Do Americans, even in anxious times, prefer an optimistic leader or an angry one?
The conventional wisdom today is that the Occupy Wall Street movement is the leftwing equivalent of the Tea Party movement.
I don’t buy that. Not for a minute.
The Tea Party was the invention of the Koch Brothers and Dick Armey and Fox News. It was Astroturf, at the outset, and it was continually watered, top down, by corporate money.
By contrast, the Occupy Wall St. movement has been real grassroots from the very start—unfunded, spontaneous, horizontal, organized through social networks, and democratic to its core.
And the strength of the Tea Party’s populist base has been greatly exaggerated, as Paul Street and Anthony DiMaggio persuasively argue in their book, “Crashing the Tea Party.” The mainstream media repeatedly inflated the Tea Party crowds, ignoring or belittling larger crowds on the progressive side. Meanwhile, the Occupy Wall Street crowds have not gotten the attention they deserve, and the protests I’ve attended have been grossly undercounted by the media. The anti-war and anti-Wall Street protest in Freedom Plaza last Thursday, for instance, drew 3,000 people. The New York Times said “hundreds.” And when 2,000 of the demonstrators blocked traffic outside the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Washington Post reported that there were “dozens.”
Here’s another difference: The Tea Party movement was largely just a rebranding of the rightwing of the Republican Party in an effort to take down Obama and push the party rightward. At the two Tea Party gatherings I’ve attended and reported on, every one I interviewed had voted Republican in the last election and the anti-Obama rhetoric was extreme. By contrast, the Occupy Wall Street movement can hardly be called a wing of the Democratic Party, as it consists of many people who are thoroughly disenchanted with Barack Obama and his backing of the banks, as well as his war and civil liberties and free trade policies.
Demographically, the Occupy Wall Street movement looks a lot like America, with diversity in age, race, and economic background, whereas the Tea Party is overwhelmingly white, middle-aged, and petit bourgeois.
To turn the Occupy Wall Street movement into the equivalent of the Tea Party is to do a disservice to the great uprising we’re seeing today.
Occupy Wall Street embodies the slogan Obama appropriated from the late great poet June Jordan: “We are the people we’ve been waiting for.”
This is the movement we’ve been waiting for.
If you liked this story by Matthew Rothschild, the editor of The Progressive magazine, check out his story "DC Rally Opposes Keystone XL Pipeline, Denounces Last Hearing."
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