DES MOINES -- A new campaign to place the Iraq war in
the center of Iowa's presidential caucus races kicked off in Des Moines last
Thursday. But as often happens, it wasn't so much the protest that made the
story as the reaction to it.
"Seasons Of Discontent: A Presidential Occupation
Campaign," or SODAPOP as its organizers
dubbed it, targeted the campaigns of Rudolph Giuliani and Hillary Clinton,
taking over their offices in the Iowa state
capital and disrupting both
campaigns for several hours before a total of 19 people were arrested.
|Chris Gaunt, a 51-year-old Iowa farmer, is led to jail after peacefully "occupying" Senator Hillary Clinton's Des Moines campaign office to protest her support of the Iraq war. --Photo by Michael Gillespie|
The "law and order" Giuliani campaign waited only
about two hours to call on the suburban Clive, Iowa, police to arrest 10
activists. The Clinton campaign appeared more reluctant to remove the
protesters, waiting almost eight hours before requesting the Des Moines Police
Department remove nine activists. The last two hours of the Clinton occupation
generated reactions from young staffers that typically send a candidate's
damage control unit into overtime, especially when that candidate is trying to
appeal to rock-solid Democratic voters.
The nine, along with a handful of supporters, called on
Clinton's Ingersoll Ave. office at 1:30 p.m., telling staffer David Barnhart
that they had come for the senator's response to a letter they had sent her a
month earlier, asking her to publicly pledge "to take the necessary
concrete steps to end the Iraq war, to rebuild Iraq, to foreswear military
attacks on other countries, and to fully fund the common good in the U.S."
Barnhart ended a brief exchange with Catholic Peace Ministry
Director Brian Terrell by saying, "Look, nobody wants to end the war in
Iraq more than Hillary Clinton. We love to hear a diversity of opinion, but we
are asking you to leave now."
Ignoring Barnhart's request, the occupiers spent until 8 pm
reading the names of Iraqis and U.S. soldiers killed in the war, taping
"End the Iraq War" flyers onto Clinton campaign signs, taking a brief
turn calling registered voters to inform them of Clinton's war votes before the
phone was disconnected, having limited success engaging staffers and
volunteers in discussion, and making enough racket doing so to make it
difficult to continue business as usual. In twos and threes throughout the
afternoon, all the campaign volunteers and most of the staff departed.
At 6:30 p.m., Terrell and Farah Mokhtareizadeh, a 24
year-old peace activist from Philadelphia, followed by two reporters, drove
across town to Clinton's Second Street office. Through the building's glass
doors they saw a group of about 25 people but found the door locked. First
Terrell, and then the reporters, asked to come in. One reporter, told earlier
in the day that all statements for the Clinton campaign had to come from press
secretary Mark Daly, asked unsuccessfully to speak with him. Staff members
ushered the knot of volunteers into an interior room, leaving a half-dozen of
their colleagues in the outer area who proceeded to ignore not only Terrell and
the reporters, but over the next half hour, more than a dozen volunteers and
paid staff, all surprised to see the doors locked and unable to get anyone's
attention from inside.
At one point the reporters went to a side window to try and
observe what was happening, only to have a large "Hillary" sign
placed to block their view. At that, the four drove back to the Ingersoll
Shortly after they returned, Mokhtareizadeh began reading
the famous speech that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., gave on April 4, 1967 at
Riverside Church in New York, titled "Declaration of Independence from the
Vietnam War." The most frequently quoted lines in it are, "A nation
that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on
programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death," but it also
contains a prophetic warning from the Buddhist leaders of Vietnam.
"Each day the war goes on the hatred increases in the
hearts of the Vietnamese and in the hearts of those of humanitarian instinct.
The Americans are forcing even their friends into becoming their enemies. It is
curious that the Americans, who calculate so carefully on the possibilities of
military victory, do not realize that in the process they are incurring deep
psychological and political defeat."
Moments after those lines were read, a booming guitar riff
thundered from the open door of a work room adjoining the space held by the
occupiers, drowning out King's words. Mokhtareizadeh picked up a bullhorn
and continued King's speech, overpowering the music.
Shortly thereafter, the decibel battle ended in success for
the occupiers and King's speech continued at a humane level. A reporter went to
the office from which the music had emanated and asked the staff member if he
wanted to give a statement about the odd juxtaposition posed by a speech of
Martin Luther King's being drowned out in a prominent Democrat's Iowa campaign
headquarters. The unidentified staff member declined and referred the reporter
to Mr. Daly.
At the conclusion of the King speech, Robert Braam, a 51
year-old cabinetmaker from Manhattan, Illinois, took up reading the names of
Iraqis killed in the war until through the main door strode an assertive,
middle-aged woman who went about the office introducing herself, with a firm
handshake to every protester, as Teresa Vilman of the Hillary Clinton campaign.
"I'll give you three minutes to leave and then I'll call the police,"
she said, smiling, "which I guess is what you want anyway."
With that, Vilman directed the remaining staffers to take
down the numerous "End the Iraq War" flyers and remove all traces of
the occupation. She cheerily asked the protesters, "If you don't mind,
would you please take the empty water bottles with you?"
No one objected to her request, but David Goodner, a senior
at the University of Iowa, retorted, "If you don't mind, would you please
get Mrs. Clinton on the phone for us?" And Des Moines resident, Mona Shaw,
56, added, "And if she doesn't mind, ask her to keep from invading
Within minutes, five police cars and over a dozen officers
began rolling into the campaign office's parking lot. At Captain Bob Clock's
request, Vilman went up to every activist and the reporters, asking each
to leave. Supporters of the occupiers who did not intend to be arrested and
the reporters exited the office. Not long afterward, Des Moines police
officers led nine handcuffed occupiers out of the Hillary Clinton campaign
office and into a waiting paddy wagon. The ninth was Mokhtareizadeh, who,
throughout the day was not planning on being among the arrestees. As she
returned inside the office to submit to the police, she said, "After
reading that whole speech from Dr. King, I just had to get arrested with the
The other SODAPOPers arrested at the Clinton campaign office
were Renee Espeland, 46, a Des Moines chimney sweep; Chris Gaunt, 51, a
third-generation Iowa farmer from Grinnell; and Chrissy Kirchoefer, 30, from
They were joined in the Polk County Jail by the 10 arrested
at Giuliani's Iowa headquarters, Kathy Kelly, co-director of Voices for
Creative Nonviolence, Chicago; Suzanne Sheridan 31, photo assistant and artist
model, Francis of Assisi Catholic Worker House in Chicago; Ron Durham, 26, bike
repair and handyman, Francis of Assisi House, Chicago; Elton Davis, 45,
proprietor of Sweet Bee Infoshop, Des Moines; Ed Bloomer, 60, Dingman Catholic
Worker House, Des Moines; Joy First, 53, of Madison, Wisconsin; Nick Kinkel,
19, Des Moines; Mickey Davis, 16, Waukee, Iowa; Jeff Leys, 43, and Dan Pearson,
26, both co-directors of Voices for Creative Nonviolence, Chicago.
Organizers say the protests in Iowa will continue, with more
occupations slated for December 29 to January 3, 2008, as the caucuses take
place. They hope peace activists will generate similar actions in other states
as the presidential primary season develops, and challenge candidates "as they make public appearances around
the state without regard for arbitrary 'free speech zone' restrictions that may
be established by candidates, parties, police or the Secret Service."
Ferner is a freelance
writer from Ohio and author of "Inside
the Red Zone: A Veteran For Peace Reports from Iraq.