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Issue Date:  November 23, 2007

-- Mike Ferner

SODaPOP members demonstrate inside Hillary Clinton's campaign office in Des Moines, Iowa, Nov. 8.
'End Iraq war' protests target Iowa presidential candidates

Des Moines, Iowa

Eighteen antiwar protesters were arrested for trespassing at the campaign offices of two presidential candidates in Des Moines on Nov. 8. Eleven were released the same day, but seven of them spent the night in jail before being released.

They were part of what Brian Terrell, executive director of Iowa’s Catholic Peace Ministry, calls “a very interesting new experiment” attempting to influence the presidential candidates roaming Iowa prior to the Jan. 3 caucuses and along with them, the public.

Terrell’s group and members of Des Moines’ Catholic Worker community have been joined in Iowa by Voices for Creative Nonviolence from various parts of the country, forming what they call Seasons of Discontent: A Presidential Occupation Project, or SODaPOP.

A handout from the group says it is organizing for “two weeks of intensive and extensive actions in Iowa” in the weeks preceding the Iowa caucuses. And they are inviting “affinity groups” from around the country to organize trips to Iowa to join them.

About 50 people attended a planning meeting at a former firehouse the night before the arrests. They heard a talk by Kathy Kelly, Voices codirector, who had recently returned from visiting Iraqi refugees in Jordan, one of the groups most tragically affected by the Iraq war. She said SODaPOP’s actions in Iowa may influence people in other early primary states to take similar action to end the war.

The next morning a smaller group had a training session on nonviolent civil disobedience before heading to a rally at a plaza in downtown Des Moines. From there, the group split into two teams to demonstrate at the campaign offices of candidates Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani.

Frank Cordaro, a longtime Iowa peace activist who has been jailed many times for acts of civil disobedience and one of the organizers of the effort, described those candidates as “the two biggest backers” of the war among their parties’ candidates, singling out Clinton as “pro-U.S. empire.”

Asked whether the demonstrations and sit-ins in campaign offices were likely to be effective, Cordaro responded that he’s “not into effectiveness,” that what’s important is the long-term effect of protest. However, he said, as the war has dragged on, public opinion has changed and now “the majority of the country is on our side.”

“Americans don’t oppose the war because it’s unjust or immoral but because we’re losing,” he added. Still, he believes the opposition of the people who rally in Des Moines will make further inroads into public opinion “to break the cycle of lies.”

Kelly, a longtime peace activist, came to Des Moines from Voices’ base in Chicago with eight others from the Chicago area. There were also participants from Nebraska and Ohio.

Kelly said it was important for the group to be in the Heartland where peace activists had noticed more openness to their message and where candidates are “testing which way the wind is blowing.”

Among demands the group will make of candidates is support for “complete withdrawal of the U.S. military forces from Iraq and Afghanistan within 100 days” of assuming the presidency. They also demand a halt to military actions against Iraq and Iran and funding for Iraq’s reconstruction.

Kelly said the only current candidates who substantially conform to the group’s demands are Democrats U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and former U.S. Sen. Mike Gravel, and Republican candidate U.S. Rep. Ron Paul.

Among the youngest participants at the downtown Des Moines rally was Mickey Davis, 16, a junior at nearby Waukee High School. He is a member of an Iowa group called Students Beyond War, some of whose members were arrested recently during a demonstration at the Des Moines office of Sen. Charles Grassley. He was among those arrested and released after protesting at Giuliani’s office.

“I’m doing this because I’m against the war,” he said, “against the lives wasted. I believe it’s wrong, so I made a commitment to do something.”

Tom Carney is a freelance writer living in Iowa.

National Catholic Reporter, November 23, 2007

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