The Tuesday night opening event for the People’s Caucus was designed to mirror the experience of attending one of the actual caucuses in Iowa. After some welcoming speakers, participants were given a chance to offer resolutions to the assembly. Unlike in the Democratic or Republican caucuses, these resolutions were not voted up or down for possible inclusion in a state party platform. But the process gave a wide range of speakers—including Occupy representatives from Iowa City, St. Louis, Los Angeles, Oakland, and Seattle—a chance to speak out in favor of things like nullifying the Citizens United ruling, reversing the National Defense Appropriations Act’s violations of civil liberties, “dismantling the U.S. military empire,” ending Bush-era tax cuts, and instating public financing of campaigns.
Next, caucus participants would ordinarily form “preference groups” for specific candidates, trying to get together enough support to win a delegate to represent their pick at the state party convention. In the Peoples’ Caucus, participants instead formed “dispreference groups,” choosing candidates they’d most like to protest.
On Wednesday, I went with the anti-Mitt Romney group to occupy Romney’s Des Moines campaign headquarters. Office staffers (who sheepishly removed the Romney banner from their front window while the action was taking place) locked out the crowd of approximately sixty protesters. Seven people were ultimately arrested at the office door, while others worked on building a cardboard pipeline to Wells Fargo, a bank (conveniently located a few doors down) that has pumped a steady stream of money into Romney’s campaign. Police arrested three additional protesters who entered the Wells Fargo branch.
When activists first announced that they would “Occupy the Caucuses,” Branstad helped stoke fears that dissidents would be interrupting the democratic process itself. However, People’s Caucus delegates emphasized that they would instead be targeting campaign offices, demanding that the candidates be transparent in disclosing the big business contributions that are fueling their efforts. As my younger brother Paul, director of the Los Angeles-based Center for the Working Poor and active OccupyLA participant, stated as part of the People’s Caucus’s opening panel: “We are not here to disrupt the caucus. We are here to make the caucuses a true representation of democracy...The real disruption is how much money Wall Street has put into our political system.”
A good friend of mine, Aaron Jorgensen-Briggs, gave the opening welcome for the People’s Caucus on Tuesday night. The following was his statement (as seen on C-Span):
Friends, neighbors, members of the press, visiting Occupy delegates, honored guests, welcome. I’d like to begin with some words from a great American leader of the past. He wrote:
I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country. Corporations have been enthroned, an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money-power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until the wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed.
These words of President Abraham Lincoln, in 1864, resonate loud and clear tonight, in Des Moines, Iowa, in 2011.
We have gathered here tonight because the political system in the United States no longer represents the values of the American public. Just as President Lincoln predicted, the money-power of the country now resides in the hands of a tiny portion of the population, the 1 percent.
We are here tonight to overthrow money-power with people power. We are here tonight as citizens and patriots to preserve our democracy from the corrupting influence of Wall Street and big corporations. We are here tonight to raise our voices in defense of the American dream. We are here tonight to restore the American political system and American society, to make it human-centered, not profit-centered. We are here tonight to follow through on the vision of our founders and the vision of the great American social movements of the past, the movements that ended slavery, gave women the right to vote, ended racial segregation in our communities, established safe working conditions and good wages for hard-working Americans and their families. We are here tonight because our political leaders are no longer able to lead us.
Now is the time for us to lead, for the people of the United States, the 99 percent, to rise up, and restore America, to recreate it, truly, as a nation of opportunity, equality, and justice. Honored guests, members of the 99 percent, we are here tonight because of you. “Join Us!” we cried, and you have answered. And for that, we thank you, and we bid you welcome to the first-in-the-nation People’s Caucus!