Charette: Occupy Wall Street Is No Tea Party

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

The word of the year has been “extreme,” usually to describe the Tea Party its hard line strategies for bringing down the deficit, lowering taxes, and supporting markets. Another vocabulary token, usually thrown around when political “extremism” needs a synonym, is “intransigent”. If a journalist was looking to shame plucky House members waffling on the debt ceiling, you can bet he talked about some pretty extreme intransigence occurring on Capital Hill. Mysteriously, I notice these political buzzwords have been generally absent in media descriptions of Occupy Wall Street. While I concede that OWS has given the Left a morale boost and vents understandable frustration, many of the policies and actions that have come to characterize the movement, such as universal debt repudiation, defecation on police cars, refusals to temporarily vacate private property, anti-Semitic rants, and the occasional hammer and sickle flag are, well, not mainstream. In fact, the Tea Party movement is far more moderate, and coherent, than OWS.

When one million Tea Partiers showed up on the National Mall on Sept 12, 2009 for their first big unifying rally, there wasn’t a single arrest. Tea Party folk were not seeking a standoff with the police and weren’t putting city leaders in the precarious position of balancing free speech with laws protecting private property, zoning, and park regulations. That’s quite different from flooding Lower Manhattan for an indefinite amount of time, taking advantage of private nearby restrooms, and refusing to evacuate, even temporarily, so the city could hose down Zuccotti Park. In New York City alone, residents have gotten stuck with $4 million in overtime costs. In contrast, as the Tea Party Express pulls into town, organizers are sure to file a permit and arrange for appropriate clean-up. Generally, they remove their tri-cornered hats and go home before dusk.

Whether or not they appreciate the Tea Party platform or Betsy Ross-inspired wardrobe, Americans understand where the Tea Party stands on the political issues of our day and judge accordingly. Meanwhile, the OWS contingent is, at best, jumbled. What’s more, it quotes from some controversial historical precedents. I, for one, associate the word “occupation” with military measures. Maybe the protestors truly wish to declare they are at war with the big banks, but I detect a degree of muddled irony when self-identifying “occupiers” are singing joyous renditions of “Give Peace a Chance.” According to former Clinton pollster Doug Schoen’s fieldwork, a third of the so-called occupiers approve of violent means to institute economic justice. If that percentage of Tea Partiers was displaying open hostility to law and order, conservatives would (and should) be called to explain their unruly selves. Now, the natural response is to dismiss violent characters as fringy. But when there is no overriding OWS platform or leadership structure, it’s hard to know whether bizarre behavior and beliefs are representative of the movement or not.

As Tea Partiers collected in town halls last summer, they were dismissed because wealthy libertarians like the Koch Brothers opened up their checkbooks to support them. Yet when AFL-CIO president Richard Trumpka joins the OWS festivities, he’s seen as a kindred spirit.

Love or hate the Tea Party, it certainly insists on holding both Republican and Democrats’ feet to the fire. It opposes the bailouts, the individual healthcare mandate, high taxes, and crony capitalism. Yet OWS is in the awkward position of smearing Wall Street while President Obama—whom a majority of protestors still support—kindled the auto bailouts, hired bureaucratic “Czars”, employs Tim Geithner, and handed out Solyndra loans. I admit I find it ironic when the same protestors who referring to the police as “chauvinist pigs” are also up in arms that Republicans aren’t getting behind more bills to—you guessed it—federally support the hiring of more police officers.

Many in the OWS squad harbor noble goals, but I worry at their sense of disenfranchisement under America’s Constitutional system. Some have aptly noted that America isn’t a direct democracy. They’re right, and that tends to be a good thing. Direct democracy simply cannot represent 300 million Americans. French Revolution-styled upheavals have a habit of getting counter-intuitive pretty fast. Napoleon, Stalin, Chavez and other revolutionaries-by-fiat are not egomaniacal exceptions. They represent the predictable culminations of uprisings that license unfettered democracy, at the expense of minority opinion, safety, and order.

To be clear, idealism does not deserve to be demonized. But we cannot govern a nation by forever storming the Bank of America Bastille. The best exit out of our national malaise ought to be more Constitutionalism, not less. I hope to channel my fury at the current hand-holding between Washington and Wall Street in the voting booth next year. OWS is begging for different, better leadership in government. I second that call, but I suspect friendlier politicians are the politicians who have less power right now, not more.


  1. 0
    Impressed With Article says:

    This is the most thoughtful political piece I have ever seen written in Swat news, let alone any student anywhere. Congrats Danielle.

