The Biggest Difference Between Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party

I started my observations about these two movements a month ago with a point of conciliatory commonality–their shared opposition to undue influence by rich special interests in politics, whether left or right.  However, after two months of Occupy Wall Street, the most stunning thing about these two movements is how their core is starkly contrasted.

Tea Party protests usually had a “vote the bums out” message–their signs and speakers focused on what those in the crowd should do.  Occupiers, however, seem focused on what others should do for them–their signs and speakers are about the demands they have for what “the rich” should be providing them with (student loan debt relief appears to be a big one).

This is a broad generalization, of course, but a useful one.  While there are certainly Tea Party protesters who want government to do things for them, even those things are more limited and more for the benefit of others than what Occupiers demand for themselves.  Decreasing spending so that future generations of taxpayers won’t be saddled with unpayable debts (as many a Tea Party sign begged, such as at 1:52 in this video from a Las Vegas protest) is a far cry from insisting that “government has a responsibility to guarantee access to affordable health care, a college education, and a secure retirement,” as a poll of OWS protesters showed, according to a survey cited on the OWS Wikipedia page.  Rescinding fairly recent policies that exacerbate economic problems strikes me as more restrained and pragmatic than demanding the spontaneous erection of a new infrastructure for a panoply of progressive fantasies.

Consider Glenn Beck’s Restoring Honor rally last year.  Whatever else anyone’s opinion of Beck, the Tea Party, or that rally, one cannot escape the conclusion that the major theme of that protest was the responsibility of those in attendance to fix their problems by improving themselves.  Imagine that: a public protest to promote self-empowerment.  Where is this analogy in the Occupy movement?  Occupy protests all seem to embody a victim mentality that can apparently be cured only by obstructing life until others appease them.  This is essentially the same strategy my three-year-old uses when he doesn’t want to go to bed.

Isn’t that part of America’s tradition of civil disobedience, though, one might ask?  But this isn’t a boycott.  This isn’t a call to change specific legislation that denies God-given rights.  And with each passing day, it is getting far less ethical and nonviolent.

This last week, Occupy Las Vegas staged a sit-in to block traffic.  Was this a means to effecting the kind of change they were agitating for?  No, it was for mere moral vanity; they just wanted to impress people with what cool hipsters they are:

Reacting to stories that they are so in cahoots with police and authorities that they behave like little more than casino bellmen, 21 Occupy Las Vegas protesters sat in the middle of Las Vegas Boulevard this morning intending to be cited….

“This was about how serious we are about what we’re doing,” said Jennifer Reed, a UNLV graduate student who drove many of the cited protesters back to the encampment this morning.

She said narratives about the group were “that we’re not really serious, that we’re cooperating with authorities. We want to show that we’re very serious and we’ll escalate if we have to in order to get our message out.”

Well, heaven forbid anyone ever accuse you of conducting your protests without aggravating the police!  I guess you showed them…that you care more about your image than your cause.  Unless those are the same thing.

A new poster boy for OWS has recently arisen: Brandon Watts, whose bloody face was plastered all over the media this week.  Here, we have been told, is the police brutality from a regime out to stop us.

Except that this is clearly another case of moral vanity from an immature child.  Watts repeatedly provoked police into action, ultimately throwing batteries at them, until they had to subdue him in self-defense.  Watts struggled and resisted arrest so violently that he cracked his own head on the ground.  This video shows the arrest, where police merely try to hold him down while he thrashes.  They don’t whomp him with night sticks, they don’t punch him, they just try to stop his assault on them.  All the while, the police are still being assaulted by the rest of the crowd.

Some martyr!  By the way, if the mainstream narrative about preemptive police suppression is to be believed, then why did the police allow the taping of this video?

But I digress.  My point is that enough of both sides has been evidenced by now to show their true colors: the Tea Party mostly wants to motivate themselves as active citizens to clean up our political system.  Occupy Wall Street mostly wants to bully others into abandoning that system altogether and instituting one that will pander to their comfort.

