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Occupiers begin campout near Iowa Capitol
DES MOINES — Iowans are beginning to camp out on the west side of the Capitol grounds as part of the Occupy Iowa movement, one of dozens of outcroppings of the Occupy Wall Street movement now being seen across the country.
The first general assembly of Occupy Iowa met Sunday afternoon in what’s being called “People’s Park,” a large green space to the west of the Capitol building.
Among other things, the group of several hundred decided to begin pitching tents in the area immediately. Several tents were already set up as the meeting began, and a number of attendees said now is the time to begin camping in order to continue the momentum building across the nation.
David Goodner, an organizer for Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, said the occupy movement means the same thing in Des Moines as it does in New York City or Iowa City.
“It’s a permanent campout in a public space where we democratically decide how to take back our lives from corporate power,” Goodner said.
He noted other groups across the country have not asked for permission to camp out, and suggested the movement is simply an exercise of rights protected under the First Amendment.
“They used people power to claim the space for themselves and there were no problems,” Goodner said.
The group also discussed holding demonstration on Saturday in downtown Des Moines; adopting the same belief proclamation as the Occupy Wall Street movement; and setting up legal, communications, sanitation, outreach, media and food committees.
Dave Mahnke of Des Moines said while the movement began in New York City, the occupy events here will be a true expression of Iowa. He’s a supporter of U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, and thinks the movement will help the Texan’s presidential campaign.
“The best thing for this is to not politicize it,” Mahnke said. “It’s got to continue as a people thing. But there are public servants, not politicians, public servants who will serve you and agree with this and you have to take the time and responsibility to figure out who that is.”
Mahnke said if the occupy movement continues to utilize social networks to get its message out, the movement will “explode.” He also suggested getting farmers involved.
“I’m an old baby boomer, ’60′s, not radical,” Mahnke said. “I never thought in my life I’d see this again. It’s coming back.”
Ed Fallon, a former member of the Iowa House of Representatives, was encouraged by the number of people at the event.
“I’ve been organizing for years,” Fallon said. “I think this is one of the most significant turnouts I’ve seen. It’s really important we maintain momentum and it’s really important that we maintain focus.”
The first general assembly of the occupation is at 6 p.m. tonight. The park closes at 11 p.m., and Goodner sent an “emergency call to action” through the Iowa Peace List calling for “a critical mass of people…to help prevent repression by the state troopers.”
“It is my opinion that if we have a critical mass of 100 or more people down at the Capitol tonight the state troopers will back off,” Goodner wrote. “I am writing this e-mail to ask that every able-bodied person able to assist converge at the state Capitol tonight at 6 p.m. for a meeting and stay through midnight to help prevent police repression.”
Occupy events are also scheduled or are taking place in Fairfield, Mason City, Iowa City, Ames, Dubuque, Cedar Rapids and Omaha, Neb.