on income inequality, money in politics, and the needs of the “99 percent.”
“Not just in Iowa but nationally, there’s a tremendous debate about whether to be involved in electoral politics at all,” said David Goodner, a community organizer with Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement and a regular at the Occupy Des Moines protest. “But the Occupy Wall Street movement is the third-party candidate, and so we’re not going to lift up an individual as a candidate. We’re not going to do anything to help elect anybody.”
The plan, which was first reported by CNN’s Shannon Travis, was approved by the Occupy Des Moines’ general assembly on Monday night.
“One great thing about the Iowa caucuses is it forces the candidates to do grassroots campaigning,” said Ed Fallon, a former Iowa state representative and longtime Democratic activist. “Unfortunately, the candidates aren’t answering our questions about how they’re going to respond to the crisis the greed on Wall Street has created. So maybe if we take over their headquarters and slow down their business a little bit, then they’ll have to respond.”
The demonstrations will not just target Republicans. The “Occupy” protesters — who converged on a local Obama for America field office on Oct. 22 to register their discontent — are nearly as skeptical of Democrats and a White House that has shied away from breaking up the giant banks at the center of the financial crisis. “This isn’t just a Republican thing. We’re going to [Obama’s] headquarters as well,” Fallon said, adding that they have no intention of making it difficult for citizens to caucus on election night.
While a week of disruptions probably won’t determine the outcome of the caucus, they could have unpredictable ideological consequences, noted David Yepsen, a former journalist who covered politics for the Des Moines Register for more than 30 years. “I think you’ll have some Tea Partiers who come at this problem from the other end of the spectrum and agree with them,” he said, referring to the “Occupy” movement’s populist, anti-Wall Street rhetoric.
But the demonstrations could also spiral into chaos and sharpen the divide between left and right. “I can see where some conservatives would really have no time for [the ‘Occupy’ activists], so that there would be some push-back, sometimes physically, and then you’ve got some TV pictures,” he added.
Regardless of what happens, America will definitely be watching. Since Iowa’s first-in-the-nation status is basically unquestioned, the demonstrations will come at the point where the political class and the media are disproportionately focused on a single state.
“I think it’s fascinating, and I’m very excited about it,” said Mike Lux, a progressive strategist who served in the Clinton administration and as liaison to the left during Barack Obama’s transition in late 2008. “Iowa is a place that’s small enough that a modest group of people can have a big impact and could really cause some serious disruption and a lot of press attention because so many political reporters hang out in Iowa all day long looking for new stories.”