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In Iowa, leading Democrats wary of aligning with Occupy protesters

Democratic leaders in Iowa say the occupy movement generally lines up with their party’s values, but both those leaders and people in the movement are wary of any connection between the two.

Hugh Espey, executive director of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, said he believes Democrats will try to co-opt the movement. But he said Democrats haven’t done enough to stand up for the issues — like healthcare, foreclosures, financial regulation, the environment and social safety net programs – that demonstrators are upset about.

“We are going to be very, very watchful of Democratic leaders trying to say ‘oh yeah, I support that,’” said Espey, who’s been active in the Occupy Des Moines demonstrations. “The proof is going to be in the pudding. Actions speak louder than words, and there’s going to be some tough love there.”

Espey said the movement must remain politically independent and push both parties “to do the right thing, to stand up for people.”

“Democratic leadership has got to get right with Jesus, so to speak, in the sense that Democratic leadership has been pushing some bad stuff, just like Republican leadership,” Espey said.

Demonstrators in Iowa City have posted a preliminary “statement of intent” that indicates the group wants to focus on perceived injustices throughout the economic and politcal systems. (Photo: Lynda Waddington/The Iowa Independent)

Sue Dvorsky, chairwoman of the Iowa Democratic Party, said the people in the occupy movement are “not a group of Democratic partisans” but noted that “people who are frustrated with both sides are more frustrated with the Republican side.”

“This is more people who are in the broadly-defined middle class talking about the concerns that they’ve got and how they feel like the system is not working for them,” Dvorsky said. “The Democratic Party couldn’t agree with them more. That’s one of the things our Iowa congressmen are talking about, that Senator [Tom] Harkin is talking about and President Obama is talking about.”

Iowa House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (D-Des Moines) said he’s not met any of the demonstrators and it’s too early to tell whether the demonstrators’ views align with Democrats.

“I have not been contacted by anyone that’s affiliated with that organization so it’s not like I’ve been petitioned by that group, so I’m not quite sure what their grievance is,” McCarthy said. “To the extent that their effort is to say ‘hey, we’re moving in a dangerous direction, we’re moving in a direction the country was heading in before the last great depression,’ to the extent that’s what they’re espousing I agree with them.”

Some have drawn comparisons between the tea party movement that helped sweep Republicans into power in 2010 and the occupy movement, but McCarthy said it’s also too early to tell what impact the movement could have on the 2012 elections.

“I don’t view it as a political movement right now,” he said. “I just view it as kind of organic. I don’t think they have an electoral goal right now. I think it’s just people that are trying to say ‘hey, we’re fed up.’”

Dvorsky said she’s always thought 2012 will be a good year for Democrats, regardless of the occupy movement, and that’s because of the frustration she senses in the electorate.

“When you kind of drill down past the frustration to action steps, it is the Democratic Party and President Obama that have been trying to come to solutions,” she said. “And it’s the Republican Party that has folded heir arms across their chest and said ‘no, never and heck no.’”

Espey said he’s not sure the comparison between the occupy movement and the tea party movement is justified, but noted people are “sick and tired of business as usual.”

“I think it has the potential to have a huge impact on the political system,” he said. “I would also say, though, ultimately it goes back to who controls our economic system, because who controls our economic system controls our political system.”

Sen. Jeff Danielson (D-Cedar Falls) said he identifies with the demonstrators but they need to be careful about how they proceed.

“I get the civil disobedience, I get the sit-in concept and I understand the issues that the occupy participants are trying to highlight,” he said. “I think they need to be careful that their efforts aren’t seen as negative by a larger audience. If that happens then they wont be successful and that would be a shame, because we really do need financial, fiscal and monetary reform in this country if you’re going to have an economy that works for the middle class.”

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