    To all those who think it was a piece researched on the Fox News website, I suggest you crawl out of your little hole and try to at least understand the other side (Fox news isn’t the other side, but I believe most Republicans see it as the lesser of two evils). I’m not saying you should agree, but you should understand others motives, beliefs and desires. Knowing those things is what allows people to change the world, merely taking a stance won’t get you that far.

    The rest of this post will likely be filled with bits of my political positioning, as well as some sarcasm. I’m sorry to anyone that I offend, but I can’t help myself, and you shouldn’t be so touchy anyway 🙂

    To Tara, who stated that the majority of Americans support OWS, I respond by saying 78% of statistics are made up on the spot AND prove you wrong with statistics not made up on the spot. I believe someone did a poll (maybe Gallup?), that suggested that the majority of Americans have no freaking idea what OWS’s purpose is. OH LOOK I FOUND IT! YAY! ( Looks like 63% of Americans don’t have an idea what the movement’s goals are…In the words of Nick Cannon, “AMERICA HAVE VOTED!” (He sounds like such an idiot when he says that, doesn’t he?)

    In a similar 2010 poll conducted by Gallup concerning the American affiliation with the Tea Party, only 46% stated that they have no opinion or don’t know enough to agree or disagree with the tea party movement. (Link for all you non-believers:

    I think these two polls tell us at least one of two things things: 1) America needs to remove their head from their sphincter and pay attention more OR 2) The Tea Party created a more coherent message that allowed more Americans to take a position on the movement as compared to OWS.

    PS Tara or anyone else – Before you go ahead and say, “OMG!?!?! But 22% of Americans support OWS and only 16% disapprove.” Please note that 22%, if my calculations are correct, is not a majority. In fact, the number of people that support OWS would have to increase by excess of 90% to be a majority (assuming no change in dissenting votes). Calculation for all you engineers (kidding, you obviously did the math before I wrote PS): 22% X (1 + 95%) = 43% agree, 16% still disagree and the residual 41% still don’t know what the hell OWS is trying to say. If you expect a doubling of OWS protesters then you must not know that the MAJORITY (53%) of citizens pay income taxes, and probably don’t see OWS as having their interests at heart. (And on the note of taxation, maybe they should hold Occupy GE in Connecticut. They made $5.1bn and through tax credits actually earned another $300m. On the other hand Goldman Sachs made $7.1bn in the US, and paid $1.7bn in federal income taxes. So Wall Street pays taxes. How nice of them, they should try to be more like GE.)

    PPS – Now for my quick (and more) politically charged commentary: Why do I think that OWS is pissed off at Wall Street? Well 1) the banks got bailed out and the people didn’t. Response: Okay fair enough, moot point now though. Should have brought that argument up about 2 years ago. 2) Because the banks have all this money they are hoarding and won’t lend it out. Response: Well, new gov’t regulations in the pipeline (Dodd-Frank) are making it difficult for banks to lend out money because they don’t know the potential capital retention requirements and how that will effect the profitability of their loans. If the banks are required to hold extra capital for loans to provide downside risk prevention for loans that they originate, the effective cost to loan goes up. Some might say, “why do they care so much about their profits, they are already making tons of money?” Well glad you asked, instead of explaining to you how bank spreads work, I would instead suggest you list your name and graduating class, so that I never make the mistake of hiring you.
    Don’t get me wrong, I support regulations, but not at the expense of market liquidity. At the end of the day, liquidity helps drive economic growth, and if government regulations inhibit the ability of banks to loan out their money, then government is doing the wrong thing.

  2. 0
    Mark says:

    It’s pretty obvious that the poor soul who wrote this has not visited an OWS site anywhere and is recycling this material from Fox TV.

    Even so, you have to wonder: “chauvinist pigs?” I think that was a phrase from, oh, 40 years or so ago, to refer to men who regarded women as their inferiors. It was never used to refer to police. Did the writer make that one up, or has a fantasy-obsessed Fox TV source been off the planet for the last few decades?

    Just so you know, demonstrators have had good relations with most of the NY police on the scene, whom they regularly refer to as (obviously) part of the “99 percent.” As a result, the attacks on demonstrators have been made by white-shirted police top brass, one of whom pepper-sprayed peaceful demonstrators without provocation or warning, “as if he was spraying cockroaches,” as a New York Times columnist remarked. A regular blue-shirted police officer, who had been having a friendly conversation with the victims of the spraying, was stunned by this and remarked to the white-shirted cop, “thanks for the warning.”

