The Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street Movements: Similarities and Differences

Now I know that I am asking for it by simply bringing up the idea that there may be some similarities between the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street movements. How do I know this?  A few days ago, I put the following status up on my Facebook Page and the comments flew. Some took issue with any kind of comparison, while others argued about the true nature that each group held.

I know there are ideological differences, but at some level, shouldn’t Tea Party folks be outraged by what’s happening to Occupy folks? See comments 

Now I knew that this comparison will draw some heated conversation, but this idea really does intrigue me. Others have also been writing about the commonalities between the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street here and here, so I want to flesh this out a little more to see if we can find some agreement on the nature and feel of both movements of people. I realize that some probably think this kind of reflection is a waste of time. After all, one group is “right” and the other is “wrong” and by doing this I am giving more legitimacy to a movement that does not deserve it. Maybe so, but I also think it is important for people to understand that most monolithic movements, as they are portrayed by media, supporters and detractors are probably not as all-good or all-bad as they would like us to think they are.  And if we are going to find those moments of faithful compromise where the common good is put before ideological loyalty, we must be able to engage in this kind of thinking.

So I begin by suggesting some similarities.  Keep in mind that I have been to both a Tea Party Rally in Cincinnati, OH as well as Occupy SF this past week, so my information is mostly from what I have read, talked to people about and experienced in person. Here we go . . .

  • Both are frustrated with a government and institutions who are seen as overstepping their bounds, driven by self-interest and no longer serving the “American people.”
  • Both have leveraged the energy into large gatherings of people in order to be  a visible and passionate expression of that frustration.
  • Both are claiming to speak on behalf of a large sector of the United States who share their frustration.
  • Both have been targets of media and political sensationalism and labeled, “anarchist” “fringe” or “radical” and have had “bad apples” used as sources for broad sweeping characterizations.
  • Both have individuals – the aforementioned “bad apples” – who act in ways that do not represent the core values of the movement.
  • Both have had politicians, entertainers, organizations and religious leaders pledge their support.
  • Both illicit strong emotional responses from those who see themselves as part of the ideological opposition.

Those are just a few commonalities, but I think this is where they end and the marked differences begin.  Let me just run off a few of the differences that I have picked up on.

  • The demographics are different . . . there is some debate whether or not the Tea Party is more male and wealthy than the national average but in some ways they mirror the US population. Occupy Wall Street seems to be younger and more ethnically and socially diverse, but most observations at this point are purely anecdotal.
  • The tactics are different . . .  the Tea Party held day-long rallies with sound, stages and speakers while the Occupy Wall Street is setting up tent cities and organizing themselves into committees that gather for a daily “general assembly” when the committees report back to the whole community.
  • The response has been different . . . now I know these might be contested, but I think the mainstream media paid attention to the Tea Party earlier in their life than Occupy Wall Street and, as far as I know, the numerous confrontations with police has only been part of the Occupy Wall Street protests.
  • The purpose is different  . . . the Tea Party had a specific set of goals and objectives in the Contract from America which helped to define if one was part of the Tea Party or not. Occupy Wall Street has no centralized platform and attracts a variety of ideological perspectives under a broad call for change.
  • The Ideology is different . . . while this seems like a given, because of the nature of the “platforms” of each, drawing distinct A versus B differences is difficult. I do think it is safe to say that in terms of positions on social issues and what The United States should be about and stand for, the Tea Party probably bends strong right while the Occupy Wall Street crew leans mightily to the left.

I as reflect on what all of this means, I will say that I am always impressed when folks get off of their butts and hit the streets for what they believe in. The “broad middle” who might feel left out can justifiable be accused of not taking part in movements of social and political change, too often weighing the costs and staying put until it is safe to go out.  I get it, but I do not think the mere gathering of the ideological opposition is critique worthy. What they say, sure, but hitting the streets for something that they believe in, never. Of course, this is not the ONLY tactic to achieve social change, but it is an important part of the process.  And honestly, I would prefer that people engage in the framing and forming of our political and cultural reality no matter how messy it gets; for the alternative is apathy and an apolitical posture that leaves too much power in the hands of too few people. From both groups this I see this as a positive result of their passion.

