One Blinded By Rage, One Guided By Humanity
It is the mass movement match of the 21st Century: Occupy Wall Street vs. The Tea Party.
The events of the past three decades have been ominous. The events of recent months even more so, as today’s mainstream media marginalizes meaningful populist movements with endless attempts to paint participants as nothing more than bands of merry pranksters--in effect laughing at us and laughing at human suffering.
I’m somewhat baffled by the notion that the Occupy Wall Street and Tea Party movements are the same. Yes, the enemy is clearly identified. In this respect, Occupy Wall Street does mirror the Tea Party. Any similarity ends there. To the Tea Party, government is the enemy. Occupy Wall Street also sees government as an enemy, but only when democracy has been corrupted by money and has been seized by corporations. However, Occupy Wall Street recognizes that in the end, government remains the only vehicle we have through which the majority can fashion rules that increase personal security and place limits on unbridled greed and corporate dominance. If we choose to give up on government, we will have given up on our ability to collectively influence our future.
Occupy Wall Street wants to raise taxes on millionaires and billionaires and make huge corporations actually pay taxes. The Tea Party wants to greatly reduce them. For Occupy Wall Street, unfairness means that billionaires pay taxes at half the rate their secretaries do while the top 1% of the population earn as much collectively as the bottom 65% of the population. To the Tea Party, taxes themselves are unfair and inequality is desirable. They want to give the top 1% an even larger share of the nation’s wealth. Occupy Wall Street wants to rebuild and strengthen the social safety net. The Tea Party wants to eliminate it.
Both Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party are mass movements, but their attitudes toward the masses could not be further apart. Occupy Wall Street and the other Occupy protests lack leaders and a concise platform, but their demands clearly emerge from the thousands of individual grievances expressed in homemade signs and letters. Thousands of people have posted personal statements on the We are the 99% Tumblr website. I find them not to be ideological, but rather very practical. I’m sure that many of us can relate to or have personally experienced what people have shared on this site and I encourage you to take a look.
If you take the time to read some of these stories from people who have shared them there, it becomes obvious what the root causes of the suffering are. There is no universal health care to handle the random nature of poor health. There is no affordable higher education to allow people to develop their skills outside the logic and relations of indentured servitude. There is no realistic living wage guaranteed to each citizen willing to work to keep poverty and poor circumstances at bay.
Wall Street is the pinnacle of corporate greed (thus Occupy Wall Street) that bankrupted our country, and is now further complicit in imposing severe cuts on the middle and working classes. Yet, they have seen no consequences for the financial depression that they caused. It is about time we came together to recognize that corporations have been rewarded for their criminal behavior as they sit upon mountains of cash reserves as after-tax corporate profits are currently at an all-time historical high, while at the same time squeezing the American Dream to the point of near-collapse.
If you want to draw a clear distinction between Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party, it boils down to one movement based on a fear-driven rage and the other movement galvanized by its pursuit of a more humane and civil society. To the Tea Party, it’s not about saving money or balancing budgets, it’s about punishing those who teeter on the economic margins. It’s about raging that we are not our brothers’ keeper. Occupy Wall Street demonizes powerful banks; the Tea Party demonizes the working class and weakest of us all.
During the earliest days of the Tea Party, their demands were fragmented fits of rage, as people would show up at town halls to shout down their political representatives. One would scream about them taking guns away, another would rage about keeping government out of Medicare, others would fume against the unemployed, the poor, minorities, Obamacare, birth certificates, death panels, socialism, etc. etc. It was not until corporations and their adjunct conservative think tanks and media conglomerates co-opted the Tea Party movement that they centralized and amplified their anti-government manifesto. As one would expect, given its relative longevity and political impact, the Tea Party does have national leaders and a clear program.
By comparison, Occupy Wall Street is a more independent group, still in its embryonic stage. It is not close to finding a central rallying point and I don’t feel one is needed--this is more like big-tent civic engagement revivalism sparked by an evolving energy of people stepping forward in a myriad of ways and actions. I don’t know whether the absence of specific policy proposals is intentional or accidental, but I do know that it’s part of what lends such power to this movement and renders its targets so noticeably uncomfortable. It is made up of individuals that have come together in the name of humanity or better yet, in the defense of humanity.
Franklin Roosevelt once said in the midst of the largest legislative reformation in American History that “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” The only thing the Tea Party has to offer is fear. The thuggish masses of Americans who not only are venting about insane nonsense, not only are undermining their own interests acting as puppets of laughing corporate predators, and not only are taking down democracy around themselves in order to do so, but are in fact also destroying the entire social safety net fabric of this country. The single most frightening characteristic of this movement is that no amount of evidence or logic could persuade these folks to abandon the corporate manufactured lies they've attached themselves too.
