Many people are asking the question: what are the similarities and differences between the Occupy Wall Street movement and the so-called “Tea Party”?

There are certainly similarities, and lucid supporters of the Tea Party would do well to ally themselves with the Occupy Movement.

However, there are certain striking differences. The two largest, in my view, are:

  1. The Tea Party was organized and is funded by Big Money corporate interests, whereas the Occupy Movement is legitimately grass-roots.
  2. The Occupy Movement is a solidarity movement that seeks to unify 99% of us in a fight to reclaim our lives and our world from corporate fascists. The Tea Party is an elitist, neo-fascist movement that seeks to protect the status quo — or even to return us to a previous, racist status-quo.

Where OWS and the Tea Party are coming from

Two very different movements with common roots in the failing center

by Arun Gupta

One month into the Occupy Wall Street protests, many are asking if this new movement is just a “left-wing Tea Party.”

Definitely not. This is not a party, like the Tea Party, that seeks to directly shape the policy and electoral process. Because it is explicitly leaderless, it is difficult to imagine a Michele Bachmann or Eric Cantor emerging as a standard bearer of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Given their reliance on Wall Street money, as well as radical demands from many protesters, the Democrats will find it almost impossible to channel “the 99%” into an electoral tidal wave next year, the way the Republicans rode the Tea Party to victory in 2010.

But that does not mean comparisons to the Tea Party should be dismissed. There are striking parallels between the two movements when viewed through the lenses of politics, society and history.

Some similarities are obvious. The Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street both oppose the bailouts of the banks orchestrated by the two parties in Washington. The two movements are thick with people who feel they have little say in the political process. And supporters on each side think the middle-class “American dream” is nearly extinct.

As social forces, the resemblance deepens. I have interviewed protesters at Zuccotti Park and Tea Party members who discuss their involvement in comparable terms. They speak of a personal “awakening,” of finding inspiration in a gathering of kindred spirits, and of not having been political before. In fact, both movements thrive on bringing new people into politics. Each creates a new notion of “the people.”

The Tea Party’s rallying cries include “we the people” and “take America back.” Its vision of the people is of self-reliant, industrious and frugal Americans who through moral example and political force would return this country to the greatness pioneered by the Founding Fathers. The Occupy Wall Street movement is inchoate, but already chants of “the 99%” offer another version of the people: those whose dreams and aspirations have been squashed by the greedy and power-hungry, but who can revive fairness and justice as national ideals.

For both, the legitimate people is complemented by the illegitimate other. For the Tea Party, the other is embodied by liberals, unions, illegal immigrants, Muslims, welfare recipients and Obama. For the Occupy Wall Street movement, the others are the 1 percent, the catch-all for bankers, corporate executives, the super-rich and their political allies who have an iron grip on the economy and politics.

Another similarity is that the success of the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street is owed to their vagueness, at least initially. Each has united disparate coalitions under their respective banners. The Tea Party’s historic references appeal to people who feel that social and political changes in the last few decades have made their country unrecognizable. It unites those who oppose unions and immigration, favor small government (apart from the sprawling military-security apparatus), want a return to the gold standard, cuts in social spending, unlimited gun rights and less regulation of business and markets. The common theme is that parasitical and selfish groups have sapped America’s wealth and power.

Likewise, the Occupy Wall Street movement has been criticized for a lack of demands, but when you speak to supporters they have no lack of ideas: better-paying jobs, government-funded jobs, single-payer healthcare, debt forgiveness, a moratorium on home foreclosures, cutting defense spending, saving Social Security and Medicare, strengthening unions. One secret of its success, analogous to the Tea Party’s obsession with the undeserving, is that it allows many groups and individuals to see their demands as equivalent to everyone else’s because the opponent is the same: Wall Street.

Most Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street partisans feel something has gone fundamentally wrong in America, and they are united in envisioning a different type of society. It’s a mistake to reduce either movement to politics or policy. Each is motivated by values and idealized ways of relating to one another. But this is where the differences become stark.

The Tea Party embraces heroic, rugged individualism where freedom and liberty are best secured through the free market. In reality, though, the Tea Party ideology often evokes an exurban nostalgia for white supremacy. Tea Party members rage against deficits run up by an African-American president with an anger never directed at his deficit-prone predecessor. Their disdain for government subsidies rarely extends to the interest deduction for homeowners, funding for the interstate highway system, crop support payments and other state supports for a suburban or rural lifestyle.

On the other hand, Occupy Wall Street believes in a more collective economy and decision-making process, as seen in the General Assembly and free exchange of goods in Zuccotti Park and other occupation sites. Activists think increasing access to public goods — starting with the public squares themselves — is the way to achieve social harmony.

These radically divergent worldviews are matched by distinct demographics. The average member of the Tea Party is in his or her 50s, whereas the typical Wall Street occupier looks to be a recent college graduate. This probably explains why the two also have different relations to history. The Tea Party romanticizes the American Revolution, while Occupy Wall Street is inspired by more contemporary uprisings in Europe and the Arab world in which youth say they are trying to reclaim the future.

It would be tempting to define the divide between those who support an unfettered free market because government has too much power versus those who want a robust social welfare state (or even socialism) because corporations have too much power. But that is just part of it. The fact that genuinely popular movements could blossom so quickly at both political poles indicates how hollow the political center has become.

The Occupy Wall Street and Tea Party movements may have diametrically opposed visions of society and power relations, but they both appeal to growing ranks of people who believe the system no longer works for them. Whatever their differences they present a similar challenge that will not disappear because of some policy reforms or reshuffling of the cast in Washington.