As a supporter of Occupy Wall Street in general and Occupy SF in my town, the real test of the Occupy Wall Street Movement will be in how and into what its future is formed. After all, one could argue whether sweeping victories of Tea Party Candidates has been helpful to the country or if their stars are burning as bright these days, but you cannot argue that The Tea Party has effectively influenced American politics and policy.  As more of a Occupy Wall Street person, my fear is that if there is no clear agenda set soon or if politicians do not soon respond, the energy might dissipate into who knows what. I do not think that agenda has to necessarily include running people for political office or the formation of some kind of litmus-test pledge, but there does need to be a clear purpose articulated so the next ring of like-minded folks can begin to hold onto a common agenda. You can see some of this taking shape as they work with the press, local organizations and their develop their own infrastructure, but time will tell if the Occupy Wall Street movement will have the same magnitude of impact as The Tea Party. I hope it does and I for one will continue to support Occupy SF by the leveraging of my own gifts and resources.

We shall see. We Shall see.

And for the record, I am a registered Democrat and a card carrying member of The Coffee Party.


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  • Jimgggg  

    The people who control the government are the folks on Wall Street. 
    They got both Bush and Obama to bail them out then paid themselves huge bonuses
    with our money. 


    We should be angry with Wall Street but the Tea Party movement has been
    hijacked by the Republicans who are just as much owned by Wall Street as the


    No one is looking out for the middle class.  CEO’s and Directors are
    paying themselves a higher rationto average worker pay than any time in US
    history.  The founding fathers were against an inherited wealthy class and
    passed inheritance taxes to prevent that.  Now the Republicans want to get
    rid of that tax.  The Corporations are not really paying taxes due to
    loopholes passed by both parties.

  • Sue Hilderbrand  

    Mr. Reyes-Chow,  I am preparing for a live radio show with one guest that identifies with the TP and the other with OWS.  I would love to dialogue with you a bit about how to proceed.  Is that possible?

    • Bruce Reyes-Chow  

      Sure. you can send me text me at two zero nine nine one zero four two seven two and we can set up a time to talk? I am free around 1:45.

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  • Nate Lauger  

    its like calling a GOP party member a Democrat, of course your going to get a huge outrage… 

    1. Tea party doesn’t try and over turn the rule of law aka the law enforcement.
    2.  Capitalism is how the guys like Micheal M. have a job… He’s the guy that sets his house on fire to collect the insurance check.  
    3.  Tea Party activists go home at the end of the day because they have bills to pay, mouths to feed and don’t want a government doing it for them.
    4.  I’m sorry that you have student loans… but that is not the governments fault, its your fault for not looking ahead and realizing hey work has to be done after your receive the diploma.  I was unable to finish college because of the cost but its okay… I have a good job… but it was a lot of pain staking hours of getting up at 5 AM and getting home at 8 PM… But I and I alone made myself… and you certainly don’t need a government helping me so why the heck do you think you deserve MORE MORE MORE.

    • Bruce Reyes-Chow  

      Nate . . . thanks for taking the time to comment. Not sure that I agree with your assessment just as much as I agree that all the Tea Partiers were/are racists bigots. I know too many folks involved with Occupy who simply do not fit what I think the media would like to say about them . . . conflict maintains tension and gets ratings: TV, paper, etc.  Simply not that black and white. Do you know me? Do I fit into those characteristics? I consider myself a supporter of Occupy and I do not fit into 1-4.

