Photos by Michael Rutledge
10:50 p.m. Sunday: A well-dressed gentleman in a black Cadillac rolled down Grand Avenue, north of the State Capitol building. He stepped out, introduced himself, passed out some business cards and then skirted away. The gentleman in question was an associate from Iowa Bail Bonds, and business was about to be booming.
11:06 p.m.: Sixteen Ford Crown Victorias roared up Locust Street with red and blue lights blazing. They encircled the entrance to the Iowa State Capitol building, and then expelled 30 state troopers and Des Moines police; who silently took their positions around the anxious crowd. Brandishing handcuffs and plastic wrist restraints, police faced off against 100 unarmed activists from Occupy Des Moines, who had entrenched themselves on the Capitol steps.
11:15 p.m.: After issuing a final warning to leave the grounds, the police swooped in, arresting over a dozen protestors and escorting them into two police transport vans idling by the sidewalk.
Ten hours earlier
1:00 p.m.: John Strong, 70, shuffled out of his 1995 Buick and started off down Locust Street, carrying behind him a sign nearly as big as he was. The beige horn-rimmed glasses, blue button-down shirt and unkempt, grandfatherly hair made him an unlikely sight for a Sunday afternoon protest, but his sign got his point across quick enough.
“In Obama we trusted, now our economy is busted,” Strong’s sign declared in bold, block letters.
“I’ve been an activist all my life, you can check,” Strong said vehemently. “This isn’t just for the young people… I needed to come down here (the Capitol) and get my point across.”
Strong was on his way to the Occupy Des Moines protest, a grassroots demonstration that took place on the Iowa Capitol steps beginning at noon Sunday. Around 300 individuals showed up to vent their frustration with Washington, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, big business, snow plow routes and pretty much anything else that came to mind. The crowd was an even mix of age groups, varying from college age activists to those similar to Strong.
Occupy Des Moines is based on the Occupy Wall Street rally currently underway in lower Manhattan protesting on Wall Street because of the state of the U.S. economy. Occupy Des Moines is part of the Occupy Iowa movement, a series of protests that have sprung up across the state. The Occupy movement has gained legs nationwide, spreading to major U.S. cities such as Boston and Chicago. Protests have even been started in London.
Strong’s sign joined dozens of others, each one as unique as the person holding it. Closer to the capital was pocket of signs that read “We Are The 99%.” The 99 percent refers to a group of Americans who believe they do not have any control over the nation’s economy. The signs are designed to speak against the richest 1 percent of Americans who control a majority of the nation’s wealth. Nearest the street was an enclave of peace activists clutching anti-war posters. Scattered in the middle was a handful of Ron Paul for president enthusiasts. And around the right-hand side were various groups comprised of everybody else who couldn’t find a place to call home.
Max Wood, an Iowa State University freshman, drove down for the afternoon to protest against cuts to student loans. State and federal financial aid for students has been dramatically cut in the past few years as the government attempts to tighten its belt and slash the ballooning federal deficit.
“I wanted an opportunity to come down and get a shot at being a part of something bigger than myself,” Wood said.
The group resembled a rag-tag army of eccentrics more than a well-oiled machine meant to lay siege to the workings of government. The only thing that everyone agreed on was that there needed to be a dramatic change in Washington.
What the group lacked in organization, they made up for in zeal. Everyone had a unique, passionate and idealistic vision for what they believed America could be. By the time the police had arrived that night the group had coalesced around the idea of the 99 percent, an active majority fighting for the rights of working Americans.
Corey Knowlton said he came to Occupy Des Moines because he thought this was the only venue for him vent his frustration.
“I’m sick of the way this country’s being run,” Knowlton said. “It’s time for a… change.”
Most everyone at Occupy Des Moines shared Knowlton’s sentiment.
Cora Metrick-Chen, an organizer from Occupy Iowa and the de-facto leader of the Des Moines protest, tried to hold some semblance of order over the growing ranks of people.
“Raise your hand and you’ll be heard,” she kept reiterating to the crowd.
Chen was busy that afternoon, organizing six different committees to begin setting up long-term operations at the capital steps. With suggestions from the crowd, she put together a finance, legal, communications, food, electric and sanitation committee.
As the afternoon wore on Strong, Woods and other casual protestors packed up and left, leaving a little over 100 activists who had no intention of going anywhere. They brought tents, food and medical supplies and had decided that they were going to stay indefinitely, until their demands were met or they were arrested.
11:48 p.m.: The last of the protestors are arrested, or shepherded off of the capital grounds.
Occupy Des Moines is planning on meeting every night at 6:00pm at the capital building.