I think I’m rather unique in my politics. I started out life as a Republican and then progressively became a Democrat. This means that I was able to be apart of the Tea Party protests and Occupy Wall Street. There are some similarities but there are also some stark differences that extend far beyond just politics.
They Were Both Reactionary
Both the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street are both reactionary groups for different reasons. The Tea Party was not just reacting to the election of President Obama but they were also reacting to the way the GOP had acted during the Bush years. Many people would be surprised to know how anti-war many Tea Party people were. Veterans dotted the crowed at the early protests in Denver that I attended and many people felt that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan had gone on too long, hurt too many people, and left too many veterans wounded and without sufficient support to actually help them reintegrate into society.
Occupy was primarily concerned with the modern economic realities of the post-Recession economy.
Why Did the Tea Party take Party while Occupy Struggled?
The Tea Party had much more success getting into political power than Occupy Wall Street did. Following the first Tea Party protests, Republicans, especially Tea Party Republicans swept into power in 2010. When Occupy Wall Street launched in 2011, there was no 2012 wave. Indeed, a wave of Progressive Democrats didn’t really come into their own until 2016. Two outliers managed to launch political careers out of the movement. Senator Bernie Sanders went from a little-known Senator from Vermont to a national figure and Elizabeth Warren moved from an unknown academic to Senator from Massachusetts.
Why was that? Leadership
Both movements enjoyed the support of small business people and others who were concerned about the direction of the country. However, Occupy, despite it’s global scope, eschewed leadership in favor of decentralization. Once the protests finally left public parks and spaces, it wasn’t clear as to where or how the protest would continue. And soon, just like it started, it disappeared. It could have been a platform to stop the GOP take over that would continue for another 6 years, but it just lacked the leadership to take political power. However, those energized people went back to their communities and much of the progressive wave that we’re now seeing can be blamed on Occupy Wall Street. Occupy took over public spaces, clashed with police, caused cities to shut down parks to prevent further protest and energized a generation of people. Occupy introduced the idea of wealth inequality and the idea of the 99% and conversely the idea of the 1%. It exposed the economic controls and realities of a generation of young people who had arrived with education and a desire for a good job only to find that those good jobs just weren’t there for them.
Big Government vs. Small Government
Politically, the differences between them are noticeable. The Tea Party wanted to return to an era of small government and low taxes while Occupy desired more government involvement in the economy and higher taxes on the wealthy to fund programs that would help the poor and middle class. On other issues, the differences were similar to the bigger parties. Occupy tended to have more diversity and cared about LGBTQ issues. The Tea Party was broadly pro-life while the Occupy was broadly pro-choice. Occupy was strident on the issues facing women and minorities. The Tea Party hardly addressed those problems.
Both Have Faded
One of the things I think is most interesting is that while we are left with their politics, both movements have largely faded in the background. It’s been 10 years since the Tea Party burst onto the scene and it’s been 8 years since Occupy captured the cameras of the world. Some candidates that used to be called “Tea Party” candidates are now just House Representatives and Senators. Democrats never enjoyed being called Occupy candidates. Now, very little is said about these movements even though they would both combine to define politics in this decade. That’s really the big takeaway.
If you want to understand our present politics, the first place to start is with Occupy Wall Street and The Tea Party. Both have caused division and pulled their respective political parties to the Right and Left. Rather than compromising in the middle and executing government, our politics has been hyper-partisan and at near gridlock which is what both sides were mad about in the first place. In years past, political affiliation was a nice thing to play on out on the campaign trail. However, once in Washington, there was a spirit of bi-partisanship and working together to solve problems and achieve solutions. This often meant that both sides had to vote for things that they did not like to get the things that they did like. On the Left, this meant democrats demurred on things like Paid Family Leave or LGBTQ rights. On the Right, this meant voting for some welfare programs in exchange for farm subsidies and expanding government programs. This left both sides with some of what they wanted and some things that they did not. However, thanks to hyper-partisanship that great romance is quite over. Now, both sides are working to simply seize power to promote their specific agenda. And for that, you can thank Occupy and the Tea Party.