Orange County as Iowa




The placement of both the Occupy Orange County daytime rallies and overnight occupations, like everything else political here a source of dispute and consternation, has got me thinking — about Iowa.

Iowa as an Orange

This image may give you nightmares, but you must be strong.

Orange County is roughly the population of Iowa — 3,010,232 versus 3,046,355 in the 2010 census.  That’s a good fact to keep in mind to give one perspective on both U.S. and local politics.  As a comparison of comparisons, Los Angeles County is roughly the population of Michigan.

(And for those who are interested, San Diego County is also roughly the population of Iowa.  The twin counties of San Bernardino and Riverside are each roughly the population of New Mexico.  Ventura County is roughly the population of South Dakota.  Imperial county is roughly the population of Guam. All of these combined are roughly the population of New York plus maybe Maine.  Must … close … Wikipedia ….)

In terms of political and cultural ambience, would it be fair to say that OC is more like Iowa and LA more like Michigan?  Perhaps.  (Perhaps not.  Perhaps let’s not discuss.)  Iowa, like OC, markets itself as a safe place to live.  But Orange County is like Iowa in one other important way: Iowa has no truly dominant center, no obvious place, like a Portland, Oregon or a Salt Lake City, Utah or a Phoenix, Arizona to be a focal point of the regional protests.

Search for “Occupy Iowa” and you find that there are apparently two such events taking place: one in the capital city of Des Moines and one in the (lovely, as I recall) main university town of Iowa City.  The headlines you get from that search today tell a story: “Occupy Iowa protesters ordered to pay fine, request joint jury trial.”  (That was Des Moines.)  On the other hand, “Occupy Iowa City tame compared to Vietnam protests” (yes, compare a couple of weeks with the height of years of protest, very nice) and “Occupying Iowa City in the Cold.”  I can’t resist quoting the latter, mostly to induce guilt-by-comparison (

I don’t know if you noticed, but it was cold last night. Stay inside all day kind of cold.

When the Occupy Iowa City movement first occupied College Green Park two weeks ago, it was on a warm and sunny day. However, last night the temperature dipped into the 30s, with a stiff wind.

In short, protesting economic inequity just got more challenging.

Still, although Occupy members said attendance has dropped a bit over the last few weeks, those who are holding on are digging in for the long haul, winterizing their tents and also contemplating next steps if the Occupy movement is forced to move from the park by the weather or other forces.

They said it is important for Iowa City to stay in solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street movement until changes are made, there is better economic equity between the one percent of the richest Americans and the rest of the population, and there is less corporate control of government.

The attached video [see originating page] offers a glimpse of Occupy members bracing for the cold and planning how to continue the movement for the long haul.

(If only Irvine had a large, prominent university and better weather, Occupy Irvine might do just as well!)

My point today, though, is how geography affects the way we think about where to hold rallies (or anything else political), which is a constant problem here in OC.  Let’s compare ourselves, somewhat fancifully, to Iowa.

Iowa’s largest cities and their surrounding areas.

City                2010 Population    Metropolitan Statistical Area            2010 Metro Population       OC Analogue

Des Moines         203,433          Des Moines-West Des Moines MSA      569,633         Santa Ana/Anaheim (661K)
Cedar Rapids     126,326          Cedar Rapids MSA                                    257,940          Irvine/Tustin (288K)
Davenport              99,685           Davenport-Moline-Rock Island MSA      379,690          Los Al/Seal/Hunt Bch (227K)
Sioux City               82,684          Sioux City MSA                                            143,577          Westminster/G. Grove (269K)
Waterloo                68,406           Waterloo-Cedar Falls MSA                       167,819         Miss. Viejo/Lk. Forest (170K)
Iowa City                67,862           Iowa City MSA                                             152,586          Fullerton/Brea (174K)
Council Bluffs       62,230           Omaha-Council Bluffs MSA                     865,350         BuPk/LH/LP/Stanton (195K)
Ames                      58,965           Ames MSA                                                     89,542         Orange/Villa Park (142K)
Dubuque                57,637           Dubuque MSA                                              93,653          Newport Beach (85K)

(Apologies to Placentia Linda (115K), the Aliso Lagunas (180K), Fountain Mesa (165K), Dana & Juan Clemente (131K), Cypalma (63K), the Sundry Canyons (?K) etc.  In this exercise, you get to play the role of rural Iowa.)

Should Santa Ana (where its local Occupy movement will decide tonight whether it will move to an almost surely unpermitted 24 hour-a-day occupation) be a focus of occupation?  Probably so, for much the same reason that Des Moines pulls its rank as “capital city” over the other not-really-that-much-smaller cities around.  It’s the largest sibling save for Anaheim, and it’s urban.  It has an urban population, urban layout, urban problems.

