Occupy Overman Park: Protestors bring Wall Street issues to Cedar Falls

Maya Amjadi/Staff Writer

The breezy Autumn weather does not scare away Occupy Iowa participants who temporarily reside at Overman Park in Cedar Falls. Former UNI student Brandon Long, who graduated in December, occupies a park picnic table with his friend Kourtney Wedeking, a senior at UNI. They are camping out in order to talk to community members about why they’re protesting against Wall Street and corporations’ abuse.

“My skies, my water, and my mind are being polluted by these thieves we call corporations,” Long said.

Since the first Occupy Wall Street actions in New York on Sept. 17, the movement has spread all over the United States. It first made its way to Boston, Washington D.C., Chicago and Los Angeles, and now it is settling in several towns in Iowa including Des Moines, Iowa City, Dubuque and Cedar Falls.

“I’ve started telling people my personal reasons [for being out here], but there are many more,” Long said. “I’m going to be in grad school without health insurance [because] once I’m 25, I’m off my parents’ plan.”

Because Long will still be working towards his degree, he will not be able to get health insurance through a job. His brother has a sickness for which his father has had to pay for for years; he has put all that money into the system.

“And now, Wall Street is playing with his retirement,” Long said. “That ‘pull yourself up by your bootstraps’ is bogus. I feel I don’t have a voice in my government.”

For people like Long, there is a lot to complain about. He immediately mentions environmental issues and corporate person-hood, which is when a corporation has the same rights as people do. “It’s psycho,” Long said.

He argues that corporations hold no regard for the environment, but they do not get reprimanded for the pollution they spew out as long as they generate big income.“That’s like letting a bunch of serial killers run your government,” Long said. He gives the example of electronics corporations contributing indirectly to genocide in Congo. Six million people have already died.

He noted companies including Apple, Cannon and RIM (which makes Blackberries), as well as many others, contribute to the illegal mining of minerals.

“It’s sad because when you tell people, they still don’t care because they can’t see it, even though they contribute to it,” Wedeking said. She is the president for the UNI Stand group raising Congo awareness and funds through Youth on the Ground Congo. More locally, Monsanto is a U.S.-based agricultural corporation, which makes corn and soybeans. Long describes their monocultural, genetically-engineered material as the “killgene.”

He insists, “Health is being destroyed by corporations.” Long and Wedeking are occupying Overman Park for local control both economically and politically. They want to see environmental regulation and fair taxation.

Long tells of an oil company that doesn’t pay its taxes. “If I don’t pay my taxes, they come knocking on my door. If I do any of these things [corporations are doing], I’m in jail. If [a corporation] is a person, it’s a murder rapist,” Long said.

He believes the occupation is a symbol, because the recurring themes are not new. He voices that these corruptions have been on peoples’ minds, and it’s just that now the ball is rolling.

“You’re not starving. You are miserable enough because they’re taking your money, but [they keep you] comfortable enough you aren’t doing anything [about it],” Long said.

He hopes people will see their occupation on the news and start thinking and talking about it. He knows people are counting on them, and that is one reason he has no intention of packing up. He said that if the public sees them leave, then they will have no hope, but he believes people will be inspired to do something when they see fellow citizens spending all night in the park for a cause they readily will talk and rally for.

“We are a catalyst for them,” Long said. “I’ve had much more support than criticism, and that helps me [keep] going out here,” Wedeking said.

Lieutenant Kurt Schreiber of the police force said there were no anticipated problems with the Occupy Cedar Falls group.“Before they were granted the variance, they were given rules that they had to comply with. [They knew] that they would be revoked if they didn’t follow them,” he said.

There has been no reason for the police to get involved so far, and Schriber said the group has cooperated with everything. Schriber is quite neutral as far as the movement goes, but he said, “Americans have a right to express their views whatever they are. As far as what’s going on, I am glad to live in a country where they can [have protests].”

Marie Stigliani, who is a nurse in the community, said she thinks what is happening is great. “People are rising up and having a voice,” she said. “It is a visible movement right here in Cedar Falls.” However, she is not supportive of the violence that took place in Oakland with their Occupy movement.

“I don’t think we’re going to accomplish much with violence,” Stigliani said. “It’s very striking. You can’t help but notice [when] people care enough to do something about it. It really makes you think.” Stigliani hasn’t gone to the park yet but plans on going and talking with the protesters.

Community member Amy Kuehner, who is in elementary food service, lives near Overman Park and passes the tents every day.

She said she thinks the protesters are just looking for something to do.

“Mostly it annoys me that they are allowed to camp in the park when other people are not,” Kuehner said.

She also said that there are so many different groups of people out there fighting for different things.

“There’s no singular goal for them, so in general people just tune them out,” Kuehner said about the Occupy community.

Jean Simmet, who is a photographer and journalist for AgriNews, baked a cake and took it to the protesters camping in the park along with apples from her trees.

“I think it’s good when people take part in the political process and raise questions about improvement and change. They were all very friendly and welcoming and invited us to come back,” said Simmet, who said she thinks it’s good when people are engaged in what’s happening in their country. “A lot of my neighbors think it’s a good thing.I have friends participating in the protest.”

Class of 2014

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