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Twelve Arrested in Des Moines as Obama Campaign Hinders Press Coverage of Protest

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by Michael Gillespie
Jan 2, 2008

SODaPOP participants inside the Obama campaign headquartersSODaPOP participants inside the Obama campaign headquarters - photo by Michael Gillespie

Roger Routh on the sidewalk with an international news organizationRoger Routh on the sidewalk with an international news organization - photo by Michael Gillespie

Josh Earnest, Iowa communications director for U.S. Sen. Barak Obama (D-IL), is running scared in the final few days before the Iowa Caucuses. He must be, otherwise he would not have risked the consequences of ejecting half a dozen media workers from Obama’s Iowa campaign headquarters on Wednesday, Jan. 2, and barring entry to several more.

Reporters and photojournalists representing news organizations in Japan, Germany, Great Britain, and the USA were hindered in their efforts to report on a bona fide news event when Earnest insisted they work outside in the sub-freezing single digit cold while inside a group of eight antiwar activists from Voices for Creative Nonviolence (VCNV) and the Iowa Occupation Project questioned Obama’s positions on the war in Iraq, military spending, and U.S. Middle East foreign policy.

Though he knew who the protesters represented and why they had come to Obama campaign headquarters (this reporter heard an Obama staffer say, “We knew they were coming and we have a plan to deal with them”), Earnest told one Iowa newspaper, “They basically just sort of came into the front office and were talking loudly and being disruptive.”

In a remarkably short-sighted and unsuccessful bid to minimize news coverage of an event that he perceived to be unflattering to Obama, Earnest did not stop at ejecting reporters and insisting that they conduct their work on the city sidewalk, about 30 feet from the headquarters main entrance. When he decided to have the non-violent peace activists arrested and removed by Des Moines Police Department, Earnest had the officers take the activists out through a side door, away from the gaze of reporters and the cameras of photojournalists.

According to Brian Terrell, executive director of the Catholic Peace Ministry and one of the eight arrested, VCNV has noted a number of areas in which Obama’s positions are troubling.

“Not only has Obama supported sanctions against Iran, he has also stated emphatically that in dealing with Iran, all options including military ones have to be on the table,” said Terrell.

“It’s astonishing, too, that he supports an increase in military spending,” said Terrell.

“This country provoked and waged a war of choice in Iraq,” said Kathy Kelly, a VCNV coordinator and another of those arrested at Obama’s headquarters, “a war against people who meant us no harm. We have a huge responsibility to insert that reality into the discussion whether the politicians are comfortable with it or not.”

When the activists entered Obama headquarters at 323 Locust Street in Des Moines, they informed campaign staffers that VCNV had received no reply to a letter delivered to the campaign headquarters in October asking Obama to pledge to completely withdraw from Iraq within 100 days of assuming office; halt all military actions against Iraq and Iran; fund the rebuilding of Iraq as well as health, education and infrastructure needs in the U.S.; and provide “…the highest quality health care, education and jobs training benefits for veterans of our country’s Armed Services.”

“We’re going to be here until we get that answer, until we get that pledge, until the Senator joins the majority of the American people, the majority of the people of the world, and agrees to get our country out of this immoral war,” said Terrell.

Shortly thereafter, Earnest ejected all reporters and photojournalists from the office and insisted that they wait on the sidewalk.

A few minutes later, Earnest came out of the office to give a statement to a local TV news crew in which he told viewers, “This is when it’s really fun to be involved in politics. This is what democracy is all about. We’re really excited and feeling good.”

Obama campaign officials then summoned police to arrest Vicki Andrews, 63, Grand Rapids, MI; Diane Haugesag, 48, Minneapolis, MN; David Hovde, 37, Evanston, IL; Kathy Kelly, 55, Chicago, IL; Dan Pearson, 26, Chicago, IL; Tom Roddy, 76, Evanston, IL; Brian Terrell, 50, Maloy, IA; and John Tuzcu, 23, Des Moines, IA.

All eight were charged with trespassing and transported to the Polk County Jail to be held overnight for arraignment on Jan. 3, the Iowa activists having declined the opportunity to be released immediately in solidarity with activists from other states who are typically held overnight.

At about the same time, a similar scene was playing out at the Iowa campaign headquarters of former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney at 3590 109th in Urbandale, IA, a Des Moines suburb.

There, four VCNV activists, Ed Bloomer, 63, Des Moines; Chris Gaunt, 51, Grinnell, IA; Janice Sevre-Duszynska, 57, Nicholasville, KY; and Suzanne Sheridan, 31, Chicago, IL were arrested and charged with trespassing by the Urbandale Police Department. The four were also transported to the Polk County Jail for arraignment on Jan. 3.

Mauro Heck, an Iowa City, IA, photographer who provides support services for the Catholic Worker Community, was present during the occupation of Romney’s headquarters. Heck, who arrived at Obama headquarters after all members of the media were ejected, said he was surprised by Earnest’s actions.

“The Romney people were friendlier than at Obama’s actually. They received the demonstrators about as warmly as one could expect,” said Heck.

The occupations are part of a continuing campaign, Seasons of Discontent – A Presidential Occupation Project (SODAPOP), coordinated by VCNV and The Iowa Occupation Project, in cooperation with the Catholic Worker Community of Des Moines and the Catholic Peace Ministry.

Activists involved in the SODAPOP campaign have previously occupied and been arrested at the campaign headquarters of U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY), former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee.