I met former State Rep. Ed Fallon in Des Moines coffee house Ritual Café, with his friend and fellow Occupy organizer Gabriel De La Cerda, on November 18. Nursing serious colds with organic herbal teas, we talked for about an hour about Occupy Des Moines, his thoughts on Gov. Terry Branstad, and the 2012 elections, before Fallon departed for his nightly radio talk show “The Fallon Forum.”
Ames Progressive: How was getting arrested on the first night of occupation?
Ed Fallon: The weirdest thing about it was that I was on the infrastructure committee that funded the building of the park I got arrested in. We met at noon that day, October 9, and had a three-hour meeting where we planned to occupy that space. I asked the last question of the day: “Did anybody call the state patrol?” So I talked to an officer who made it clear that after 11 p.m. they would come remove us from the park. I kind of thought they’d back off because the patrol was always very easy to work with in the Legislature.
But at 10:30 cop cars started lining up and a bail bondsman drove by, circling the area. I stood in line with my fellow occupiers and realized I was going to get arrested. And they came right for me. I don’t believe in going limp and causing harm to any of the officers, so I just went with them. As a result, I kind of missed a lot of the action. I was sitting in the paddy wagon. It was a surreal experience. All the officers were respectful to me. One thing that bothered me was a kid named Marcus Tipton who was brought in that had been dragged and whose knees were all bloodied up among other injuries. He wasn’t given any first aid. I thought that was wrong. Removing the protestors was a bad move on Branstad’s part. He’s a lousy governor.
Gabriel De La Cerda: I think you can quote him on that.
AP: How do you feel about Branstad being elected again?
EF: Oh, it’s a disappointment but not a surprise. [Democrat Chet] Culver was a very weak governor and did a good job of alienating his friends, so I’m not surprised that it happened. Branstad is a great campaigner. A horrible governor, but a great campaigner. I’m confident this will be his only term. He won’t serve again.
AP: And your source of confidence is?
EF: He’s actually trying to govern. Normally when he wins elections he just continues campaigning. When I was in the Statehouse with him he was always campaigning. The last two years of his last term, he tried to govern and he was bad at it then, too. It’s pretty clear to me he’s not going to run again. He’s probably trying to groom [Lt. Gov.] Kim Reynolds to be the candidate this time around.
AP: What makes Occupy Des Moines different from other Occupy protests? There haven’t been as many reports of violence as the occupations in New York, Oakland, and UC-Davis.
EF: We have something that is very special here in Des Moines, and that’s a very cooperative mayor, police department, and fire department. We’ve had a very good working relationship with them [after the camp was relocated following the initial arrests] and I don’t see that changing.
GC: We’ve had two incidents that could have required police intervention. We’ve had two people accosted by outside people looking for trouble with occupiers.
AP: How has the Occupy Des Moines group handled violence? Channel 13 recently aired a story about John Frankling getting hit in the face by some rabble-rousers who were allegedly “looking for money” and assaulted him and another occupier. As a group of nonviolent protestors, what happens when you are confronted with violence?
GC: That incident involved four individuals coming in, and once the camp heard shouts of alarm the camp woke up, people started coming out of their tents, and the four individuals realized they were outnumbered and dispersed. The next day, John just said that he hoped that they would come back and talk because they were obviously part of the 99 percent. Another instance happened with our friend Bill. He was confronted by two guys.
EF: He was knocked out of his wheelchair and was taken to the hospital to treat injuries to his head and shoulders.
AP: Two guys just came up and knocked him out of his wheelchair?
EF: Well, he tried to go over and reason with them. [Laughs.] That was a bad idea. Overall, though, it’s been a pretty mild-mannered occupation. When you consider how long we’ve been here and all we’ve done, it’s been a pretty positive movement.
AP: This is a pretty self-sustaining movement. How do you keep it going, with no outright leadership?
EF: I won’t kid you, it’s a hard band to conduct. There are lots of different opinions and voices and ideas. Issues are always coming up and it’s not easy. But we’re doing pretty good considering all the obstacles.
AP: As a public figure, do you consider yourself a spokesperson for Occupy Des Moines?
EF: I think everyone is a spokesperson for Occupy Des Moines. That’s the cool thing about this. It’s not a movement with a leader. It’s not a leaderless movement. Some call it a leader-full movement.
GC: The thing I love about this movement is, whenever an issue comes up, someone who is an expert in the field handles it. John is a carpenter and basically built our camp for us. Clark is good with computers and took it upon himself to take care of our livestream. Ed has immense experience dealing with the public and I for one am glad he took the leadership role in that aspect.
AP: Why do you think Occupy Des Moines has lasted so long? What makes this movement so successfully self-sustaining?
EF: Turnout has varied among different events. It’s important for everyone to remember that this is an ongoing movement, not just a protest. We’ve been pushing for a broader campaign focus. Picking an issue where we can make a difference. One example is the attorneys general bank settlement. It’s a very complex issue, one that’s important. Specifically because Tom Miller, Iowa’s attorney general, is chairman of the [multi-state foreclosure] commission and the settlement being proposed is very weak. We’ve been trying to use our position as constituents to push for a better settlement.
AP: I guess I haven’t heard anything about this settlement, and I’ve been following the Occupy movement since it started.
GC: That’s part of the problem, isn’t it? That’s the way they want it. Basically, all 50 attorneys general throughout the country are on a commission. That commission is deciding on settlements from all the big banks. Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Citigroup, Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac. The issues being discussed in this settlement are two issues: Robo-signing and subprime servicing. The banks are saying, “We’ll give you $20 billion in fines and restitution but we also want these things to be forgiven.”
AP: Fines and restitution for what?
EF: The banks broke the law. Cheated us.
AP: How did they not get in trouble for it if they broke the law?
GC: That’s what the negotiations are about. They haven’t gotten in trouble because we’re talking millions of mortgages that were done this way. This is a major part of the reason the recession happened. Our attorney general, Tom Miller, is the head honcho of this commission. At the beginning of these negotiations he came out and said someone is going to jail. [After that] he received close to $500,000 in campaign contributions and his position has wavered.
AP: From the banks?
GC: Half of it is from the banks and the other half from attorneys who want to sue the banks.
AP: A little conflict of interest, no?
GC: Definitely. He’s getting it from both sides. His talk has gone from jailing violators to a meager settlement of $20 billion. People have done more research into it and the whole process is starting to fall apart. There were 50 attorneys general in the commission and now there are only about 43. Other attorney generals are leaving the deal because they don’t think they’re getting a good enough settlement from the banks.
EF: Big ones too, like New York and California’s [attorneys general]. And that’s just one example of things the Occupy movement should focus on. Specifics, where we can actually get justice. See justice happening. If the banks only want to settle for $20 billion when really they should have to pay $700 billion or more, there’s a lack of justice. Another movement is getting people to close down their accounts with big banks.
AP: Right, like the November 5 event?
EF: I’d like to talk about making that an on-going campaign. Already between September  and November , 650,000 new credit union accounts were opened nationally for a total of almost $4.5 billion in new assets. Here in Iowa, 7,000 new credit accounts were opened to the tune of $49 million in new assets. That is huge. That’s making an impact with your pocketbook.
AP: Do you know how many people are closing down their accounts at big banks? Or do they not release that sort of information?
EF: That’s one of those statistics they like to keep to themselves.
GC: Before Occupy Wall Street came out, Bank of America instated a $5 debit card fee in order to keep up with profits. After the movement began, Bank of America backed away and apologized for almost inflicting that corporate greed on their customers.
EF: The key is figuring out how we apply pressure and conduct the education needed to accomplish our goals. Like Martin Luther King Jr.’s crusade for equal rights: He started with sitting in at diners, making that an ongoing movement. The overall goal was equal rights for African-Americans but he used smaller targets — ending segregation in diners — to apply pressure for social change. You have to focus on smaller issues. Get pressure points and find chinks in the armor. Reinstating Glass-Steagal would be another pressure point. That was a law put in place in the 1930s because of the last Depression, basically preventing commercial and investment banks from comingling their funds. It was repealed under Clinton and has been a big cause of the problems we know today.
I’ve been organizing for change, for social justice, for peace, for equality, for over 27 years; this is the most promising thing I’ve ever seen. You’re very lucky to be young and on the very cutting edge of it. If this movement amounts to anything, if it’s not just a flash in the pan, we will still be talking about this struggle and this movement ten years from now. It’s going to take a while. Maybe five years if we’re optimistic. It’s not going to happen overnight. Wall Street didn’t steal our country overnight.
AP: How do you feel about Barack Obama and this upcoming presidential election? I know you had supported John Edwards instead of Obama and you were quoted saying you wished you hadn’t done that.
EF: [Laughs, pulls hat down over eyes.] Ohhh gosh, yeah…I’m going to go to the Republican caucus this year because I like my vote to have influence. There’s no point in going to a Democratic caucus when there’s only one candidate, and the Republicans really need the help of all moderate and more reasonable people because there’s an element of that party that is totally interested in electing a social-religious conservative. I have no problem with religious conservatives. I just don’t think they should take their versions of the Bible and write laws for the rest of us. I want people who are reasonable to go to the caucuses and find a candidate that is less objectionable, even if they don’t necessarily like them. Gary Johnson, for example. Not the best thing since sliced bread but a former governor and more reasonable candidate. I don’t know why he’s not getting more attention. Probably because he is more reasonable.
AP: How do you feel about Ron Paul’s candidacy?
EF: I love where he stands on foreign policy but I’m not sure what to think of him otherwise.
AP: What is the Occupy Caucuses movement all about?
EF: It’s my hope that people will go to the headquarters of the candidate groups and peacefully maintain a presence, and maintain a dialogue. I think people are prepared to stay and occupy those areas until they’re removed. What I hope will happen here will be similar to what Martin Luther King did at all-white diners and what Gandhi did when they marched on the salt plant at Dundee in 1930. In Dundee the protestors marched single-file through the salt plant and were beaten with clubs. It was horrible. They never said anything disrespectful to the guards that were beating them or fought back. They were entirely nonviolent and won the hearts and minds of the world, and that’s what led to India’s independence. I don’t think that we’re going to get beaten, just to be clear, but I think we should follow those models of nonviolence. These people aren’t our enemies; they’re our opponents who haven’t come around to our way of thinking yet.
GC: First and foremost, we’re not going to occupy the caucuses. We’re going to occupy the sidewalks of the presidential candidates’ campaign offices and potentially attempt to do a sit-in occupy inside the campaign offices. I think the caucus is an excellent target for occupation, not because of the candidates but to use the media whirlwind created by the caucuses to get our message to the people at home reading their Sunday paper.
EF: There’s a tension in the movement right now, because there are certainly people who go so far as saying voting is meaningless. I take that kind of personally as a politician. You can argue that Al Gore wouldn’t have been that great of a president, but he would have been a lot better than Bush and he didn’t lose by that much.
GC: Some might say he didn’t lose at all.
EF: I used to sit next to two legislators. One who was elected by 16 votes. The other one was elected by 142 votes. So when somebody tells me voting doesn’t matter, I can give them two good reasons why it does. And they were both really good people who made a difference in their community and throughout the state. I agree with people who say that both the Democratic Party and the Republican Party are in a state of distress. Something needs to happen, whether it be the Democratic Party growing another backbone or regaining its soul, or maybe it needs to be replaced. Maybe both parties need to be replaced. This movement will eventually make policy change.
AP: Do you plan on running for office any time in the future?
EF: I won’t rule it out as a possibility, but God no, not anytime soon. Right now this movement is really important to me and I want to see it succeed. It’s enough work for me with my radio show.
AP: How do you feel about the way the mass media has portrayed the movement? Stereotypes about everyone being bums and needing to get a job and other negative portrayals?
EF: I’m used to the press beating the crap out of me. Overall though, I’d say it’s been pretty good.
GC: I’ve been a real stickler about communication with the press, because if you see anything negative at these Occupy protests that tends to be what the media latches on to. That’s all you see for the next five days. We miss the positive things. For instance, a man dropped off a coat at the Occupy camp for anyone who might need it. Inside the coat pocket was this note:
I’m a single father. I don’t have a lot of resources I can give. I can’t afford to get arrested, and I can’t even spend as much time down here as I would like to. My girls and I lost our home after fighting Citibank for three years. It threw me into bankruptcy, fighting them. And all the while I watched the company that showed us no mercy get handout after handout from my government. Thanks for being here for me. Thanks for being here for all of us. I hope this coat keeps you warm.
You’ll never see that reported on the news. But it’s important.
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