Sadly, the crowning achievement of the Tea Party movement is how it created this rage-based atmosphere of disdain and lack of empathy for what Occupy Wall Street calls the 99% of us. This rage against the 99% is demonstrated wherever Tea Party Republicans come to power. Many within the Tea Party movement were happy to take government initiatives when it was helping to bring them into the middle class, but then immediately pulled the ladder up behind themselves afterwards, demanding tax cuts, responding to any line of political propaganda that would harmonize with their embarrassing victimization mantra by promising a feel-good response offering the muscular bludgeoning of people of color and people in poverty.
I prefer the Tea Party alternative of Occupy Wall Street. People are coming together to understand the single most fundamental fact of American politics in our time. The economic elites have walked away from the long-standing grand bargain of the 1930s through the 1970s. They are, simply put, no longer satisfied to be ridiculously wealthy, and now demand to be obscenely so. Instead of looking at the middle class as a source of national pride, it is for them an irritant to see even that small pittance of money in other people’s hands. And, thus, they are succeeding at reversing the basic deal that created the middle class and brought so much prosperity to so many American families in the mid-twentieth century. Today’s Tea Party has become an instrument to fast-forward that process. Perhaps the best example of this imperative is the (so far) unsuccessful play at privatizing Social Security. Wall Street looks at that mountain of cash--within view, but just beyond reach--in utter frustration. It is one of the few government activities (as opposed to health care, military hardware, prisons, utilities, highways, stadiums, ports, natural resources, etc.) that the overclass hasn’t yet been able to profitize. Why should seniors have that money when financial institutions could instead? In short, the whole purpose of the political right has shifted dramatically in the past three decades. Now, it’s entirely about the money. Occupy Wall Street seeks to counter that.
The Tea Party level of deceit has grown exponentially. This should not be taken lightly. There is huge anger out there, being stoked incessantly by those who profit from it, in one way or another. Most frightening of all, it is, as far as I can see, completely impervious to rational discourse. The sophistication of presentation has grown dramatically. This is a full-court press by clever people who know how to market. There are many examples of this, but one of the cleverest has been the defining of corporate center-right political figures like Barack Obama as extreme leftists, and the defining of the mainstream media as biased toward liberalism. "Obama is left of Europe!" they shout. If only. There have always been regressive predators in American politics. But in years past they would have been identified as such and marginalized accordingly. Today, they are more likely to become President, Speaker of the House, Governor, Senator or given a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court.
Until recently, the progressive counter-narrative has all but vanished from the mainstream. Occupy Wall Street seeks to amplify the voice of the people and counter the fact that the Democratic Party has become the sorta not-Republican Party, and stands for little more than a quieter and more slowly-unfolding version of the corporate take-over agenda. Nobody ever votes Democratic anymore. They vote against the Republicans when they rise to their most noxious behavior. We have a president who is supposed to be a radical leftist, and says almost nothing to combat the tide of thuggery now threatening the country. Instead, he continues to seek approval from those who never give it to him, game him at every turn, and repay his conciliatory efforts by asking for investigations into his birth certificate.
Most of the discussion about the Occupy Wall Street protests have focused on the indictment of the economic elite, but Occupy Wall Street makes an equally profound critique of our political system. The protests around the nation are driving home this profound realization that this fight can’t be won today simply by voting. The crisis that most fundamentally shapes our lives cannot be solved through the legislative process because the system is corrupted beyond repair. This slowly emerging realization is both invigorating--an invitation to engage in the kind of bold strategic thinking that those on the left have not entertained for decades--and disturbing, an indication of just how nasty the future may get.
And this is, at the end of the day, the scariest aspect of all concerning the current political climate. America now possesses a massive cohort of people who have simply transcended rational discourse--the Tea Party. Today I see the incoherent rage, the senseless foaming at the mouth that not only doesn't fit reality, but in fact runs completely contrary to it. Occupy Wall Street seeks to counter that. In reality, what we have here today is a battle for America’s soul, a battle between False Populism (the Tea Party) and True Populism (Occupy Wall Street). Can Occupy Wall Street transform the Democratic Party? Will the truth set us free? If humanity acts as our guide, it will.
My family and I relocated to the City of Lakewood in 2008 to be near my wife’s extended family. We have two young children who attend Lincoln Elementary School.
I have over 25 years experience as a community organizer, political campaign manager, director of a non-profit, environmental and social/economic justice writer, lobbyist, demonstrator, non-profit board member and lifelong community activist and volunteer. I am passionate about economic and social justice, environmental causes and identifying and addressing the root cause of social, economic and ecological ailments that undermine our long-term prosperity and sustainability.
In my spare time I enjoy time with my wife and kids hiking, kayaking, gardening, traveling, enjoying all four seasons and exploring all that Lakewood and Northeast Ohio have to offer. I’m also an avid runner and have a passion/addiction for running marathons and 100-mile ultra-marathons.