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Occupy Wall Street: After Iowa Caucus, Questions About Movement's Force

Occupy Iowa

First Posted: 01/04/12 08:28 AM ET Updated: 01/05/12 12:56 PM ET

By MICHAEL CRUMB and RYAN J. FOLEY, Associated Press

DES MOINES, Iowa -- With several attention-grabbing protests before Iowa's caucuses, Occupy Wall Street activists proved their movement did not end when its encampments in big cities dispersed. But they also showed the group hasn't matured into a political force, and it's not clear whether it will become a liberal counterweight to the tea party this election year.

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Following Tuesday's vote in Iowa, on which the movement had little impact, Occupy organizers are pledging to stage more protests in New Hampshire and South Carolina as the presidential nomination process moves east. But the smaller-than-expected crowds, a muddled message that was mostly ignored by candidates, and tactics that seem to limit their appeal raised questions about its long-term viability.

The most memorable moments from the Occupy Wall Street protests:

Protesters Begin Encampment At Zuccotti Park
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Responding to the call from AdBusters magazine, protesters gathered at noon in New York's financial district on September 17 to begin the occupation. Even on the first day of the protests, the activists compared the movement to the Arab spring and protests in Greece and Spain, according to ABC News.

"This is a sign that the way they have been trying to do it probably isn't going to work," said Dave Petersen, director of the Harkin Institute of Public Policy at Iowa State University, who said Occupy's only discernible impact was tighter-than-usual security at Republican events. He said the group needed to develop leaders and a more coherent message if it wanted to make the transition from a grassroots movement to an electoral powerhouse.

Occupy protesters credited their Iowa counterparts with keeping the movement going even as they questioned tactics such as heckling candidates and blocking campaign offices.

"Every place politicians go from here they are going to hear the same message about the corrosive impact of money in politics," said Mark Provost, an organizer with Occupy New Hampshire, which is planning four days of events beginning Friday.

The week of protests in Iowa, largely limited to the Des Moines area, did not generate as much support as organizers hoped. Fewer activists came from other states than they anticipated, and their largest event attracted about 250 people, roughly half the size of crowds at earlier caucus events featuring GOP candidates like Ron Paul and Mitt Romney.

Generally small groups of protesters showed up at campaign offices and events of Republican presidential candidates. They often found locked doors, and dozens were arrested for trespassing. They heckled and interrupted candidates on several occasions, often to chant a prepared script.

"We still had a pretty decent turnout, fewer than expected but not by much," said Brandon Griffis, an Occupy the Caucuses spokesman.

Democratic Party of Iowa Chair Sue Dvorsky gave the group credit for calling more attention to issues important to ordinary people, such as Wall Street financial reform, tax cuts for the middle-class and health care.

Republicans were less generous, generally dismissing them as liberal agitators. Romney's supporters drowned out Occupy protesters who tried to interrupt him at a campaign event this week. "Go to work," a Romney supporter yelled, prompting applause and laughter. Michele Bachmann called the protesters President Barack Obama's re-election team after they caused a scene at her campaign office.

Drew Ivers, Iowa campaign chair for Paul, said the Occupy movement had "no impact at all" on the campaign. Five protesters were arrested outside Paul's Iowa campaign headquarters in suburban Des Moines last week.

The protestors' message seemed to vary by the day. One theme was the influence of corporate money in politics. But Iowa protesters also denounced everything from Romney's reluctance to release his tax returns to Paul's plan to eliminate the Environmental Protection Agency to Obama's decision to sign a law giving the president the power to indefinitely detain enemy combatants.

In New Hampshire, which holds its primary election Jan. 10, Occupy protesters are planning a gay pride parade Saturday and a "funeral for the American dream" outside a candidate debate the same day. They expect hundreds of activists from along the East Coast to join their events.

Lauren Dickson of Occupy New Hampshire said activists would be trained on the art of "bird-dogging," or confronting candidates with hard questions. She credited Iowa's protests with bringing attention to the movement.

"This is the beginning of the Occupy movement. As time goes on, we'll see the effect it's having," she said.

Tim Liszewski, an activist with Occupy Columbia in South Carolina, where the third nomination vote will be held, said he was only aware of one event – a gathering outside a Jan. 16 debate – planned so far. He said the movement will avoid aggressive steps that would limit its appeal in the heavily Republican state.

"We want to reach out to people in all parties. Heckling people might show the Republicans who were willing to work with us that, `Oh, they're just a partisan group,'" Liszewski said.

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Via HuffPost Miami:

When an Occupy Miami member offered evicted protestors vacant apartments in a building he owns in Downtown Miami's Overtown neighborhood, it seemed like the perfect solution: the 'Peace City' space would provide headquarters for the movement and shelter a small faction of the group's most vulnerable members. But it hasn't gone well. Other tenants say the building has become a cesspool of drug use and violence while non-resident Occupy Miami members are trying to distance themselves from the 'radicals' -- all while the two factions are wrestling for control over Occupy Miami's social media sites and future plans.

From the Miami New Times:

The feud between the Overtown occupiers and more mainstream members has only gotten worse. The two factions are now battling for control of Occupy Miami's social media sites. The movement's main Twitter account recently announced it had been "hijacked by a small, non-consensus group of radical members." The Occupy Miami Facebook page was also temporarily hacked by someone inside Peace City. Meanwhile, the Overtown occupation is slowly driving away more moderate members.

"This is a black eye on the Occupy movement," says Shannon Reaze, an Overtown community organizer and Occupy Miami supporter who is now helping tenants move out of Paz's building. "The violence and drugs going on here are way outside of what I thought Occupy stood for. This place is destabilized."

