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'People's Caucus' Hopes to Give 'Occupy' Nudge to 2012 Election


In the final week before the Iowa Caucases there will be much familiar chatter about the candidates and the dominant political parties, but even amid the non-stop chorus of pundits trying to make sense of a perplexing GOP field and any one candidate's ability to take on Obama next fall, there is one item that receives scant debate at all: the election process itself.  If some Democratic voters and concerned citizens have their way, however, the nation's focused attention on Iowa will be an opportunity to broaden the political dialogue and many hope innovative efforts in Iowa can spawn an election year trend in which the spirit of the Occupy movement, that took root in 2011, can inject energy and alternative perspectives into an election cycle that is often dominated by talking heads, political talking points, and the predictable coverage by a media machine tamed by corporate interests and fueled by campaign war chests.

From the Des Moines Register:

“In order to create change, we need the country to give the 99 percent their basic rights. For that to happen they need to have power in the political system,” said [Occupy] protester Aaron Jorgensen-Briggs. “And they don’t now.”

[Occupy the Caucuses] organizers have said they refuse to engage in three things: violence, property destruction and interrupting the Jan. 3 caucuses themselves. They have encouraged Iowa residents to attend their precinct caucuses, vote for undecided and use the platform discussion portion of the event to raise the movement’s concerns.

Occupy the Caucuses, an off-shoot of Occupy Des Moines, is planning a week of actions, beginning with what they're billing as the 'People's Caucus' on Tuesday. "We're holding the first in the nation caucus now, not the political parties," said Olivia Sandbothe, a Des Moines Area Community College student and Occupy Des Moines volunteer.

As is the case at Republican and Democratic Party precinct caucuses, the Peoples Caucus' attendees first will introduce and discuss resolutions representing the grievances raised by the movement and the 99 percent. They then will break into candidate “preference” groups, but with a twist. Instead of indicating preference for the presidential candidate they support, participants will state their preference for the candidate whose headquarters they intend to occupy over the next three days of non-violent action.

Among those organizing the events are many who supported Barack Obama in 2008, but have since become dissatisfied with the President's performance and the direction of the nation. Even as the Republicans will garner most of the national coverage and commentary in Iowa, these voters refuse to give Obama a pass when it comes to voicing their concerns. From the Los Angeles Times:

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.

And although there may be enough ire to go around for both parties, it seems the GOP are less thrilled to play along when it comes to outside voices putting their twist on the caucus system. John Nichols reports for The Nation:

The [Republican] party has signaled that it will not count "Uncommitted" and "No Preference" votes. According to the KCRG-TV, the ABC affiliate in eastern Iowa, "Because it is a Republican caucus, only votes for a Republican candidate will be counted. Write-in votes for undecided or uncommitted are counted and sent to Des Moines, but the GOP does not send uncommitted delegates to the nominating convention."

Whether or not the attempts in Iowa can prove successful remains to be seen, but their efforts echo a national urging, demonstrated by the wider Occupy Movement that the voices of workers and those living in poverty are at a supreme disadvantage in a political system ruled by big money. From Occupy The Caucuses statement:

For too long, the 99% have been silenced by Wall Street and greedy corporations while the 1% ruling elite have robbed us of our democracy, our dignity and our livelihood. But no longer. The people are awake, we are strong, and we are rising up to take back what they stole from us.

From December 26 until the Iowa Caucus on January 3, a convergence of American voices such as this country has never seen before will descend upon Des Moines. We are the 99%. And we will be heard.

We’re taking our demands for true democracy and economic justice directly to President Obama and the GOP candidates, to the banks, and to the media. They’ve ignored each of us as individuals, but they can’t ignore us all.

Let's hope they're right, but if there's one thing the corporate press, the major parties and political upper-class are good at, it's ignoring important developments that challenge their prerogative.

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