    As the media and NY City Councilmembers have noted, the people at Occupy Wall Street have done a magnificent job keeping the place clean, certainly a great deal cleaner than other NYC parks or city streets. That’s one of the reasons why so many NYC public officials, including City Council President (and prominent mayoral candidate) Christine Quinn and Manhattan Boro President Scott Stringer have strongly defended OWS and pressured Mayor Bloomberg and the Zuccotti Park corporate landlord to back off in their efforts to drive people out of the the park, supposedly for “cleaning.” Many other local political leaders have led marches from all over the city in solidarity with the OWS people. In my own area of the far north of Manhattan, the local state senator and city councilmember, among others, led a march from 218th Street and Broadway, the northernmost tip of the island, many miles south all the way to Wall Street to join the OWS protest.

    As Democracy Now! co-host and newspaper columnist Juan Gonzalez has reported, NYC Health Dept workers have reported that they were instructed to come up with a pretext (“rationale” was the word they used) for evicting the OWS group. The same rationale (“the WMD” of the whole affair, it has been called) has now been used to attack peaceful demonstrators in Oakland, CA, where one demonstrator, an Iraq war veteran, as it happens, is in critical condition as of this writing after being hit in the head by a tear gas canister fired with no justification.

    The influential New York Observer reported, that Fox’s effort to smear Occupy Wall Street has backfired even in its own polling.

    New York City voters agree with the views of the Occupy Wall Street movement by a nearly three-to-one margin; 67 percent agree with the protesters’ views and 23 percent disagree, according to a Quinnipiac poll.

    1. 0
      compliments of messers blum ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

      Are you a partisan troll, or are you interested in finding truth. If it’s the latter, you’ve failed. Consider the following responses:

      “Just so you know, demonstrators have had good relations with most of the NY police on the scene, whom they regularly refer to as (obviously) part of the “99 percent.”

      Except when they went rampaging through Tribeca last week or were instigating police violence in Times Square. Their intentions were overwhelmingly apparent: Pushing at police officers with their cameras up.

      “As the media and NY City Councilmembers have noted, the people at Occupy Wall Street have done a magnificent job keeping the place clean, certainly a great deal cleaner than other NYC parks or city streets.”

      That only happened after the city nearly blackmailed the group: clean up or get out. Can you be sure that the city would have backed down if the protestors hadn’t stayed up all Thursday night two weeks ago to clean up their occupation?

      Also, though your comment is full of nice references and whatnot, citations don’t make anything that you put forth accurate. For instance, from the looks of your comment, it seems like the Oakland police attacked for no reason (why would police attack *PEACEFUL* demonstrators?!)! Come up with a set of consistent and realistic incentives for the police to implement this heavy attack.

      If your point is to be partisan, then you’ve succeeded. But, if you think your comment reflects success in seeking truth, then you’ve deluded yourself.

  3. 0
    Rowen '12 says:

    I wish there was more here beyond just OWS is jumbled — not exactly a very novel criticism of the movement. I think the general jumbled nature of the movement is a valid criticism, but I think that it also speaks to how many different factions are a part of OWS and how many interests are represented in this movement.

    It’s also not very justified to judge the movements based on police reactions to the movements. As Jack pointed out, that difference could have been due to a number of things, from the age of the constituents to the general economic status. I think a conservative voice is needed on campus and Danielle, I think you’re really brave to put yourself out there like this on a regular basis, but I wish that this wasn’t just passively occupying the space (like the Tea Party movement) and actually added a fresh voice to the discussion.

    Lastly, when I read articles like this…

    and watch videos like this…

    I sympathize with the people. I don’t understand how you look at this and think: “Boy, the OWS is really a rowdy bunch that deserves a bit of a clamp down.”

    1. 0
      Rowen '12 says:

      And before someone says something about how my point about OWS isn’t new either — I am not exactly trying to say anything novel in the same way Danielle is. I am not writing an article on this, whereas Danielle is. Therefore, she is more or less obligated to be adding something besides a re-hashing of news in fun terms. I think most of us read enough on this issue to have already encountered most of her arguments.

  4. 0
    Preston ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Fantastic article, Danielle! I’m glad that someone is pointing out Tim Geithner as one of the administration’s biggest mistakes. There’s a crone of Wall Street if I ever saw one.

  5. 0
    random person who's pointing out something says:

    I think this article has great points, but I will still have to disagree.
    The tea party and OWS are incredibly similar in many ways, these being a few:

    -They don’t really have a unified goal.
    When the tea party was *founded* they had a draft of sentiments, a list of issues, etc., but now the tea party is a forum of complaint just like Occupy Wall Street. Yes, the tea party is *generally* against certain things, like the government imposing on their lives, but this is actualy a point of contention. For example,they are hypocritical; they say things like “marriage should only be between a man and a woman”, which is the government regulating marriage, and the exact opposite of what their general anti-government sentiment is. Basically, both groups don’t have goals and are real-world complaint forums.

