The Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street Movements: Similarities and Differences

It is important for people to understand that most monolithic movements, as they are portrayed by media, supporters and detractors are probably not as all-good or all-bad as they would like us to think they are.
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Now I know that I am asking for it by simply bringing up the idea that there may be some similarities between the Tea Party and the Occupy Wall Street movements. How do I know this? A few days ago, I put the following status up on my Facebook Page and the comments flew. Some took issue with any kind of comparison, while others argued about the true nature that each group held.

I know there are ideological differences, but at some level, shouldn't Tea Party folks be outraged by what's happening to Occupy folks? See comments

Now I knew that this comparison will draw some heated conversation, but this idea really does intrigue me. Others have also been writing about the commonalities between the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street here and here, so I want to flesh this out a little more to see if we can find some agreement on the nature and feel of both movements of people. I realize that some probably think this kind of reflection is a waste of time. After all, one group is "right" and the other is "wrong" and by doing this I am giving more legitimacy to a movement that does not deserve it. Maybe so, but I also think it is important for people to understand that most monolithic movements, as they are portrayed by media, supporters and detractors are probably not as all-good or all-bad as they would like us to think they are. And if we are going to find those moments of faithful compromise where the common good is put before ideological loyalty, we must be able to engage in this kind of thinking.

So I begin by suggesting some similarities. Keep in mind that I have been to both a Tea Party Rally in Cincinnati, Ohio as well as
, so my information is mostly from what I have read, talked to people about and experienced in person. Here we go ...
  • Both are frustrated with a government and institutions who are seen as overstepping their bounds, driven by self-interest and no longer serving the "American people."
  • Both have leveraged the energy into large gatherings of people in order to be a visible and passionate expression of that frustration.
  • Both are claiming to speak on behalf of a large sector of the United States who share their frustration.
  • Both have been targets of media and political sensationalism and labeled, "anarchist" "fringe" or "radical" and have had "bad apples" used as sources for broad sweeping characterizations.
  • Both have individuals -- the aforementioned "bad apples" -- who act in ways that do not represent the core values of the movement.
  • Both have had politicians, entertainers, organizations and religious leaders pledge their support.
  • Both illicit strong emotional responses from those who see themselves as part of the ideological opposition.
Those are just a few commonalities, but I think this is where they end and the marked differences begin. Let me just run off a few of the differences that I have picked up on.
  • The demographics are different ... there is some debate whether or not the Tea Party is more male and wealthy than the national average but in some ways they mirror the U.S. population. Occupy Wall Street seems to be younger and more ethnically and socially diverse, but most observations at this point are purely anecdotal.
  • The tactics are different ... the Tea Party held day-long rallies with sound, stages and speakers while the Occupy Wall Street is setting up tent cities and organizing themselves into committees that gather for a daily "general assembly" when the committees report back to the whole community.
  • The response has been different ... now I know these might be contested, but I think the mainstream media paid attention to the Tea Party earlier in their life than Occupy Wall Street and, as far as I know, the numerous confrontations with police has only been part of the Occupy Wall Street protests.
  • The purpose is different ... the Tea Party had a specific set of goals and objectives in the Contract from America which helped to define if one was part of the Tea Party or not. Occupy Wall Street has no centralized platform and attracts a variety of ideological perspectives under a broad call for change.
  • The Ideology is different... while this seems like a given, because of the nature of the "platforms" of each, drawing distinct A versus B differences is difficult. I do think it is safe to say that in terms of positions on social issues and what The United States should be about and stand for, the Tea Party probably bends strong right while the Occupy Wall Street crew leans mightily to the left.
I as reflect on what all of this means, I will say that I am always impressed when folks get off of their butts and hit the streets for what they believe in. The "broad middle" who might feel left out can justifiable be accused of not taking part in movements of social and political change, too often weighing the costs and staying put until it is safe to go out. I get it, but I do not think the mere gathering of the ideological opposition is critique worthy. What they say, sure, but hitting the streets for something that they believe in, never. Of course, this is not the ONLY tactic to achieve social change, but it is an important part of the process. And honestly, I would prefer that people engage in the framing and forming of our political and cultural reality no matter how messy it gets; for the alternative is apathy and an apolitical posture that leaves too much power in the hands of too few people. From both groups this I see this as a positive result of their passion.

As a supporter of Occupy Wall Street in general and Occupy SF in my town, the real test of the Occupy Wall Street Movement will be in how and into what its future is formed. After all, one could argue whether sweeping victories of Tea Party Candidates has been helpful to the country or if their stars are burning as bright these days, but you cannot argue that The Tea Party has effectively influenced American politics and policy. As more of a Occupy Wall Street person, my fear is that if there is no clear agenda set soon or if politicians do not soon respond, the energy might dissipate into who knows what. I do not think that agenda has to necessarily include running people for political office or the formation of some kind of litmus-test pledge, but there does need to be a clear purpose articulated so the next ring of like-minded folks can begin to hold onto a common agenda. You can see some of this taking shape as they work with the press, local organizations and their develop their own infrastructure, but time will tell if the Occupy Wall Street movement will have the same magnitude of impact as The Tea Party. I hope it does and I for one will continue to support Occupy SF by the leveraging of my own gifts and resources.

We shall see. We Shall see.

And for the record, I am a registered Democrat and a card carrying member of The Coffee Party.

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