A general assembly of the Occupy Iowa movement decided Friday evening to move their 24-hour protest to a Des Moines city park rather than risk another round of arrests on state Capitol grounds.
Protesters have been occupying part of the west capitol terrace since last weekend. On October 9, state troopers arrested more than 30 people who refused to leave state property after 11 pm. On October 11, the Iowa Department of Administrative Services granted Occupy Iowa a three-day permit to use the space around the clock until 11 pm on October 14. Today officials denied a request to extend that permit:
“Our procedure and policy has not been to grant permits beyond three days to occupy the ground at any one time and so we are trying to be consistent with that policy here with this organization,” [department spokesperson Caleb] Hunter says. […]
“We have made accommodations to groups that wanted to have an event that may lasted for two or three days,” [Governor Terry] Branstad said during an appearance on Iowa Public Radio. “Nobody’s ever had a permit for more than three days. This group was granted a three-day permit. That is now over and that is the same policy that’s been in place, as far as I know, for decades.”
Several Occupy Iowa protesters indicated that they were willing to risk arrest to stay at what they call the “people’s park,” but Des Moines Mayor Frank Cownie turned up at the group’s general assembly Friday evening to offer them an alternative space. He said the director of Des Moines Parks and Recreation supported letting the protesters camp at Stewart Square, not far from the Capitol at East 15th and Grand Avenue. Cownie told the crowd that the original purpose of public parks was to provide space for people to gather. He drew cheers by adding that he wants city police “out busting bad guys” (that is, not arresting peaceful protesters).
After some debate, those present for the general assembly voted to accept the mayor’s offer. That’s the right move in my opinion, even if Stewart Square is in some respects a less visible public space than the west capitol terrace. I don’t see the value in activists getting arrested every night by state troopers. Last Sunday’s events gained plenty of publicity for the Occupy Iowa movement already.
Side note: in case anyone was wondering, Branstad said on Iowa Public Radio today that he didn’t participate in protests as a young man, because “I was too busy working on the farm.”
UPDATE: Occupy Iowa issued this statement after voting to move to Stewart Square:
“Anytime the government is responsive to the will of the people, it is a victory. This move will allow us to refocus on the real enemy: corporate greed. Join us tomorrow morning at 9:30 a.m. as we march on the financial district.”
LATE UPDATE: Great catch by Goldeneye at Under the Golden Dome: Branstad did participate in protests as a young man. On November 5, 1967, the Des Moines Register quoted him as a “counter demonstrator” who was “astounded” that anti-Vietnam war protesters were “attacking the federal government.”