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Iowa Challenge for Obama: Dem Caucus Votes for 'Uncommitted' Slate | The Nation

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John Nichols

John Nichols

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Iowa Challenge for Obama: Dem Caucus Votes for 'Uncommitted' Slate

President Obama faces no serious challenge from an individual on the left in Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucuses.

But that does not mean that Obama will get all the votes cast by Democrats on January 3.

Peace and economic justice activists, some of them associated with a newly launched “Occupy Iowa Caucus” campaign, are arguing that caucus goers should reject the president and instead vote for “uncommitted” slates.

“Uncommitted” slates have won Iowa caucuses before. In 1972 and 1976, more Democratic caucus votes were cast for the “uncommitted” option than for any of the announced candidates. As recently as 1992, “uncommitted” beat Bill Clinton.

Now, a newly developed  “Occupy Iowa Caucus” initiative is urging voters to attend caucuses and back “uncommitted” slates. For Republicans, that would mean rejecting the current crowd of GOP contenders and beginning a process that could lead to sending unaffiliated delegates to the party convention next summer. For Democrats, that would mean rejecting a compromise-prone president and backing a slate that is committed to pressing for more progressive policies than those adopted by Obama and his administration.

There’s a lot of “Occupy” activism on the ground in Iowa, and not all of it is oriented toward organizing “uncommitted” slates. Some activists are urging voters to attend Republican caucuses and back Ron Paul, whose anti-war, pro–civil liberties position has appeal. Others are organizing a “People’s Caucus” for December 27; the energetic Occupy Des Moines crew is behind this one, and they are dubbing their event the “Occupy Iowa Caucus.” “People are tired of being ignored by the political establishment in both parties, tired of having the common good placed last when it comes to government’s priorities,” says Ed Fallon, a former state legislator and one of the organizers of the December 27 event. “Holding the Peoples Caucus before the January 3rd precinct caucuses tells America’s corporate and political elite that we demand that our voices be heard, that the public interest must come first.”

There’s also a project to occupy Democratic and Republican campaigfn headquarters in Des Moines, in order to raise concerns of the 99 percent.

With so much going on, it is easy to get confused. But that’s the nature of Iowa as the caucus season enters its final stages.

Amidst the confusion, unexpected developments can and do take place.

And one of those developments could be the appearance at Democratic caucuses—especially in liberal Iowa City—of actvists who seek to send Obama a message by voting for the “uncommitted” slate.

A  message to potential caucus goers that appears on the new “Occupy Iowa Caucus” website—www.occupyiacaucus.org—argues that voting “uncommitted” will send a powerful signal regarding the extent to which voters are discontented with politics as usual.

“Fellow 99 Percenters,” the letter begins, before explaining that: 

Every four years, both major parties begin their Presidential nominating season in Iowa. On the evening of January 3rd, Republicans will go to their local precinct locations to caucus. Democrats will also go to precinct locations to caucus that night. It is a chance for Iowans to have their voices heard on the Presidential candidates and to begin the process that will select delegates to both national party conventions.

Every Iowan who identifies with the 99 percent should caucus on the evening of January 3rd. But after years of foreclosure, bailouts, corruption, warfare, corporate welfare and the erosion of our freedoms we cannot support any of the Presidential candidates. We cannot consent to this broken system any longer. We will join with our neighbors and caucus for “uncommitted.” Uncommitted means we support no candidates and sends a strong message to the leaders of both parties.

After caucusing for “uncommitted” we will select delegates to the county conventions that also reflect our uncommitted views. In turn, those county delegates will select uncommitted delegates to go to the District conventions and to both state Democratic and Republican conventions. At the state conventions, we will select uncommitted delegates to go to both national party conventions.

Find your caucus location, and on January 3rd caucus for “UNCOMMITTED”

President Obama’s campaign has a significant presence on the ground in Iowa and Obama plans to “seal the deal” by talking with caucus goers on January 3, via live video.

But not all Democrats are enthusiastic.

Among the most active advocates for “uncommitted” voting at the Democratic caucuses are activists associated with the Iowa Health Care Not Warfare Caucus Campaign, which “encourages caucus attenders to support delegates at the Democratic caucus who are not yet committed to any presidential candidate, but who support (1) removing all troops from Afghanistan within President Obama’s first year in office and (2) the enactment of national health insurance (Medicare for all) during President Obama’s second term.”

The group recently sponsored a training for potential Democratic caucus goers in Iowa City.

“I hope people see the point to go uncommitted,” declared Jeff Cox, a University of Iowa history professor and former Johnson County Democrats head. “It allows people to go to caucuses and take a stand for peace and hope that Obama pays some attention to it.”

Even Democrats who back Obama have recognized the significance of the uncommitted movement.

John Deeth, a prominent blogger, attended the Iowa City training session to instruct Democrats on caucus procedures and practices. He says he is “for the president.” But, Deeth explains, “I have some self interest. I want the Uncommitteds on board with Obama in November. But more than that, I want to be fair in January. These are the Democratic Party caucuses, not the Barack Obama caucuses.” 

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