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As OccupyMN settles in, Tea Party comparisons surface

A speaker addressing an OccupyMN rally.
MinnPost photo by Jeff Severns Guntzel
A speaker addressing an OccupyMN rally.

The OccupyMN protests are one week old today, and headed into their second weekend. The cold and wet weather crept in this week — so far the organizers' greatest adversary in their effort to keep the Government Center Plaza populated with protesters, who have been sleeping in the elements, having been denied permission to pitch tents.

Now they are not asking for permission, they are demanding it. Here's a statement released today:

As OccupyMN reaches its one-week anniversary of the occupation of the People’s Plaza, we continue to stand in solidarity and remain committed to fighting for the 99%. We have been sleeping overnight without tents in the rain and cold. As the weather gets colder, for the health and safety of all of the occupiers exercising their first amendment rights, we decided at last night’s general assembly that we will hold a rally and set up tents this Saturday at 4pm. Just like food and water, we believe that shelter is a basic human right.


We have met repeatedly with the sheriff and chief of police but they have yet to resolve the issue. We have mobilized supporters to call the commissioner and county administrator Richard Johnson to petition we be allowed to set up tents. We will physically deliver petitions this afternoon to the county, and we are hopeful that we will be granted permission to set up tents as other occupations around the country have been allowed to.

Allowing protestors to stay the night in tents is not a new or unreasonable request. Earlier this year here in Minneapolis, a group protesting for fair wages was allowed to stay overnight in tents for 12 days during a hunger strike at Cub Foods.

We hope the police will not arrest peaceful demonstrators, but we have been training participants in non-violent civil disobedience to ensure our safety in the case arrests are made. Two more trainings will be held at the People’s Plaza today at 1:00pm and Saturday at 2:00pm. A safe zone will be designated for those who do not wish to risk arrest. We invite all Minnesotans to join us and stand in solidarity with OccupyMN and all other occupations around the world.

We are the 99%. Stand with us on Saturday at 4pm.

Other, less confrontational plans are underway also. There is a posted schedule for teach-ins, ranging from "demystifying wall street" to "mindfulness for activists."

Occupy Wall Street vs. Tea Party
There has better chatter from the start about similarities between the Tea Party and participants in the Occupy Wall Street protests. Mostly, those comparisons have focused on tact and tactics. Blogger James Sinclair has gone so far as to create a Venn diagram to show what he sees as the intersecting interests of the two movements.

Tea Party Occupy Wall Street Venn diagram
Venn diagram by James Sinclair

"Yeah, I'm oversimplifying, but only a little," Sinclair writes. "The greatest threat to our economy is neither corporations nor the government. The greatest threat to our economy is both of them working together. There are currently two sizable coalitions of angry citizens that are almost on the same page about that, and they're too busy insulting each other to notice."

Former Tea Party member advises Occupy Wall Street
There is a lively conversation in the comments following a disillusioned former Tea Party member's message to Occupy Wall Street participants and organizers. Here's some of what he had to say:

If this new Occupy Wall Street movement is to survive, here's what needs to be done.

Loudly denounce violence and disavow the violent rabblerousers of the movement. They do not help the cause.

Be image conscious. Present your best face and call out those who act like fools within the movement. People are more likely to pay attention to you in your Sunday dress and bringing homemade food, than when you are drinking a bottle of Snapple and chomping on Big Macs while you are looking like a slacker rich hipster/unwashed hippie stereotype.

...Be wary of large donations from special interest groups or non-profit corporations that were not involved this movement from the inception. Special interests groups are not your allies. Non-profit corporations are still corporations, and unfortunately, too many of them care more about donations than doing the right thing. Killing a movement with kindness is easy.

...If you hear people who you know are part of the machine saying stuff like, "Progressives need to be more like the tea party," don't accept it on face value. Always follow the money, study past statements and groups they claim to be part of. If such people are suddenly telling you to emulate organizations that they once consistently denounced as evil or racist, without any rhyme or reason, they are lying to you.

