Occupy activists are flocking to Des Moines for the new year, in an effort to Occupy Iowa’s Republican caucuses? Why? Certainly the Occupy approach has little appeal for the Republican caucus-goers, who veer more toward religious conservatism.
But Occupiers know that every major news organization in America has camped out in Iowa, trailing the candidates, interviewing activists and experts, and eating in chain restaurants across the state. When the spotlight is pointed at Iowa, savvy activists can crowd into it. Occupy Iowa Caucuses promises to respect the voting on January 3, but little else. They plan to protest candidate events (nonviolently), stage their own events–including civil disobedience–and to keep the focus on their issues–all revolving around political and economic inequality.
By mounting physical occupations across the United States this fall, the Occupy movement created its own news peg. The occupations are now mostly gone, but the Occupiers aren’t, and they’ve spilled into other institutions of American life, carrying the same message, sometimes a little more sharply. Smart activists will play to a crowd and a camera, whether or not they brought them out.
In Iowa, the Occupiers will march and rally and protest. While Republican candidates are talking about abortion, judges, gay marriage, taxes, regulation, the deficit–and each other, Occupiers are talking about the costs of the military, debt, unemployment and underemployment, and education. Whether or not the candidates respond directly, this is news for the rest of the country. (Thus far: Rep. Michele Bachmann walked out on an event when Occupy showed up; Rep. Ron Paul waited them out; former Speaker Newt Gingrich has ridiculed them.)
American electoral campaigns are long, ugly, and usually disappointing, but activists ignore them at their peril. One route to influence is engaging the process, organizing and fundraising and mobilizing voters. Another is to push the issues into the debate over and over again. Making candidates for office respond–even if it’s to explain why they disagree with, say, raising taxes on the wealthy–is effective movement politics.