Monday, October 17, 2011
The nationwide Occupy Wall Street protests (OWS) have also occupied much of the news and discussion this past month. What has gone largely unacknowledged, though, is how many concerns OWS shares with the Tea Party, which itself began as a reaction to the Wall Street bailouts and the U.S. government’s use of taxpayer money to intervene in the financial system.
A few reforms OWS has called for with which the Tea Party could agree include: limiting the influence of lobbyists on Congress, including the odious practice of lobbyists writing much of the legislation that actually ends up on the floor of Congress; passage of “Revolving Door Legislation,” which would prevent government regulators from going to work for the companies they once regulated; and full investigations and prosecutions of all who criminally contributed to the 2008 financial crisis. While OWS concentrates on Wall Street financiers here, the Tea Party would include bureaucrats, members of congress and administration officials who were also responsible for the corrupt circumstances under which our financial system imploded.
Yet the reaction to OWS from both establishment media and politicians has been quite different from what greeted the Tea Party. It has also been predictably partisan. The biggest shock the Tea Party movement withstood (and continues to deal with) was the treatment it received from the press. Here was a large group of average citizens finally disgusted enough with the state of the nation to get off their couches and get involved. While most didn’t expect actual support from a media that tends to cozy up to the very people upon whom it should be exercising scrutiny, namely politicians, they expected to at least be taken seriously and allowed a fair hearing of their grievances.
Instead, many of the pundits who are praising OWS for moving the nation out of its complacency couldn’t think fast enough of names to call the Tea Party when it attempted to do the same. Favorites, of course, included “racists” and “tea baggers,” but there was also the penchant for pointing out that “most” TP activists (a slightly larger group within the group) were “old white men,” as if this somehow made their concerns less valid. In a rational universe the opinions of a group of people who has spent the past four or five decades raising families, building businesses, paying taxes and fighting America’s wars might carry more weight than those of a bunch of kids who haven’t really contributed much yet on either a personal or societal level. But the world of the establishment media is not rational and in this case ageism and sexism were perfectly acceptable reasons to dismiss out of hand an entire group of concerned American citizens.
Of course there are a number of the usual multi-millionaire Hollywood suspects jumping on the “we hate rich people” bandwagon. One is actor Alec Baldwin – the same Alec Baldwin who has been all over television lately touting the Capital One Venture Card. Baldwin is actually partnering with Capital One to support private foundations which promote the arts, a worthy cause and a model of how arts funding should be provided. It is interesting, though, that Baldwin would choose to partner with a bank rather than, say, the National Endowment for the Arts. Perhaps corporations have their uses after all.
And then there are the politicians. Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi went so far as to invoke deity when she gushed “God bless them for their spontaneity . . . it’s young, it’s spontaneous, it’s focused and it’s going to be effective.” This is the same woman who called the Tea Party “dangerous,” compared its members to violent radicals and hinted that their free speech rights should be curtailed because she feared some of the rhetoric being used by the Tea Party could lead to violence. Exactly what about “Follow the Constitution” and “Give Us Liberty, not Debt!” frightened Mrs. Pelosi so much?
Meanwhile, President Barack Obama’s profound expression of empathy and understanding toward the Occupy crowds was not received very graciously. One member of the occupywallst.org forum recently posted “We are doomed. President Obama today praised OccupyWallStreet. How can we have a proper rebellion if one of our nation's leaders praises us? Time to join forces with the Tea Party - they were vilified.”
At least someone at OWS recognizes truth and his comment may be the most honest and helpful to date. First it recognizes that, too often, we the people are turned against each other and attention is deflected from the real culprits. It also nails the current media paradigm through which a few powerful media outlets hold the power to shape public opinion for or against a movement. OWS is now in the same precarious position the Tea Party once held - when the powers- that-be decide the movement’s fifteen-minutes of fame and respectability are up, reasonable and articulate spokespersons will be ignored in favor of fringe participants and their extreme statements and behaviors. Then OWS will know the same vilification from which the Tea Party has suffered.
These two groups should be talking to each other rather than the media. OWS might bring the Tea Party’s focus back to the economic issues around which it formed and Tea Party representatives could help OWS protesters understand liberty-oriented solutions to the problems created by the unconstitutional confluence of big business and government. If they could form an alliance, so can we.
Audrey Pietrucha helps coordinate the Vermont Liberty Alliance. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.