As I emerged from the subway to join friends at Occupy Wall Street yesterday, there was a boy, maybe 11-years-old, leaning over the railing with a scrawled sign, which declared, "No Rich. No Poor." He was there with a skinny Justin-Bieber-haired friend, whose small piece of cardboard read, "We are the 99%" written with a scratchy ballpoint pen.
There were surprisingly few tie dyes and no patchouli. Instead, the streets were filled with gray-haired professors, members of the sweetest of all labor organizations (go Musicians Local 802!) and mothers with strollers introducing their children to the possibility of change. They looked, you know, like regular folks.
Opinions were asserted with buttons and placards, with t-shirts and tubas. Ban fracking now. Eat locally-sourced food. We need jobs, not tax cuts. My favorite was a sign that read "I'll believe corporations are people when Texas executes one," a takedown of corporate personhood and the death penalty in one pithy swoop.
But through the noise, one clear message surfaces -- this sucks. The top 1% of the America control 42.7% of the wealth and that ain't right.
Much has been made of the similarities between Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party -- the passion, the messy coalition of ideas, the opposition to the bank bailout. Not surprisingly, the leaders of the Tea Party want nothing to do with the comparison, stating disparagingly "They're just unhappy people that don't know really what they want."
Sure, the nascent OWS movement is a bit of a grab bag, but at least the core ideas make some kind of human sense. Fairness, equality, community. Which is way more coherent than the incongruous and often-cruel ideas the Tea Party have forced onto the American political landscape.
For starters, conservatives seem to be really concerned about our unborn children, but won't help those same children out of poverty. And now Tea Party darling Sandy Rios (whoever she is) lampooned Obama's inclusion of birth control as a free insurance service by saying, "Are we going to do pedicures and manicures as well?"
So, preventing pregnancies is none of the government's business ... but terminating them is? It's an indefensible, visionless position almost as desperate as Michelle Bachman's evidence-free claim that the HPV vaccination causes "mental retardation." A term, by the way, that has long been considered offensive.
These are women waging war against women -- banning free preventive medicine, intervening in deeply personal decisions, and undermining a health initiative that could eradicate cervical cancer, which killed over 250,000 women in 2008. It makes no sense and it's just plain mean.
But there's nothing less coherent than the Tea Party's fuzzy romanticism of the founding fathers. As Bill Maher so deftly asserted, the drafters of the constitution were interesting weirdos, some of whom felt like it was totally cool to own other people. And in spite of that, they cobbled together a brilliant if imperfect set of principles with the hope that they would be improved by future generations.
At Wednesday's march, I saw Occupy Wall Street regulars who helped with crowd control, administered simple first aid, and were generally nice. Eric Cantor is worried about the "mobs" forming around America. That's sweet of him, but our mob was full of quick apologies when you were jostled, seventy-year-olds in sensible shoes, and an ad hoc brass band.
And, above all, it was held together by an idea as simple as the playground. Share your toys. Be nice to the new kid, even if he seems a little weird. And help the little ones who aren't as strong as you.
Yesterday, Amy Kremer, the chairperson of The Tea Party Express, likened the protestors to "a kid having a temper tantrum because their parents won't buy them the whole ice-cream store." Actually guys, I think the kid is just hoping for a single scoop.