Following an afternoon of protests outside both a Wells Fargo branch and Mitt Romney’s Des Moines headquarters on Wednesday, 15 or so Occupy Iowa demonstrators regrouped at their headquarters. Nathan Adeyemi, a member of Occupy Cedar Rapids hailing from eastern Iowa, called for volunteers to help disrupt a Ron Paul campaign appearance set to begin a half hour later. “I’ve been looking forward to it all day,” Adeyemi told me on the short car ride to the State Fairgrounds.
But when the handful of protesters arrived at the building in which Paul would speak, it was clear that a last-minute mic check effort would be difficult to pull off. More than 500 people, many of them avid Paul supporters, were waiting out a series of endorsement speeches and patriotic sing-alongs that felt a bit like the opening act of a rock show.
Paul soon took the stage, and as Adeyemi started shouting for the mic-check he was quickly surrounded by Paul supporters. Many began cheering to drown out Adeyemi’s recitation of the script he’d brought, which criticized Paul for opposing abortion rights and supporting the elimination of social programs. One Paul supporter escorted him out of the building while members of the media crowded around Heather Ryan and her 16-year-old daughter Heaven Chamberlain, two of about 12 protesters left in the building (another four had yet to arrive). The mother and daughter linked arms with the other protesters and were forced to the back of the auditorium as Paul supporters yelled at them. The small group had barely been able to disrupt Paul’s speech, with just a brief chuckle coming from the candidate when he heard Adeyemi’s initial “mic-check!” call.
Despite the tension between the protesters and Paul supporters, they shared some common ground. Occupier Clarke Davidson carried an “End the Fed” sign, echoing a key demand of many Paul supporters. But Davidson said he refuses to support Paul because he isn’t running as an independent and remains a participant in a broken political system.
For some of the protesters, the thwarted mic-check was still a worthy effort to call attention to what they see as the candidate’s pseudo-populism. “I particularly dislike Ron Paul because of his use of popular language to try to make himself appear to be a person who represents the interests of the poor and the middle class,” Adeyemi explained. “He’s trying to basically co-opt the vote of people who are frustrated with the establishment.”
Ryan, a veteran of the Gulf War, said that although she is a peace activist she considers Paul’s non-interventionist foreign policy to be “naive.”
Other protesters were plainly frustrated with the lackluster results of their effort to disrupt the event. “It was bad, it was a bust,” said Katie Coyle, of Coralville, Iowa. “They out-shouted us.” Still, she said, “we did get a lot of cameras on us.”
UPDATE, Thursday, December 29: On Thursday morning, five Occupy Iowa protesters were arrested for blocking the entrance to Ron Paul’s campaign headquarters in the Des Moines suburb of Ankeny. They protested Paul’s opposition to the Environmental Protection Agency, and among those arrested was Clarke Davidson, who reportedly said that he was a Paul precinct captain as police cuffed him. “But I’m here in solidarity,” he said. “I don’t support every single position Ron Paul holds.”