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35 Responses to “Occupy Wall Street vs The Tea Party”

  1. “Appearing in Madison,Wisconsin last week, Chomsky, who frequently observes of America that there is a permanent mass base for fascism, warned about the appeal of the Tea though he shares many of their negative sentiments on the U.S. government. “I’m just old enough to have heard a number of Hitler’s speeches on the radio,” he said, “and I have a memory of the texture and the tone of the cheering mobs, and I have the dread sense of the dark clouds of fascism gathering” here at home.”

  2. mons brouk says:

    Tea activists on Thursday accused officials in at least four cities of giving preferential treatment to anti-Wall Street protesters, and one group in Richmond is asking the city to repay $8,000 spent for permits and other needs.

  3. boisiammer borrowl says:

    After watching the NYPD treat Occupy Wall-Street protesters i shun the UN and NATO for not helping us out. After all our government has many times more control over its people than kadafi or any other country in the world ever had.

  4. clarano bornbach says:


  5. sybaludi shaardiero says:

    difficult to be a racist when you think in terms of collectivism. lashes out at anyone operating on racial assumptions for a good reason – because continuing to focus on racial differences *IS* racist, no matter which side is doing it.

  6. My friends band is playing with them tonight, Angels To Ashes, keep an ear out for them, Jeff is producing their next CD!!!! Yay!!!!!!!!!!!!

  7. Anyone who is on the tea is a fascist and a bully. listen to Hitler, I mean Glen Beck or you too will have a brain made of nothing but mush.

  8. The tree, my cakes and I are all sparkling, and I can’t wait for my friends to arrive at my Christmas tea

  9. rainel boschloda says:

    Well, how do I put this…is it wrong that someone who works in the financial industry high frequency trading–evil, I know) this whole schtick and shpiel? I mean at least in the past, at least in my lifetime (I’m 25 here), when there were Wall Street crises because the i-banks were drinking each other’s koolaid, they didn’t spread out into regular America and crater the economy. This time, the big banks went way overboard. So yeah.

  10. ween kimbleto says:

    Its a neat invention but missing the whole point! The thermometer is reading the water temperature inside the water reservoir and not the dye temperature. The temperature that you see on the software that you are running is the actual temperature 1). If you can minimize the temperature difference between the CPU and the water temperature in the reservoir then you are doing something!!

  11. stine mohrleim says:

    The right is giving House GOP leaders a collective headache. We knew they were coming under fire from conservative members for taking a piecemeal approach to repealing the health care law. Now conservative activists are after them for abandoning Tea principles at the same time.

  12. Everybody’s goal in life is to be a target of occupy wall street; it’s the ultimate litmus test of success.

  13. Repubs put a tea candidate out there to go aft Snowe & she quits – Real facts not dems fault her own did it

  14. irwilbrade sria says:

    Who funds the occupy wall street idiots the trail leads back to george soros while his sock puppets romney and obama acts clueless as ever. –

  15. Molotov Cockatil Occupier on the Lam – FOX News: An Occupy Wall Street protester caught on video ranting about “What a moloto…

  16. blane daggle says:

    He was on Glenn Beck. He made it this far with Tea money & backing. Thats why Hatch said he didn’t like the tea –

  17. I think Rubio would be fantastic bc he’d help in so many areas..young ppl, hispanics and tea It would be

  18. A man inspired by Occupy Wall Street may spend the next five years in jail for putting baby powder in two envelopes:

  19. veatray says:

    The tea theme tmr made me realise tat there’s no girly yet casual/ appropriate clothes in my closet… AT ALL

  20. raia bell says:

    timeless travels through tricky turns that never end teach lessons about occupy wall street … occupy everything … occupy everwhere

  21. New York Times Photographer Claims He Received NYPD Beat Down Last Night While Doing His Job [Occupy Wall Street… –

  22. o'rego ken says:

    Going for 42 years THE political class first sat up and paid real attention to the movement two years ago, when its acolytes in Utah ended the career of Bob Bennett, a venerable Republican senator, by denying him the nomination for his re-election bid. If Bob Bennett is not conservative enough, inc …
    Jenell Relacion liked Orrin Hatch forced into a primary: Reading the tea leaves on 26 April 2012 (4 months ago).

  23. The GOP and Tea are violent, right? Death Threat From DNC Delegate: “Mitt Romney… I Would Like To Kill Him!”

  24. Please keep motivating. I want to see the MASSIVE Tea uprising beyond what we saw in 2010. We also need to win the senate

  25. Would had been better if the replacement refs remained there in the NFL. Likely would see strong protests better than Occupy Wall Street. 😀

  26. urdeterand says:

    talks about her arrest at Occupy Wall Street last fall and how it inspired her new LP “America” — this am on HCW 10am-noon

  27. mosten tat says:

    I don’t think he needs to in his eyes. All he really has to do is play nice with the Tea which has a lot of reg voters

  28. mohselenfe says:

    it’s family tea this afternoon, so don’t want to duck out, trying not to hide under duvet-trying a bubble bath stat!

  29. fb
    Occupy Wall Street protest: I refuse to leave wall st tonite until I’m blacked out OR i meet a hott guy #fb

  30. lacafarran says:

    My ideal candidates are people who are attractive to both the Tea and the old school Republicans, the Reagan cr …

  31. ceverlanco says:

    Wall Street Braces for Dismal Bonuses: That might be good news for Occupy Wall Street, given that bonuses drive … –

  32. plum hubric says:

    Stop the presses … again! A SECOND Occupy Wall Street reference on the final episode of At least they don’t t …

  33. bald bonwebs says:

    Rove, Tea in GOP civil war: As they try to pick up the pieces from last fall’s defeat, the establishment a…

  34. hocuttier cruchoehm says:

    The Ugly Truth About America’s Housing “Recovery” — It’s Wall St. Buying Homes to Rent Back to Their Former Owners | ht …

  35. Today in 1916, Emma Goldman was arrested for talking about control, if you were wondering what Tea America w …

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