An alliance? Really?
Conor Friedersdorf of The Atlantic has gone so far as to suggest that the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street should cooperate:

Don't misunderstand. Mutual wariness between the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street makes sense. These are people whose visions for the future of the country are very different — on certain issues of import, and in races between certain candidates, they ought to be battling one another.

...Tea partiers and Occupy Wall Street protestors could vote for different candidates in 2012, fight vociferously about the ideal size of the federal government, and meanwhile cooperate to prevent big business and co-opted bureaucrats from capturing money that could be better spent (on tax cuts or deficit reduction or infrastructure or social welfare benefits, depending on the outcome of another fight). If the United States and the USSR struck mutually beneficial treaty agreements during the 1980s, if the ACLU and the NRA have usefully allied on civil liberties issues, despite their strikingly different donor bases, there is no reason save stubbornness and political immaturity that the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street can't find areas on which to cooperate. Perhaps the Cato Institute and the Center for American Progress can co-host the summit, and Rand Paul and Dennis Kucinich can co-sponsor the resulting reform legislation.  

Is all of this poppycock, or have the comparisons occurred to you also? Looking just at OccupyMN, it would seem way too early for this conversation. But looking at OccupyMN as an extension of the much more robust and discussed Occupy Wall Street protests, the conversation feels inevitable. Your thoughts?

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Comments (17)

there is some common ground and Ron Paul supporters have been at OccupyMN

Definitely a topic worth serious discussion. I've always sensed common ground with Tea Party simply because most of them are like people I've known and respected all my life. Others not so much. While I was becameing a pro-democracy political geek many of them were listening to the demonizing of liberals organized by the right wing for the past 30 years. Tea Party people are also in the 99%, although their funders/managers are certainly not. We likely differ on the most sensitive social issues and there are the "style" stereotypes. We look more downtown, they look more suburban. The advice given by the ex-Tea Party member should be heeded. "We" highlighted Tea Party racists remarks, "they" highlight Occupy anti-corporation, pro-socialist remarks. These voices represent each edge. The rest of us in the middle can find common ground. Thanks for your keen attention to this critically important movement.

Sinclair is correct, that IS the real middle ground for the majority of Americans not just these two groups. The fact neither major political party addresses this reality just reinforces the fact that the super wealthy have so much more power and influence than the people.

Obama claimed to recognize the disparity during the election but he caved into the neo-liberal DNC when the chips were down.

I'm amazed actually at how tone def local politicians are to this, look at the stadium debate. At a time when politicians are winning elections by less than 1% they're alienating the majority of voters by pushing an unpopular billion dollar subsidy for an out of state billionaire. Who's the constituency for that stadium aside from three billionaire brothers? If were only the 30% of football fans in this state we wouldn't even be talking this. Imagine a scenario where the people wanted a new stadium, but the franchise owner didn't- you think we'd be building new stadiums?

One difference between the Tea Party and this group is that these occupiers are in a more sound place intellectually. I'm not trying to insult anyone but there's a lot of ignorance behind the tea party- think of the difference between the signs that are being displayed- remember all those claims about the constitution, history, and economics?

The other thing is that the advice from the Tea Pary, while accurate thoughtful, is completely unnecessary. While man of these people may be new to demonstrations, progressive organizers have been teaching non-violence, and conflict resolution for decades- this is not the first live-in, sit-in, occupation. Back in the 90s we had progressive coalition that occupied abandoned houses in the path of the Hiawatha Reroute for over a year.

In fact my only complaint about Mr. Guntzel's reporting is that it kind suggests that all these methods have just now spontaneously emerged when in fact these are tried and true progressive practices that have been used for decades in situations like this.

The biggest hurdle to a productive discussion between Occupy Wall Street (OWS) and the Tea Party is an implicit Keynesian bias in the OWS movement. As OWS continues the process of self education and city/state/federal government sectors increase oppression of the OWS movement, OWS will likely uncover and dismiss its unexamined Keynesian reliance on the 'public sector' of government to redress income disparities. Until that point is reached, no cooperation with the Tea Party is possible. After that point, radical self-reliance and new non-corporate non-government forms of economic activity will have more appeal to Tea Party members.