This post was inspired by Mark Steyn’s new book, After America, which I just started reading.  On pages 22-23, Steyn exults that, while France, England, and other European countries have recently seen rioting to protest mild measures to scale back runaway spending, “America was the only nation in the developed world where millions of people took to the streets to tell the state: I can do just fine if you control-freak statists would shove your non-stimulating stimulus, your jobless jobs bill, and your multitrillion-dollar porkathons, and just stay the hell out of my life and my pocket.”  Steyn calls that America’s “fighting chance.”

Too bad he wrote that before Occupy Wall Street started.  At least Europeans have been bristling against the rescinding of entitlements they’ve grown used to.  Americans are now rioting to start entitlements that no one’s even tried yet.

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16 comments on “The Biggest Difference Between Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party

  1. You may be getting your information about the Occupy movement from the mainstream media. It really doesn’t seem like you’re talking about the same people I’m reading about.

    The Tea Party, along with most of the other political groups right and left, begins with the assumption that there is a way to effect serious change within the political system. As long as you believe that, you can have nice tame protests and urge people to take individual actions like writing their Congressperson or their local newspaper.

    The Occupy movement realizes that serious change is not possible within the current political system, since that system is little more than a Coke vs. Pepsi marketing competition between insiders who are committed to the status quo. They know writing, petitioning, and voting are pointless acts these days and so they have decided to sit down and “occupy” places until they get change.

    They are exercising their Constitutional rights of free speech and assembly. However, the jackbooted thugs of our paramilitary police forces (coordinated by the Federal government) are violently repressing these citizens for exercising their rights in a non-violent manner. It seems to me that those who love the Constitution and talk so much about our rights, ought to be outraged at the actions of police rather than being critical of the citizens exercising their rights.

  2. I agree with Charles where “we the people” have started feeling like voting and petitioning seems to not have power like we assume it used to be. It really feels that the US has become more ‘who you know’ rather than what you do or what you know.
    But I disagree that the “jackbooted thugs” are really stifling anything and believe what Huston is saying that OWS is manipulating instances to make them look picked on and oppressed. I have yet to see the Federal Government actually do anything against these guys, it seems to me that is has been the local gov’t that have said “ok you’ve had your say, now stop harassing people, spending MORE of the local gov’t money, and stop infringing on others’ rights.” The part that kills me is that they claim to be ‘the 99%’ but the true majority is working and doesn’t have time for this OWS stuff.
    In my studies of history I read somewhere that the founding father’s believed that a 2 party system would destroy our freedoms. I believe that we can all see how this is possible. Many times through our country’s life the parties have fallen or dropped out completely and others have picked up where it belongs. It may be the time for that to happen again. If the leaders that these parties are supporting/controlling aren’t doing what ‘we the people’ want. Let’s stop wasting time by sitting around and cauing problems but force them to change. Start a new party that reflects all the different problems that OWS wants addressed.
    When it all comes down to it i guess i believe that we should all choose to make a difference and then ACT and not just sit around and demand someone else change.

    • Shuan, there is a lot of evidence that the local police attacks on Occupy protests were coordinated by the Federal government, most likely Homeland Security. No federal official has condemned the violent response to non-violent protestors, in spite of the fact that were this to have happened in Egypt or Syria, for example, denunciations would have been loud and frequent.

      You are right that we need to act, and that’s just what the Occupy movement is doing. Instead of wasting time trying to build a 3rd party or pleading with government officials to change their ways, they are doing something – placing themselves in the way to demonstrate the failure of our political system. That’s the danger that is causing the government to retaliate violently. If they were calling for action within the system, still trusting the system to be able to correct itself, then they would simply be absorbed into one of the two parties and neutered. They are refusing to do that, and so must be crushed. If a significant number of Americans come to the realization that the system is the problem, it poses a real threat to those who own it.

  3. I’d be upset if there wasn’t advice shared between all the cities experiencing the OWS. It would be irresponsible of the leaders to not get advice. If not it would be probably even more problematic. I still don’t see this as a big brother problem, and I’m not naive.

    • I wonder if you’d feel the same way if there were coordinated attacks on Tea Party rallies. (Of course, there aren’t attacks on them because they don’t really pose a threat to the established order.)