...The supposedly hard-core activists here spend their days drinking and getting high. And as Peace City devolves into lawlessness, the most committed occupiers are leaving. Local landowners and politicians want the place shut down, while cops are suspicious. Yet as long as Paz wants the protesters around, nothing short of a demolition order can keep them out.

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Via HuffPost DC:

WASHINGTON -- Occupy DC has a new lawsuit involving tents on its hands. But it doesn't involve temporary structures in McPherson Square.

Two protesters arrested during a February action outside Merrill Lynch's offices on 15th Street NW near McPherson Square have filed suit against the Metropolitan Police Department, Legal Times reports. (Read the complaint here.)

The plaintiffs, Samuel Dukore and Kelly Canavan, were part of a "targeted occupation" of Merrill Lynch on Feb. 13 where protesters were raising awareness about Merrill Lynch's reportedly close ties with Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.). Issa, for his part, claims that the reports of these close ties are "wildly inaccurate."

Full story here.

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OWS reports via its website:

After the brutal attack on the attempted re-occupation of Liberty Square by NYPD on the 6-month anniversary of #OWS, a number of Occupiers have relocated their base of occupation to Union Square in midtown Manhattan, a point of convergence for several #OWS protests over the past 6 months.

According to reports on the ground, several dozen people slept in the park after the illegal and violent raid on Liberty Square. Over 70 people remain, now on Day 3. Although tents and tables are still banned, Occupiers have brought blankets and sleeping gear. Many are calling it ¨the new Occupation.¨ In addition to holding General Assemblies, Union Square Occupiers are providing vital jail support for those arrested on #M17 as they are released from NYPD custody. So far, the NYPD has made no attempt to remove Occupiers or prevent them from sleeping in the park.

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Occupy Long Beach is defending the mother's home. For more information, click here.

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The woman had the apparent seizure has been identified by the New York Observer as Cecily McMillan:

Cecily McMillan, an Occupy Wall Street activist once profiled in Rolling Stone, suffered a seizure Saturday night during protest action near Zuccotti Park. Many on-scene reported Ms. McMillan had trouble breathing after she was tackled and handcuffed by law enforcement.

A video uploaded to Youtube late Saturday night purports to show the attack. Two women can be heard commenting, “There’s Cecily,” then there is confusion as the police clearly perform a violent take-down on someone in the crowd.

According to Jeff Sharlet’s November, 2011 article about the Occupy Movement, this may be Ms. McMillan’s second violent encounter with police.

To read the full story, go here.

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Cops caught on video about 10 seconds in taking down the woman who had the apparent seizure:

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Watch video from inside Zuccotti Park as police moved in late last night:

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The paper reports from last night's chaos at Zuccotti Park:

At one point, a woman who appeared to be suffering from seizures flopped on the ground in handcuffs as bystanders shouted for the police to remove the cuffs and provide medical attention. For several minutes the woman lay on the ground as onlookers made increasingly agonized demands until an ambulance arrived and the woman was placed inside.

By 12:20 a.m., a line of officers pushed against some of the remaining protesters, forcing them south on Broadway, at times swinging batons and shoving people to the ground.

Kobi Skolnick, 30, said that officers pushed him in several directions and that as he tried to walk away, he was struck from behind in the neck. “One of the police ran and hit me with a baton,” he said.

To read the full story, go here.

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@ Greg_Palast : Our photographer ZD Roberts beaten @OWS Zucotti Park by cops. Thrown to ground, hair grabbd, hit with clubs while yelling, I'M PRESS PRESS!

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@ macfathom : Doubling east on Barclay, and now the ragged front of the march is at City Hall. #OWS

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@ LuddoftheFuture : girl in the street having a seizure and the cops have her in handcuffs. can this get any worse (live at http://t.co/4pLyy3gP)

Activists cry out for paramedics. The woman is limp on the ground. "Come on you violent bastards where's the paramedics?"

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@ jeffrae : March is heading north up broadway #ows #occupywallstreet

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@ macfathom : Dozens of arrests, many cuffed and sitting on broadway waiting for their ride to jail. #OWS

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@ RDevro : Police are barricading the park. It's cleared. I witnessed countless violent arrests. No way to estimate numbers.

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@ troutish : Protesters being dragged out by the head at #OWS #Zucotti Park http://t.co/qomhKkrA

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Cops pulling apart human chains. There are shouts for mic checks. Now, chants start forming. "The NYPD are sweeping through," says Tim on the live stream.

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@ ANIMALNewYork : Police are moving in. It's chaos.

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@ ANIMALNewYork : NYPD just made an announcement that Brookfield has to "clean the park" and Liberty Plaza is officially "closed."

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@ OccupyWallStNYC : Bagpipers just started marching into the park bringing the party mood with them, NYPD arrested one of them, and things got real heated. #OWS

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@ JackieHRye : NYPD just "destroyed" the tent in Zuccotti Park, Occupiers call for its re-building. Marching band also going through the park. #OWS

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@ RDevro : The tent in the middle of the park continues to fill with people planning to stay the night. Lots of energy here.

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Activists ask for more room as the tent is growing, expanding.

"It looks like a floating tent." -- as Tim on his live stream.

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Owly Images

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@ OccupyWallStNYC : .@justawall is leading us in a song! "Hit the road, banks! And don't ya come back no more no more no more no more!" #OWS

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Activists have assembled make-shift, cardboard sleeping areas inside Zuccotti Park. The cardboard is joined by a large green tarp.

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@ RDevro : A tarp is going up in Zuccotti as protesters march around the park chant-dancing. #m17 http://t.co/rJfP3GF9

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Filed by Benjamin Hart  |