Yes, the relation is very close and the Venn diagram is about right. Both groups are correctly angry about the direction our society has taken. Those in the Tea Party have had their insecurity manipulated so that they cannot form a cogent critical understanding of the cause of the problem. The argument that government is too big is incoherent. Yes, it is too big (military/industrial complex, bureaucratic function); no, it is too small (setting and enforcing boundaries to limit the advantages of concentrated wealth and keep the political/economic playing field relatively level). The source of our current intractable distress is the 30-year "decapitalization" of the middle class that has resulted from the natural tendency of a free market system to concentrate economic and political power and the loss of a democratic political system as the only means to correct that tendency. The answer is not to make "government" (i.e., us) impotent, which would only accelerate that concentration and doom our society, but to make it both less corrupt (less captured by money) and stronger. Those in the Tea Party (as well as libertarians and other anti-authoritarians) are simply "99 percenters" who haven't thought critically enough to recognize it yet. And that's why if/as the Occupy movement starts to show staying power, the establishment and its media will work so hard to ridicule, trivialize and neutralize it.

Here's where Mr. Sinclair is wrong with his Venn diagram:

The Tea Partiers' complaints are based on the constitutional roles of government, so yes, he's right that the Tea Party is complaining that the bank bail outs and other forms of crony capitalism, like the solar energy scandals are examples of an unconstitutional reach by the federal government who shouldn't be subsidizing some companies within an industry and not others, or frankly shouldn't be subsidizing any private enterprise at all. Their demand is that we the people should get their own money back from a corrupt and wasteful government.

The Flea Partiers' complaints are NOT based on the constitutional roles of government, but on the belief that some citizens actually have too much freedom. Corporations have every right to petition their government under the first amendment, so they don't have "too much power." The Flea Party apparently sees nothing wrong with the crony capitalism of this government or in interfering in the private affairs of free men. In fact, their complaint is not that we the people should get their own money back from a corrupt and wasteful government, but that government should act on behalf of the Flea Partiers to actually confiscate the private assets of private citizens as a mob would do.

For one thing, the tea party has been pretty conclusively shown to be an astro-turf movement, organized and subsidized by the Koch brothers, among others. For another, there is a strain of racism in a lot of the talk that comes from the tea party, of the same type of racist talk that we saw from McCain rallies during the last Presidential campaign. Third, the tea party is comprised of a lot of "culture warriors" whose gripes against corporations or banks fall far behind their gripes against "secular humanists" and liberals whom they blame for the decline of this country. Fourth, the tea party has become just another part of the right wing Republican choir chanting "no taxes."

Having said that, OWS does not appear to be any kind of "movement" you have to be credentialed to join. Anybody from the "tea party" may join in if they want. I hear some have. There does seem to be one requirement that tea partiers may feel does disqualify them though: you have to be willing to listen to others.

The Tea Party is about individual property rights -- the right to bear arms, the right not to have government-mandated health care, and especially the right to property as presumably threatened by taxation. OWS is largely about radical, communal property rights -- that's what an occupation asserts.

Dennis, that over-simplification thing is getting in the way again. You've got the buzz words down: Flea Party, Unconstitutional, Freedom, government, etc. You did forget to use Socialism, and that was a bit of a let-down. But, again, you're merely mired in abstraction and have added, again, nothing to the conversation.

At what point have the Occupiers claimed to favor crony capitalism? So far it's just you. But, then again you project your own flaws on others. So, while Halliburton, Goldman Sachs, and the Koch Brothers have been receiving no-bid contracts, favorable regulation, and subsidies care of your beloved Con Party and even Democrats who are part of the problem.

What was it your buddy George W. Bush said? "...don't try to take the speck out of your neighbor's eye when you've got a log in your own."

If the tea partiers actually understood the constitution Tester might have a point, but this is the intellectual weakness I was referring to earlier.

It is a mistake I think to actually equate the two, time will tell but I think OWS actually will turn out to have more mass appeal than tea party, and I think it represents a larger proportion of the population.