(Anaheim has the disadvantage in competing with Santa Ana in that Santa Ana actually exists as a coherent place.  Have you ever tried driving the length of Anaheim?  Anaheim is the lasagna noodle of cities.  “Southwest Anaheim” extends past Stanton to under Buena Park, “Northwest Anaheim” slips in between Fullerton and Garden Grove, “Northeast Anaheim” is stuck under Placentia, and then by the time one reaches the 55 one is only halfway to the far end of Anaheim Hills above Weir Canyon.  No disrespect intended to Anaheimers, of course, but one doesn’t go meet in Anaheim, one meets “at Disneyland” or “at the stadium.”)

Google makes no mention of Occupy Cedar Rapids or Occupy Sioux City or Occupy Davenport; there is an Occupy Quad Cities event on Saturday, but credit for that must be shared with Illinois, the way that a great turnout at a 1980s era Naval Weapons Base protest must largely be attributed to Long Beach.  There’s no Occupy Council Bluffs or Ames or Dubuque.  There’s just Des Moines and Iowa City, two hours apart on I-80 — sort of like La Habra to San Clemente on a bad day for I-5.

OC is roughly the same shape (tilted on an axis) as Iowa and is also bisected by a major freeway.  It’s about 60-70 times smaller and more concentrated than Iowa (it depends on whether you count our water).  That matters, but while that makes travel between various areas (theoretically) more convenient it also makes competition between those areas to be “the site” of county activity more intense.  The point of the table above is to show how widely population is distributed across Orange County.  Furthermore, a university town like Iowa City aside, my sense is that the (political and non-political) culture of different areas in Orange County is far more diverse than in Iowa.

Why does all of this matter?

Because it suggests that the old question of “what is the real center of Orange County” not only has no answer, but shouldn’t have an answer.  One thing to be learned from playing around with redistricting and looking at how people vote is that the different parts of Orange County are very different.  The traditional midwestern conservatism of the north differs from the more urban and diverse culture (and less organized politics) of the northwest, which fades into several beach cultures, from the mildly socially libertarian north coast to the wealthy and extremely economically libertarian central coast to the wealthier and more traditional conservatism of the exurban south county.  (Maybe joining Yorba Linda to Mission Viejo for the past 20 years, however inconvenient it was, made a sort of sense after all.)  And then there’s central county, with its “real city” and its denser population (and glorious ethnic diversity as one moves west.)  All areas are very different.

In the Occupy movement, we’ve been discussing how one of our purposes is not only to show solidarity with Occupy Wall Street but to work with our own communities as well.  As I’ll note in a post yet to come, Irvine is unusual among Occupy sites in that it is firmly suburban — even, in its quintessential suburbanity, planned.  Reaching out to neighbors in Irvine means something different than reaching out to them in Santa Ana — and from traditional Fullerton, exurban Lake Forest, coastal Huntington Beach, and polyglot Cypress as well, when their times come.

I have very little idea how the traditional “one-day rally” and the more confrontational (and unsettling and arguably effective) “permanent occupation” branches of the Occupy movement will develop in Orange County.  Irvine is hanging onto its continual overnight occupation, which sounds a lot like Iowa City’s in that it has not yet moved into civil disobedience; Santa Ana may join in with an occupation that promises to be more like that of Des Moines (but perhaps with fancier riot gear.)  It is right, frankly, that the efforts are different, because their host communities are different; it is convenient, in fact, that people can so easily choose which better suits them.

The commonality is this: each movement is trying to change its community from within.  Each is trying to become a permanent fixture and reminder to its neighbors, a visible scar (if not suppurating wound) from the abrasion and laceration of the middle class that will goad people around the area towards awareness and action.

We don’t really know what happens next.  It’s a pretty cool time to be an activist in Orange County, isn’t it?

About Greg Diamond

Somewhat verbose attorney, semi-disabled and semi-retired, residing in northwest Brea. Occasionally ran for office against jerks who otherwise would have gonr unopposed. Got 45% of the vote against Bob Huff for State Senate in 2012; Josh Newman then won the seat in 2016. In 2014 became the first attorney to challenge OCDA Tony Rackauckas since 2002; Todd Spitzer then won that seat in 2018. Every time he's run against some rotten incumbent, the *next* person to challenge them wins! He's OK with that. Corrupt party hacks hate him. He's OK with that too. He does advise some local campaigns informally and (so far) without compensation. (If that last bit changes, he will declare the interest.) His daughter is a professional campaign treasurer. He doesn't usually know whom she and her firm represent. Whether they do so never influences his endorsements or coverage. (He does have his own strong opinions.) But when he does check campaign finance forms, he is often happily surprised to learn that good candidates he respects often DO hire her firm. (Maybe bad ones are scared off by his relationship with her, but they needn't be.)