With so many candidates here, Cedar Rapids becomes epicenter for causes

Advocates try to get their points across to the candidates

CEDAR RAPIDS — The streets of downtown Cedar Rapids became the epicenter Sunday for winning over — or at least trying to — support for causes amid a crowded Democratic field of presidential candidates.

With 19 hopefuls in town for the state Democratic Hall of Fame celebration, “Cedar Rapids is the political center of America right now,” said Stasha Rhodes, campaign organizer of 51 for 51, an effort to secure representation for the District of Columbia in the Senate.

As far afield as that campaign may seem from Iowa, it illustrates the breadth of activist groups that sought attention for their causes.

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“The presidential candidates are here, and we want to get them on board,” 51 for 51 activist Sam Bonar said at a Pete Buttigieg event.

Bonar and other volunteers earned face time with the South Bend, Ind., mayor, and seem to have caught his attention — Buttigieg expressed support for greater representation for D.C. citizens during his five-minute Hall of Fame speech later that afternoon.

Other activists Sunday rallied outside a McDonald’s for a higher minimum wage, earning a visit from Sen. Bernie Sanders. Busloads of Fight for $15 supporters drove from St. Louis to join the rally at the First Avenue NE restaurant.

With them were climate change activists with the Sunrise Movement. Local volunteer leader Jillian Perry of Marion said they hope to gain support for the Green New Deal.


“We are trying to make sure there is climate action at the local (level), school level, city level, state level,” Perry said.

Greenpeace USA had one of the more visible demonstrations. The group constructed a wooden score card that gave A-F grades to eight of the front-runners in the polls, weighing factors such as support for the Green New Deal and donations accepted from fossil fuel companies.

“We’re trying to convince every single candidate to be a leader on climate change,” said Ben Jones, a part of Greenpeace’s climate leadership field team. “We’re encouraging each candidate to get an ‘A’ by the end of this.”

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee was the only candidate to get an A and was listed at the top of the score card, a 20-by-15-foot board. Jones said he and two other group members plan to following candidates in Iowa to influence as many campaigns as possible.

Greenpeace was working with Bold Iowa, a group also fighting for climate change.

“Climate has already gone from not on the radar to being the No. 1 concern of Iowa caucusgoers,” Director Ed Fallon said. “We just need to keep pushing and pushing and pushing.”

Shortly after an interview, Fallon chased after New York Sen. Kristin Gillibrand to ask about her climate stance.

The Young Turks — a progressive news show — also had a presence downtown. As host Cenk Uygur interviewed people, a group of young people held up signs with progressive stances along First Avenue E.

While many had Sanders campaign gear, the group did not endorse a specific candidate. Instead, Young Turks organizer Alison Hartson said members are hoping for candidates to sign the “progressive economic pledge” that supports the Green New Deal, Medicare-for-all, higher wages, ending corruption and college-for-all.

Hartson said candidate and author Marianne Williamson signed the pledge Sunday.


Buttigieg, Sanders, Gillibrand, California Sen. Kamala Harris, former Maryland Rep. John Delaney, former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar all held public events Sunday.

Sunday’s events also drew conspiracy website Infowars commentator Kaitlin Bennett — a gun rights supporter who gained online note for open-carrying a rifle to her college graduation.

She posted a video on Twitter of a confrontation in Greene Square that appears to have occurred after a Buttigieg rally. One of two men involved appears to throw a water bottle at her and strike her microphone.

The Buttigieg campaign, which had ended its event at the park, declined to comment.

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