      Ultimately this is a matter of Constitutional rights. I would certainly defend any group that was assembling non-violently to express their political opinion, regardless of whether I agreed with them or not. I would also expect (although I’d be disappointed) the media to report on such a group by allowing them to state their position and explain why they believe it. We cannot tolerate repression of speech and assembly by law enforcement at any level. The rights denied to the Occupy people today will be denied to others tomorrow unless we all demand that our public officials respect the Constitution’s protection of essential human rights.

      • I disagree about the attacks. They weren’t police/riotous in nature but there were groups that were doing all they could to incite problems. There are many youtube videos that show people at the rallies heckling against the tea parties. They failed and that’s why you don’t see them as “a threat” but their points were heard and we had many ‘tea-partiers’ that were elected, so it did work.

        We do agree on the free speech issue. But I believe in avenues and time and places. We cause bigger problems when we allow one person/group’s “free speech” to over-power and limit the same rights of others. I’m not saying that anyone is really doing this right, there are problems on all sides of every issue. We all need to be aware of this and act responsibly.

        • There really isn’t a problem heckling a group – that’s free speech too. If you go public with a political view in this country, you must expect that lots of people will disagree with you and some of them will do so publicly. Of course, the TP was successful in electing people, because they were the recipients of millions from the wealthy and corporate interests. What TP supporters need to ask themselves is why those wealthy folks were so supportive of their cause?

          If you are demanding real, fundamental, systemic change, you will not be supported by those who are benefiting from the status quo. (That would include so-called progressive groups funded by the likes of George Soros.) If any political group is receiving strong financial support, then it’s because they are useful to the ruling class in preserving the status quo.

          If everyone plays nice and acts “responsibly” within the rules of the established system, then no significant change will happen. If that’s what you favor, then great. If not, then you have to make your voice heard by whatever means are at your disposal short of violence.

          • I’m enjoying this back and forth and am finding that we are really in agreement more than it might appear.

            I don’t mean to romanticize the Tea Party group because i don’t completely agree with them either. I’m not saying that heckling was illegal I was saying that people tried to incite and it didn’t work. No one stopped them from heckling but no one reacted or escalated either.

            My biggest problem is they don’t know/aren’t what change they want, Just that “it has to change”. I’ve really enjoyed ‘The Daily Shows’ commentary on it because they are usually pretty liberal but they can see the facetiousness of it too. A real eye-opener was last week when they talked about how even in the OWS movement there is a divide. A ‘rich’ area and a ‘slum’ area. They talked to one man that said that “everyone should have access to technology” but then they asked him about the iPad he was carrying around he said “not his, but in general”. And tried to argue about personal vs private property and wasn’t making any sense. I agree they will find people to say/do something funny because its a comedy show but i can’t help but wonder how close it is to reality.

            Everyone is after their own self-intrests whether they be Soros group or OWS. But the great thing about this country is that if you work hard enough and never get up you can succeed.

  4. I’m enjoying it too. Nice to be able to disagree without personal attacks.

    The lack of a clear agenda or identifiable leadership with Occupy is disconcerting to many on the left as well. I view it as a tactic and an important and very clever one. Any group that comes out with a set of demands will immediately draw the wrath of those who disagree and may well lose many of its erstwhile supporters. Identifying the leadership only makes it easier to target them for arrest or payoff. The flip side of these tactics is that since no one is authorized to speak for the occupy movement, anyone who is hanging around an occupy site can be interviewed by the media and presented as a spokesperson for the movement at large. As with any such movement, some of those who hang with them (to use youth parlance) are not too bright.

    In your last paragraph you identify a key principle worthy of a much longer discussion. Pursuing self-interest is very American but it is also very destructive since it places self above others and personal interest above the welfare of the community as a whole. While there was a time when through hard work and perseverance an American could succeed, we are now trailing behind most other western industrial nations in upward mobility. The frontier is settled, the industrial revolution is over and has moved offshore, our ability to innovate is stifled by our poor educational system and the high costs of health coverage, among other things. Our nation’s resources are being employed not here at home to stimulate our economy, but in foreign lands where we are fighting for access to oil and gas and mineral wealth. I could go on, but you get the idea.

