Occupy Iowa City shifting focus to Southeast side


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Occupy Iowa City organizers want to shift their focus away from College Green Park. One place they're looking to be active is the Southeast Side of Iowa City.

The Occupy protest started in College Green last fall, but its presence in the park has dropped substaintially since then, with only a handful of people, most of them homeless, staying in the park regularly.

But demonstrators say they're not tied down to that space. Instead, they're interested in taking their message around town.

To that end, Lisa Bonar, an Occupy Iowa City outreach liaison to Occupy Des Moines, said Occupy Iowa City plans to focus more on the local community by having conversations with members from Iowa City neighborhoods, focusing on the city's Southeast Side.

"We want to go out into the community — especially to the people of color and find out what their needs are," she said. "I can't let any cats out of any bags, but the park and physical occupation was the beginning of the movement — as we've seen in Des Moines and other cities — it's not imperative to have an occupation to do other things in the community."

The group's permit to stay in College Green Park expires at the end of the month, amid what appears to be dwindling participation in the movement.

For instance, a University of Iowa student group, Students for Occupy, was recently formed but is no longer holding meetings.

"From my understanding, [closing Students for Occupy] was not an official decision by the group," said group organizer William Goldberg. "This no longer affects our activist values, and we will continue to work toward our goals on campus and off. The Students for Occupy group's dissolution should not in any way be interpreted as the 'Occupy Together' movement faltering."

Occupy Iowa City leaders say they don't plan to go up against law enforcement, as their Des Moines counterparts did this week. Twelve Occupy Des Moines demonstrators were arrested at the Capitol on Sunday.

"It depends on what [our] goal is for a specific action, because some of them you want to be as public as possible, and sometimes it does work better to be under the radar," Bonar said.

Compared with Des Moines, Bonar said, Occupy Iowa City has been pretty quiet.

"I wouldn't say we want to do quiet advocacy, but that's part of it," she said. "We want to go out into the community."

Occupy Iowa City participants also plan to attend an Occupy the Midwest conference in St. Louis in March, she said, to begin coordinating efforts with regional Occupy groups. Come spring, the Iowa City chapter will look into re-establishing more visible protests.

"As spring comes and the weather warms up, there will be more mass protests," Bonar said.

Unlike Occupy Des Moines, Occupy Iowa City protesters aren't worried about their members being removed from their encampment, but they are worried about the homeless.

"Many of the full-time residents of College Green are people who have no other place to go and in some cases suffer from problems such as alcohol abuse, mental illness, and other disabilities," said Stephen Hoffelt, Occupy Iowa City outreach committee member.

He said the group has created a sustainability working group to specifically focus on issues related to continuing occupation of the park.

"We're wondering what's going to happen to [the homeless] if the city doesn't renew the permit," Bonar said. "We need to do something."

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