DES MOINES -- When police in New York, Boston, and other cities broke up Occupy encampments in public parks, sympathetic commentators expressed some hope that the movement would take the opportunity to transform itself into a conventional political force. If that's going to happen anywhere, it should happen here in Iowa, whose storied presidential caucuses are built on a certain ideal of grass-roots organizing.
And sure enough, there's now an initiative called Occupy the Caucus, which has some of the trappings of a conventional Iowa campaign. For one thing, it's more organized than other Occupy groups; it's an offshoot of Occupy Des Moines (whose encampment remains in place), which in turn is part of Occupy Iowa. And as of last Friday, there's a central headquarters, with handmade political signs lining the walls. When I happened by this morning, a couple of dozen people were milling about -- the official events schedule described the activity as "affinity group planning." Far from trying to disrupt conventional politics, says Jessica Mazour, 24, an organizer at Occupy the Caucus headquarters, "We're encouraging people to engage in the political process."
There are still stark differences between Occupy the Caucus and a conventional campaign. Rented for $1,500 for just the week and a half before the caucuses, the group's headquarters are in the hip East Village area, not an outlying office park, and you can't help but think it would be a great place for a bar or a nightclub. (In fact, it used to be one.) Furthermore, the Occupiers are still protesting; cheers erupted this morning when a member who'd been arrested at Ron Paul's campaign office yesterday showed up after getting out of jail.
Even so, Mazour, who works full-time in marketing, is eager to dispel the idea that Occupiers don't have jobs and don't take showers. And to her, the idea of setting up a bricks-and-mortar headquarters just makes practical sense. "When you're out in the elements," she said, "it's hard to have a good office space."