    • I also appreciate the civility that you are keeping with me. It is one of the first real discussions i’ve been able to have. People I’ve talked to are usually just annoyed at everything or too worked up into it the don’t have a logical thought about it anymore. So Thank You.

      Tactic or not it comes off rather annoyingly and I don’t know how they can expect to get anything done/accomplished/changed without actually saying anything or setting goals. I’ve heard comments like “i never expected to see hippies again in my lifetime” and “how bored are people” which more accurately describes how potentially the rest of the country, arguably the true 99%, view these OWS people. I’ve seen news broadcasts where they go to the OWS camps at night with infrared and there are no one in the tents, deeply hurting anything they’re so called “sit ins” if you will. It is getting to a point where it will hinder anyone else from joining in because they have no idea what IT is, or even if it will be around much longer.

      As for the other, you are right it could be a LONG discussion. But really If you look through our history, those that have actually done well (the obscenely rich ones might be another story all together) are the ones that are able to pursue their self-interest while bettering others around them. While I agree that selfishness can be very destructive, possibly even the most to the very person acting, I don’t see it completely as a bad thing. In a true “free market” society those that aren’t providing a service/product that better people (in some way or another) would simply fail because people would have no need for it. Part of the problem is we have really gone away from a free market society. We allow government bail outs and market limits to control what we sell/buy and that is part of the reason that so many have gone off-shore. Profits drive business and they will go where they need to to make the most.

      I don’t have a magic ball or the most experience/knowledge to say that I know how to fix it (I wish i did) and I agree with a lot of the causes you mention. But I believe that Americans are still the leaders in innovation and ingenuity. I don’t think we can ever give up but I think we still have the best potential. Most other nations are great about improving what’s out there but the newest and greatest usually comes from Americans (whether they are working state-side or foreign).

      I don’t want to get into the oil argument because i really think there are a lot more factors into all that than any of us really understand. I agree we shouldn’t be in war over oil but I believe we do have a moral obligation to help other’s where we can. Sometimes that comes in the form of democracy and sometimes in the form of new factories and jobs in that country. We aren’t perfect as a human race and I don’t see that happening for a LONG time.

      I have competing thoughts and feelings because i want to be an idealist but I also am a bit of a cynical person. So the only thing i can do on a daily basis is to be a decent person and help those that i can while i take care of my family. I also teach my children to do the same thing and hope and pray that others are doing the same thing and that we can work together to figure all this out.

  5. The problem with OWS, and with any other newsworthy event that one could name, is that most of us are only able to view it through the prism of the mainstream corporate media. Their bias is for the status quo, for the interests of their owners/advertisers, and they have largely substituted sound bites and talking heads for actual news reporting. To understand a new political movement, particularly one that challenges the status quo, one has to read and listen to the participants themselves directly and unfiltered. Obviously this too is a biased source, but an intelligent person should be able to weigh competing narratives and decide which is more accurate.

    I have to say that if you believe that our government engages in military action to advance democracy or that our corporations create factories in other nations as part of a moral obligation to help others, then you are not nearly as cynical as you think. I tend to believe that our government, like all governments throughout history, lies to its people about war. When the government tells me we must intervene for humanitarian reasons, I immediately assume it’s a lie and so far I haven’t been proven wrong. I also assume that all large corporations make investment decisions purely on the basis of profit potential. While you and I try to be decent people and help our neighbors in times of trouble, a large corporation cannot pursue charitable objectives without incurring the wrath of Wall Street and its stockholders.

    The bottom line, it seems to me, is that people of good will on both sides of the political divide need to treat one another with respect and listen carefully to each other’s ideas. We need to make realistic assessments of the impact of policy decisions based on history, not ideology, and find ways to compromise for the good of the nation as a whole. That represents a major turnaround from our current political standoff. It means that we need to sit down and say to ourselves and one another “This isn’t working!” and find a way to stop the madness and do what’s best for America and Americans. That is the essential message of the Occupy movement.

  6. This was truly a great thread to follow, and I didn’t want to interject anything before because I didn’t want to spoil it (a blogging Prime Directive?), and besides, we all know what I’d likely say, anyway. Kudos, gents!

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