The Venn diagram is correct in its singular issue focus. Tho' I'll venture the Tea Party doesn't recognize the middle set. I'd like to be wrong.

Mr. Tester (#7) please try, again, to make your point with less name calling and useless slander/right-wing slang. Your first paragraph actually had me thinking that there might be some common ground but the second, not so much. Are your posts here meant to move our society forward or to ridicule perspectives with which you disagree?

Ms. Engelson (#5), I found your post most interesting. Tho' I'm not certain why you dismiss Keynes since he predicted precisely the situation within which we find ourselves now. Please write more.

OWS is anything but a "gimme your money" movement of unwashed hippies. It's part of the vast cross-section of America who believes the playing field has been made quite unfair. Have you been to OccupyMN yet? Talked with your fellow citizens there? If you have or if you haven't, you're invited. Saturday is supposed to be quite a nice fall day.

Yes, Keynes pulled us out of the great depression, created the most affluent middle class in the world, and launched one of the most sustained periods of economic expansion in US and world history. The abandonment of Keynes in favor of Chicago School of "free market" ideology has brought economic ruin and disparity to every corner of the world. Any intellectually honest comparison reveals the incoherent nature of "small government" ideology.

Rather than frame the difference between the Tea Party and the Occupy movement as a constitutional vs something else it's easier to get your head around it by looking at the Tea Party as originating with a relatively pre-defined small government/christian ideology. The occupy movement has grown out of a an actual progressive critique of capitalism that's been around for decades.

You can see as well that the inherent intolerance of the Tea Party makes it impossible for many of it's members to join forces with the occupy people while the progressive movement can more easily accommodate diverse points of view- such as the Obama with a Hitler mustache poster.

It reminds me of the so-called "support the troops" rally organized by Republicans a few years ago at the start of the Iraq war. People who wanted to say "peace" is the best way to support the troops were literally driven off the mall by the state troopers, and the crowd actually booed a speaker who suggested that the war was unfortunate. Consequently the whole thing took on the mood of a war rally rather than a support rally. Contrast that with this occupy movement.

Apparently the "occupy" movement has now gone world-wide. Yet another difference between it and the Tea Party.

Andrew (#9) -- I must disagree with your statement that "OWS is largely about radical, communal property rights."

It's about the reform of a government that has -- with corporate-friendly tax codes and welfare for corporations, in bailouts for Wall Street but not those losing their jobs and homes -- facilitated the transfer of most of the country's wealth to the top few percent.

No one is talking about "communal property rights." This is about achieving government that cares about the fates of the poor and middle classes as much as it seems to care about making the rich richer at the expense of everyone else. It's about the Koch Brothers and ALEC deciding what gets passed into law.

Very well put Mr. Udstrand. We keep tax cuts, lose jobs, and the economy tanks. It doesn't seem to be working well for a lot of people.

The problem with the economy is not much domestic demand. Private enterprise has a tough time hiring people if no one ones to or more likely the case can buy their product.

The Government is in true Keynesian fashion is the only player in job creation to kick start the economy with investments in infrastructure i.e. capital projects. Unfortunately we have both a legislature and Congress who have been part of the overspending problem for years deciding that now is the time to balance the budget.

The wall street bailout had very little to do with the businesses themselves it had to do with stabilizing the monetary system to give everyone time to figure out how badly the tangle of bad transactions were during the unregulated years. However, I don't think the US government should be in the venture capital business in a big way. R&D maybe but not venture capital or financier of last resort.

#14 - "Apparently the "occupy" movement has now gone world-wide. Yet another difference between it and the Tea Party."

Because the Tea Party is based on U.S. Constitutional principles while the "world-wide" franchise of the Flea Party is based on a global anti-capitalist movement.

#16 - "The Government is in true Keynesian fashion is the only player in job creation to kick start the economy with investments in infrastructure i.e. capital projects."

The Tea Party wants to end crony capitalism and bail-outs for private enterpris, while the Flea Party wants government to "invest" in cronies to create "green jobs" and other fraudulent projects as well as to pay off public employee unions in democrat-run cities in time to fund next year's campaign expenses.