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  • Paul Glanville  

    I think that you (and your fellow Democrats) fundamentally misunderstand the tea party. Consequently, you misunderstand everything that it has touched.
    For instance, you write that “you cannot argue that The Tea Party has effectively influenced American politics” and yet everyone knows that the battle over the debt ceiling only happened because of the tea party. Pelosi, Reid, and Biden wouldn’t be slandering them, using terminology such as “Terrorists,” “Bigots”, etc. if they were not influential (because there is no point in attacking the non-influential).
    I encourage you to continue to trivialize them and, after the upcoming election, perhaps they will overrun even more Democratic seats, and you can write all about how backward and unenlightened the American Public has become after decades of being dumbed-down by a public-educational system dominated by a Democrat-leaning education establishment.

    • Bruce Reyes-Chow  

      Paul . . . Trying to understand the comment. I acknowledge that they have been a force in the quote you lift from my post, so not sure where the disagreement is. Is is that I don;t say it stronger or point to examples? Please elaborate.  Thanks.

      • Paul Glanville  

        Sometimes when I write I am too close to the words that I think I have written something that I have not – we are sometimes our own worst editors.
        Perhaps this is the case here.

        You wrote that “you can argue that … has effectively influenced …”
        I read your comment as saying (practically, by shifting the negative):
        “you can argue that … has not effectively influenced …”

        If you “cannot argue that they have done xxx”,
        then you equally  “can argue that they have not done xxx”

        Perhaps you dropped a “not” and meant to say:
        “you cannot argue that … has not effectively influenced …”


        (sometimes those double-negatives bite you…)

        • Paul Glanville  

          See? I blew my own editing…

          Second paragraph **should** be:

          You wrote that “you cannot argue that … has effectively influenced …”
          I read your comment as saying (practically, by shifting the negative):
          “you can argue that … has not effectively influenced …”

          • Bruce Reyes-Chow  

            I’m a little confused now too 😉  

            I went back and read what I wrote and think it does make sense. You CAN argue the helpfulness of . . . but you CANNOT argue the influence of . . .

          • Paul Glanville  

            I most certainly *can* argue the influence of the Tea Party, and already have. In which alternate universe did the Tea Party not successfully pressure the rest of the Republican Party to refuse to increase the debt ceiling just a couple of months ago?

          • Bruce Reyes-Chow  

            Okay . . . gonna keep trying because I think we do not actually disagree on the idea that the TP has indeed been influential.  The “cannon argue” means that I think that most folks will capitulate that they have made an impact.  The “CAN argue” is the debate that you have must admit is till swirling around whether or not that influence has been helpful.  So . . . I am totally in agreement with you about the influence, however I might disagree with you about the helpfulness of that influence. Clearer?

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  • frustrated

    If the tea party didnt pay the fees, would their first amendment rights be violated ? A government that gets to dictate what speech is right is very scarey. I will take  Big corporate greed that employs part of the 99% . Every person that holds a politcal position swears a oath to uphold either the State or Federal Constitution and its laws.  ALL OF THEM  not the ones you like better. 

  • Keith  

    I think the whole point of both movements is not to be either right or left.  I think the hope is to reform an utterly corrupt and pathetic political leadership (of both parties) and restore a sense of accountability and purpose to government.  The Tea Party was co-opted by those hoping for political gain–leaving me wondering if the OWS movement will be the same.  

  • frustrated  

    How about making your statement and then leaving ?  Most non political junkies that barely watched the news wouldn’t even know about the Tea party. Start disrupting everyday life and OCCUPY will get old really quick.  Why should the tea party be outraged about law enforcement enforcing laws ? The police didn’t go there to subvert descent.  Class warefare has caused genocide through out the ages. The rich in this country were part of the 99% , they worked hard and earn everything they get. America has the biggest mobility from one class to another and if the dream as escaped some people . I really doubt it was RICH americans that took the dream from people. I wonder how many of these so called 99%er’s parents wanted the govt to give them everything . GIVE me health care  , give me my education , give me food , give me a place to live ,  GIMME  GIMME GIMME .  I guess that famous quote from JFK  has fallen on his parties ears.

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