Saturday, December 31, 2011

"Occupy Des Moines leaders thrust into spotlight"

Des Moines Register - Dec 31, 2011

"Occupy Des Moines leaders thrust into spotlight" by Regina Zilbermints


It was a motley assortment of people.


A former Catholic priest. A few people who could reasonably be called

professional activists. A former Wells Fargo employee. A college



The group of about 20 people who gathered regularly at a Catholic

Worker house in Des Moines — a small fraction of the 400 people who

attended Occupy Des Moines’ first meeting almost three months ago —

has been central in planning this week’s protests that have thrust the

small Occupy Wall Street offshoot into the spotlight.


The local protesters, primarily interested in what they believe are

income inequalities, include people attending their first protests and

those experienced in such actions.


This week, as presidential candidates rushed from one event to

another, members of the local Occupy movement showed up at banks and

campaign headquarters as they tried to get their message out. Some,

including Occupy leaders, were arrested for trespassing.


Frank Cordaro trained many of them. The former priest has been active

in anti-war protests for decades, even before he left the priesthood

in 2003 after 18 years.


He helped start the Catholic Worker community in Des Moines and lives

in one of the houses. He’s been arrested several times and refuses to

pay his fines out of solidarity with those who can’t.


Police know him well.


“Hey, Frank,” one said, shaking his hand when they stopped by the

group’s headquarters. “How many today, Frank?” another said as they

prepared to make arrests Thursday.


People who returned to Des Moines from both coasts for the week

remembered working with Cordaro years ago.


At a recent meeting, the group took turns introducing themselves and

saying why they were there.


“My name is Frank Cordaro,” he said. “I’ve been here 35 years. And

I’ve been waiting for you.”


Cordaro was the only person David Goodner knew when he moved to Des

Moines after graduating from the University of Iowa in 2009.


Goodner, a prominent, sometimes divisive, and usually respected figure

in the movement, attended his first demonstration in Washington, D.C.,

in 2002 to protest the impending Iraq war.


That was the moment he “went from a frat boy to a card-carrying

socialist,” Goodner said.


He became active in anti-war groups at the University of Iowa and left

Phi Kappa Theta soon after.


He said it was time to move on because he couldn’t agree with many of

his fraternity brothers’ support of the conflict.


After college he got a job at Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement

and moved into one of the Catholic Worker houses. He’s traveled to

both Columbia and the Palestinian territories to protest and

participate in protective accompaniment — essentially acting as

unarmed bodyguards for vulnerable citizens in the hopes that American

faces will deter would-be attackers.


Goodner, 30, also credits his Catholic faith with inspiring him. “The

Jesus I follow fed homeless, healed the sick, spoke truth to power,

marched into Jerusalem and kicked the money changers out of the

temple,” he said.


Goodner was arrested at a protest in November and when police searched

him, they found marijuana and drug paraphernalia. Three days later he

issued an apology, said he would no longer be a public face for the

group and vowed to enter a drug treatment program to determine whether

he had a substance-abuse problem. For about a month he stayed out of

the Occupy spotlight, still working behind the scenes.


He has since resumed appearing at public events, though has largely

let others lead the group’s “mic checks” and do media interviews.


Goodner met his partner, Megan Felt, five years ago when the two were

handcuffed next to each other at Sen. Chuck Grassley’s Cedar Rapids

office. Felt, who is eight months pregnant with Goodner’s child, is

“way tougher than I am,” he said.


Felt said she’s been arrested about a dozen times.


“So, not that many times,” she added. Three of the arrests have been

during the Occupy movement, including two this week.


She focuses her activism on South America, particularly Columbia,

doing everything from translating paperwork in Des Moines — she speaks

fluent Spanish — to traveling to Columbia three times to provide

protective accompaniment.


“It was logical to get involved because I do resistance work on a

daily basis,” she said. “I’ve been waiting for something like this to

spring up.”


She uses the word “beautiful” a lot to describe the movement.


The 24-year-old with short hair is much quieter than Goodner. Others

often strain to hear her. But she has been at the front of protests

over the past several days.


On Friday, her mother, who traveled from Wisconsin after being

involved in massive protests there, insisted Goodner not let her be

arrested anymore.


Cordaro, Goodner and Felt have experience and have worked together

before. But in the past three months others without previous protest

experience have had a crash course.


Tony Tyler, 30, moved to Des Moines from Oklahoma a year ago for work.

He won’t say where he works for fear of repercussions there, just that

it’s a full-time job outside of politics or the financial industry.


“The movement is strong because of the individuals involved,” he said.

“Community groups seemed to affirm and join in, but the power lies in

individuals getting involved. That’s why it’s effective.”


Tyler said he’s never been involved in protests before, but has a

simple reason to get involved now.


“Economic justice,” he said. “It’s a simple phrase; it’s what I’m

passionate about.



Occupy Iowa Caucus web page:



Des Moines Catholic Worker contacts for Occupy Des Moines:

Megan Felt - 515.991.1663 <>

Renee Espeland - 515.664.1326 <>

David Goodner - 515.991.6357 <>


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