The Tea Party probably was a legitimate grassroots movement for a while. There was a lot of misinformation being spread about the Affordable Healthcare Act, and a lot of people were sincerely afraid that the new system would cut into Medicare or Medicaid. The Tea Party started without a direct political affiliation, but polling showed that the members were remarkably uniform in their opinions.
A Winston poll found that 95% agreed that Democrats are taxing, spending and borrowing too much. Gallup reported that 87% disapproved of President Obamas performance. While Tea Partiers might claim to be independent or even Democrats, the poll results showed them to be simply the extreme right wing of the Republican Party. They were gloriously easy to co-opt.
The Occupy Wall Street movement is something else again. Its a grassroots movement that has been growing, but appears to be considerably more diverse than the Tea Party. It has no particular agenda, only the desire to be noticed, to show the extent of the disparities of wealth and income in the United States. Where the Tea Party quickly got the attention of television news, Occupy Wall Street was largely ignored for almost two weeks. The original occupiers were young, and scruffy, but on Sept. 27 they were joined by an estimated 700 pilots from Continental and United Air Lines, all in neat uniform. Other unions have joined the protest, and other cities have spawned their own versions, including Los Angeles, Boston, Chicago, with two separate Washington, D.C., versions scheduled for early October.
While these protests, along with Adbusters, express support for each other, theyre not affiliated. The message of Occupy Wall Street and the related protests is less clear than that of the Tea Party Nicholas Kristoff of the New York Times wrote a column saying that the demonstrations reminded him of the demonstrations in Tahrir Square in Cairo ... theres a similar tide of youthful frustration with a political and economic system that protesters regard as broken, corrupt, unresponsive and unaccountable.
The pictures posted from Occupy Wall Street dont quite represent the actuality theyre too neat. Perhaps in the first days when there were fewer protesters, there were neat paths between people in small groups, but recently the scene has become too crowded, not just with permanent protesters, but with others stopping off on the way to and from work, or during their lunch hours, making a show of solidarity. The widely publicized march on the Brooklyn Bridge, during which 700 people were arrested for walking on the roadway, was originally reported to be the result of police entrapment. It wasnt. The police did an adequate job of telling protesters to keep to the walkway, but the overflow only seems to show the amount of crowding. There are a few guitars and protest songs but the music is a disappointment to those who remember the 60s. Tom Paxton wrote I Am Changing My Name to Fannie Mae but it lacks the power of Les Rices The Banks Were Made of Marble.
Where the image of the Tea Party included visions of people exercising their Second Amendment rights, Occupy Wall Street is closely linked with the First Amendment, symbolized today by the laptop computer and the cell phone camera. The web site occupywallst.org is a very sophisticated piece of work which includes a chat room and a forum for longer entries. There is a newspaper, the Occupied Wall Street Journal, with a reported press run of 100,000 copies, distinctly not a product of Rupert Murdochs News Corporation.
Occupy Wall Street and the related groups havent presented an agenda or a platform, which may be just as well. For years now, under both Democrats and Republicans, the disparity between rich and poor has been growing, and the middle class has been shrinking. Perhaps the most immediate message of these demonstrations is simply this: Were the 99%. Its time somebody noticed.
Sam Uretsky is a writer and pharmacist living on Long Island, N.Y. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
From The Progressive Populist, November 1, 2011
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