executive director of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, a 36-year-old grassroots organization with more than 4,000 members.
The Occupy movement is making its presence felt in Iowa ahead of the Iowa caucus, the nation’s first nominating contest for the 2012 presidential elections. Demonstrators have targeted the Iowa Democratic Party headquarters and the "Obama for America" office in recent days, protesting measures being considered in Washington dealing with defense spending, a planned oil pipeline and jobless benefits. Next they plan to focus on Republicans who will be crisscrossing the state in the next two weeks seeking voters’ support. "We think that we have a right to—a constitutional right to state our purpose and to call for and to address grievances that we have with the government and the corporate control over the government," says Hugh Espey, the executive director of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, a 36-year-old grassroots organization with some 4,000 members. "These sorts of protest are going to continue, until we have a system that puts people before profits and communities before corporations." [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: We turn to national politics here in the United States. Nermeen?
NERMEEN SHAIKH: We turn now to the upcoming Iowa caucus. The Occupy movement is making its presence felt in Iowa ahead of the nation’s first nominating contest, set for January 3rd, and it has made President Obama—not the Republican field of candidates—the target of one of its first major stands. On Monday, eight people affiliated with Occupy Des Moines held a protest at the Iowa Democratic Party headquarters. Occupy demonstrators have also targeted the "Obama for America" office in recent days, protesting measures being considered in Washington dealing with defense spending, a planned oil pipeline and jobless benefits.
On Saturday, members from Occupy Omaha and Occupy Iowa City joined Occupy Des Moines with Veterans for Peace, the Catholic Worker community, and Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement outside the Obama campaign headquarters. Using the human microphone to amplify their voices, they listed their demands.
OCCUPY PROTESTERS: Cut the U.S. military budget in half, dismantle our U.S. military empire, and rejoin the community of nations, so we can create jobs, balance the budget, meet our people’s needs here, and help the human community to heal our dying planet.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Norm Sterzenbach, the executive director of the Iowa Democratic Party, responded to protesters with the following statement, quote: "While we recognize their right to lawful protests, an occupation of our office is not acceptable and only interferes with the work we do to elect Democrats and build a better future for Iowa and our nation. It’s unfortunate that some members chose to face arrest, rather than leave as they were asked to do multiple times."
AMY GOODMAN: Well, the Occupy movement now appears set to turn its focus to Republicans, who will be crisscrossing the state for the next two weeks seeking voters’ support. They plan to hold a people’s caucus on December 27th as part of a week of direct action and discussions surrounding the caucuses.
Jessica Mazour from Occupy Des Moines is one of the protesters trying to bring the Occupy messages to the U.S. political debate.
JESSICA MAZOUR: I’m from Des Moines, Iowa. I’m part of Occupy Des Moines. I’m on the action and events committee. We have adopted the grievances of Occupy Wall Street. I think some of the ones almost everyone can agree on would be the ending corporate greed and getting money out of politics, because, in a way, if we can get that, that’s going to help all the other issues that everyone brings to the table.
AMY GOODMAN: For more, we go to the heart of the upcoming caucus: Des Moines, Iowa. We’re joined by DN! video stream by Hugh Espey, the executive director of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement. It’s a 36-year-old grassroots organization with over 4,000 members.
Hugh Espey, talk about why you’re targeting the Democrats as well as the Republicans in this two weeks leading up to the Iowa caucuses.
HUGH ESPEY: Well, we feel both major political parties, both the Democrats and the Republicans, have been paying too much attention to Wall Street and the big banks and not enough attention to everyday people. So, in other words, they’ve been doing the bidding of the 1 percent versus the 99 percent. And we want both political parties to know that we want government of, by and for the people, not government of, by and for the corporations. So that’s why we’re taking our message to both Democrats and President Obama—I mean, Republicans and President Obama.
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the arrests that took place.
HUGH ESPEY: Well, you know, on Monday, there were eight people that were arrested at the Democratic headquarters. We support what those folks were doing. In fact, we were there at the Obama headquarters on Saturday for a joint rally. We lifted up immigration issues, and we were there in solidarity with Veterans for Peace and others that were fighting back against the permanent war economy. So, we think that we have a right to—a constitutional right to state our purpose and to call for and to address grievances that we have with the government and the corporate control over the government. So, these sorts of protests are going to continue, until we are—have a system that puts people before profits and communities before corporations. It’s that simple. We’re fighting back against corporate greed, and we’re fighting back against corporate control of our democracy.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: At a Republican presidential debate in South Carolina last month, several contenders accused Obama of being too soft on Iran. However, Ron Paul offered a different take on dealing with Iran. I want to ask you about the surge in popularity enjoyed by Ron Paul, but first let’s just go to that clip.
REP. RON PAUL: I’m afraid what’s going on right now is similar to the war propaganda that went on against Iraq. And you know they didn’t have weapons of mass destruction, and it was orchestrated. And it was, to me, a tragedy of what’s happened these past last 10 years, the death and destruction, $4 billion — $4 trillion in debt. So, no, it’s not worthwhile going to war. If you do, you get a declaration of war, you fight it, and you win it and get it over with.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Ron Paul. Hugh Espey, can you talk about his surge in Iowa right now?
HUGH ESPEY: Well, we—yeah, over the past two weeks, he has surged. In fact, the poll just this past weekend, three days ago, shows him at 23 percent of likely caucus-goers, Romney at 20, and Gingrich at 14. Now Gingrich has fallen from 27 percent two weeks ago, so his support has been cut in half.
What I think about Paul and that surge is, one, his supporters tend to be younger. They’re very passionate. He’s got a great field operation in lots and lots of counties across the state. And really, the caucuses are about organization. You’re going to win, or you’re more likely to win, if you have volunteers and staff in place in all 99 counties that are going to turn out people on caucus night. Keep in mind, there are 1,800—almost 1,800 caucuses on the evening of January 3rd. So there’s lots of places where people show up. And you’ve got to have an organization in place to do that.
AMY GOODMAN: Clearly, Newt Gingrich has taken a nosedive right now. Massive ads from a number of the different Republican candidates against him, not just from candidates, but from PACs that don’t affiliate but are clearly—for example, supporting Mitt Romney—that are clearly eroding Newt Gingrich’s support. Can you talk about the money that’s pouring in right now in Iowa?
HUGH ESPEY: Well, you know, and we saw this two years ago, too. And you know, that that’s one of the problems that we see with our political system, in terms of—we’ve got to get money out and people in. You know, the Citizens United decision two years ago just opened up the floodgates. We need public financing. We need to end corporate personhood. But those negative ads have taken a hit on Gingrich, and I think probably the electorate and Republican caucus-goers have—see him now more as erratic, arrogant and somewhat of a bully.
AMY GOODMAN: Hugh Espey, we want to thank you for being with us. Of course, we’ll continue to cover the Iowa caucus. Hugh Espey is executive director of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, a 36-year-old grassroots organization with more than 4,000 members.