Eyewitness to Occupy Des Moines
Iowans gather in front of the state capitol to Occupy Des Moines in October 2011. For a slideshow of images, please click here.Photo: AFSC
By Kathleen McQuillen, AFSC Iowa Program Coordinator
Checking my email late Sunday afternoon, October 9, I came to see that something big was unfolding at the west end of the Iowa State Capitol. Occupation Des Moines was underway. The afternoon assembly meeting brought together 400 people who had had enough. Enough of, as the chant goes, “Wall Street getting bailed out, and workers getting sold out”; enough of the top 1% holding nearly all the wealth and power, while the other 99% are left to divide the scraps; and enough of corporate dollars driving elections and legislation.
Occupation Des Moines claimed a small site on the state capitol grounds. They formed food and communications, logistics and legal committees. Their first test would be at 11:00 p.m. – the time they were told by law enforcement they would have to leave. Some decided they would stay past 11 and they put out a call for support – for allies to come and stand with them.
Supporters came throughout the evening. When I arrived around 9:30 there were several tents in place; food tables were set up; cases of water were stacked. At 10:30 two state troopers came to deliver the message that all must leave at 11. Anyone staying would be taken to jail.
By now there were about 200 people, some intending to stay past 11 and some to support and photograph and express solidarity.
When the troopers returned, they returned in force: perhaps 20 or 25 troopers, wagons, numerous city police and patrol cars. Instructions were given to vacate the premises or go to jail. About 70 of us locked arms and sat down. Others gathered at the edges photographing, shouting to the troopers to let us stay, and generally offering words of encouragement.
The troopers gave repeated warnings and then started taking folks; some of the assembly resisted harder than others; and some of the troopers were rougher in their handling than others. In the end there were about 37 arrests (including me, acting on my own), and two people were pepper sprayed.
So Occupation Des Moines had begun. On Monday, October 10, negotiations were under way to get a permit for this piece of ground at the Capitol. Demonstrators returned on Monday night and danced and chanted and kept moving—avoiding arrests while awaiting a decision on the permit.
It came on Tuesday and the tents and food tables went back up. and volunteers arrived delivering food, drinks and blankets. The permit expires tonight, October 14, at 11 p.m.
The mantra “This is what democracy looks like” came to life. Here’s hoping it lasts a long time.