Des Moines, IA -- When the Occupy Des Moines movement announced a campaign in November to 'Occupy the Iowa Caucuses,' few anticipated it would play out quite as it did in the Sherman Hill neighborhood of Des Moines last night.
By virtue of a novice college age Caucus Chair brought in from Wisconsin to fill some last minute precinct location vacancies, Precinct 66 nominated well-known Occupy organizer Ed Fallon to serve as Republican Caucus Secretary, customarily a rather innocuous role when held by a traditional member of the party.
Ed Fallon is not what you would call a traditional member of any party.
For much of the occupy existence, leadership by the few nods deferentially to consensus by the many. But each city seems to have a few usual suspects who stand out either because of their participation at General Assembly meetings or their willingness to speak on behalf of the movement to members of the media. Since the occupy movement first took hold in Iowa, Fallon, who served 14 years in the state assembly before losing a race for governor, has been both.
If you have spent any time around Iowa political types in Iowa, particularly Des Moines, you have heard the name Ed Fallon. He is not universally liked, nor even universally respected. He does, on the other hand, have a radio show and a decent sized pulpit from which he seems to energize loyal lefties around the state.
Fallon has been called a hack, a gadfly, and more than one source within Iowa political circles have said that Occupy is merely the latest cause Fallon is willing to get attention - or arrested - for.
And until today, he was called a Democrat.
But Tuesday night, Fallon sauntered into the Precinct 66 Republican Caucus location at Edmunds Elementary School, and became a Republican. The act of him walking into the building alone surely prompted Ronald Reagan and William F. Buckley to roll over in their graves.
"At least for tonight I am a Republican," he said responding to a question about his current party affiliation. "Or until I go and register as an Independent."
Utilizing an oddity in the caucus system that allows voters to change their party affiliation at the very moment they walk in the door of their precinct location, Fallon swooped in and basically took hold of the meeting from the moment the counting of votes ended, prompting a few whispers from caucus participants.
Asked after the meeting why he chose caucus night to change political parties, "The Democratic party has left me," he answered solemnly.
"I'm good at taking a beating, but especially with everything that has happened recently with the NDAA (National Defense Authorization Act)," he said, in reference to President Obama's decision to sign a bill that extends the transfer restrictions of Guantanamo, while also codifying the indefinite detention without trial of suspected terrorists.
"But I couldn't pinpoint the straw that broke the camel's back for me," he said.
Another interesting note about the caucuses: the actual selection of the President happens rather quickly, particularly in smaller precincts. But the rest of the evening is spent structuring the platform for the party's convention, scheduled for the summer of 2012.
With Paul taking home the major prize of the night, winning the precinct by a 60 percent margin, 25 of the 47 total votes counted (Donald Trump received one vote and Mitt Romney still carried Polk county), Fallon knew he had some potential to shift the party platform and came prepared with several suggestions he wanted to put forward: recommendations that go from the precinct, to the county, to the district, and ultimately on to the State party for review.
Among the recommendations he put up for a vote, was a proposal urging the state Republicans to drop any effort to define marriage as only between a man and a woman. It passed, 10-9.
It was actually the second proposal of the night which urged the Republican party to drop any intention it may have to move forward with a marriage amendment that would ban same sex marriage in Iowa. Todd Walton, the author of the first platform proposal and a Ron Paul supporter, said the Republican candidate's own position on same sex marriage is the "low point of his campaign."
Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum would have been appalled. Meanwhile, word presumably spread quickly to Iowa LGBT advocates such as One Iowa.
Fallon also orchestrated and tallied the voting totals on issues ranging from federal aid to nation's such as Pakistan, and Iowa's practice of using of imminent domain to eliminate private property in order to develop projects state government deems important.
How did he do it?
"Years of experience, I don't know" he said shortly after the conclusion of the caucus. "It's my crowning achievement; I got gay marriage to pass at the Republican caucus."
In the days leading up to the caucuses, the 'Occupy' movement in Iowa saw their numbers grow because of an unknown number of activists from outside the state who joined fellow occupiers in a series of protests, primarily targeted at presidential campaign offices, but also manifesting itself in a few relatively raucous days at the offices of the Iowa Democratic Party, where approximately 30 people were arrested during the final week leading up to the caucus. Fallon was arrested on day one of the Iowa occupation, but has since stayed out of handcuffs, he said.
So how did the Occupy the Caucuses' plan to rage against the machine turn into a cameo role as Caucus Secretary?
"It's something the occupy movement needs to embrace -- the fact that we have a lot of tools at our disposal," said Fallon. "It's not just about protest and civil disobedience and marches and rallies. It's about education and dialogue, caucusing and voting, reclaiming and recreating a political party. Eventually we've got to get political."
Even invoking the idea of a partnership with the Tea Party, Fallon said, "Whether you're a Tea Party person, or an 'Occupy' person, or some other form of constituency that wants to see drastic change in this county, that knows we need change, it's gotta go through those steps and that process."
Stepping out from the cloak worn by his occupy community, if for a moment, Fallon added that the type of change he seeks "will happen better, quicker, more effectively if we're all working together."
Can the Party of Tea and No Taxes reach a compromise on the economy with the party of tents and the 99 percent any faster than the elected officials in Washington, DC? If it can happen anywhere, it could very well happen in Iowa first.
But for once, Occupy can thank the Republicans for something.
Michael J. Hunt, @MJH510, is a political observer, trained in Oakland, based in the Heartland.
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