A question was asked of me yesterday about the Occupy Wall Street movement that has been a presence in lower Manhattan since Sept. 17. Are there any parallels between it and the Tea Party movement? Yes. But if it doesn’t do four things — 1.) broaden its base of support to include those who share its values or goals; 2.) get specific about what the goals are; 3.) bring the protests to Washington; and 4.) get support from members of Congress — it could squander its momentum.
Both Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party are organic movements. They rose up from everyday people who got tired of being pushed around or ignored by powers they believe are beyond their control. Both movements eschew having one or a crew of recognized leaders who speak for everyone. So far, it’s worked for the Tea Party. For the nascent movement centered in Lower Manhattan, there’s still time for it to get its act together.
Occupy Wall Street is already doing the first and second things I proposed. A look at the calendar on www.occupywallstreet.org shows rallies with organized labor. And it released a “Declaration of the Occupation of New York City,” detailing its beliefs and grievances.
They have taken our houses through an illegal foreclosure process, despite not having the original mortgage.
They have taken bailouts from taxpayers with impunity, and continue to give Executives exorbitant bonuses.
They have perpetuated inequality and discrimination in the workplace based on age, the color of one’s skin, sex, gender identity and sexual orientation.
They have poisoned the food supply through negligence, and undermined the farming system through monopolization.
They have profited off of the torture, confinement, and cruel treatment of countless animals, and actively hide these practices.
There’s more where this came from. But it’s still having trouble articulating specifically what it’s fighting for. A painful example of this was an interview Al Sharpton did last night with Harrison Schultz, an organizer for Occupy Wall Street. Sharpton asked him several times, “What are the goals?” Schultz just couldn’t articulate any.
What Schultz couldn’t say, and what the declaration lacks, is a clear path for changing the policies that have engendered so much justified rage. Until the movement identifies specific pieces of legislation that are languishing in Congress or proposes its own, House members and Senators inclined to hop on board might not, lest they be seen as trying to co-opt the movement. And then bring that anger in full force to Washington.
This is what the Tea Party movement has done to great effect. Followers don’t like the expansion of government and deficits and they fought both wherever they thought it lurked. The prime example is the health care law. Remember when Tea Partiers descended upon Washington to protest the vote? Remember the Republican members of Congress who egged them on? It was an ugly time. But they got their message across and now have members of Congress doing their bidding. And even though they weren’t successful in scuttling the health care law, they did almost succeed in bringing down the American economy with their debt-ceiling antics. Not that I want to relive anything like that under an Occupy Wall Street banner.
It’s probably a bit crazy to think the Tea Partyers and the Occupy Wall Streeters might join forces in their common bid to change the way things are done in Washington. But if the progressive, younger, more diverse protesters want to do more than swarm lower Manhattan, get arrested and decry the power of the 1 percent over the 99 percent, they ought to emulate some of the tactics of their more conservative, older, and whiter counterparts in the Tea Party.