    -They don’t really know what they’re talking about(in general).
    A huge majority of the tea party/OWS seems to be very uninformed/they never wanted to be that informed and are just fed up and complaining. Both groups do have their gems (well, probably), but it seems that the vast majority of both groups is just there to complain, and doesn’t really have a solution/legitimate argument for many of their claims.

    There are differences undoubtedly, but both groups boil down to the same thing: A forum for complaint, whether it be for the young liberals or the older conservatives.

    1. 0
      Maia '12 says:

      I agree with both of your basic points. However, I’m not sure that either of these is really a problem for either of the two groups. As Paul Krugman pointed out recently, it’s not really up to citizens to come up with solutions: that’s what politicians are paid to do. Both groups are registering their violent dissatisfaction, and that’s absolutely the citizen’s right.

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        random person who's pointing out something says:

        Yes, of course.
        I’m not saying that those are problems for the groups, people obviously have the right to voice their frustrations with the current state of the US somehow.
        I’m just saying that the writer of this article is trying to disassociate the tea party and OWS, and that that shouldn’t be done since they’re fundamentally the same thing, but with different groups of people.

  6. 0
    zeta says:

    Danielle, I’d be offended by this if I weren’t so bored by it. Enough with the regurgitated Repub talking points. If you want to effectively troll the campus week after week, I’d recommend that you put forth an original thought.

    1. 0
      Andrew '12 says:

      Zeta, you should be more respectful and more clear. I don’t follow politics that much, so this column brought up some interesting points. Maybe I agree with some of them, maybe I don’t. But the point of the comments section is to talk about those points, not rudely dismiss the entire article just because I think it’s inherently valueless.

      For example, Danielle is looking at two interesting political movements that seem to me to be at different stages. The Tea Party has been around for a few years, so do you think if OWS went on for the same period of time, it might eventually get itself organized in the same way? Right now it might seem jumbled, but who knows if their versions of Beck and Palin and Bachmann will take charge in due time and help make something actually happen?

      Also, I disagree with the notion that “occupation” has a negatively militaristic connotation. OWS is a sit-in protest, right? Sit-ins are designed to be disruptive or obstructive enough to garner enough attention but remain non-violent: in the 1960s (Civil Rights movement), black students occupied a segregated store; in 1989, young people occupied Tiananmen Square; and earlier this year, Egyptians dissatisfied with Mubarak occupied Tahrir Square for about three weeks. Some of these occupations turned violent, but they were begun peacefully.

      Anyway, I didn’t find this article offensive or boring in the least, and I hope the rest of the comments are more well-thought out and constructive.

  7. 0
    jack '12 says:

    Interesting article. This is definitely a comparison that needed to be made, and I look forward to reading the DG comments. However, I feel there are some points that were overlooked. First, the supporters of the two movements are fairly different. The Tea Party supporters are, in general, much older. This means that their protests are most likely going to be more tame and that police officers will respect them more, as they are from a peer group. In contrast, the Occupy movement has brought together people young and old, though young people are definitely the main contingent. Police officers may be more willing to use force against younger people, making the movement more violent than it needs to be. Secondly, who says protests must be tame in order for them to be purposeful and effective? The most important movements have been both radical and violent. Lastly, you seem to suggest that the Occupy movement is un-American compared to the Tea Party. Yes, the Tea Party takes its name from a historic event in America’s history. However, the Occupy movement is about standing up for what you believe in and giving a voice to the 99% who are the socioeconomic minority. That seems pretty American to me.

    1. 0
      Bubba Smedley says:

      As a member and co founder of the Occupy Boise Tea Party, we invite all Tea Party and Occupy supporters to join us in a March on Washington, DC next spring.

      Our goals are simple:

      1. No re election of any Senator or Congress person.

      2. Get all money out of politics.

      It is time to return the government of American back to Americans.

  8. 0
    Tara says:

    A million tea baggers on the mall. Fake footage from fox and not even half- a million. Too bad the majority of Americans support the OWS. And the politicians are getting scared as they should.

  9. 0
    Urla says:

    Yes, when the mega rich support a cause that, if successful, will lead to them LOSING money, of course they are seen as heroes. How can you not understand this?

    Unlike a lot of middle-class conservatives, these liberal rich guys are KNOWINGLY voting against their economic interest.

  10. 0
    TomDenver99 says:

    Get your facts straight, please. Tea Partiers were not arrested because their political message was paid for by the wealthy, who also control the government. The message of OWS is not agreeable to Wall Street, therefore Wall Street has OWS protesters arrested.

  11. 0
    Boku Wa says:

    “Tea Party folk were not seeking a standoff with the police” – nor are OWS. It’s not even possible that you misunderstood their peaceful message only because the (yes, hostile) word “occupy” was chosen. I mean, do you even know what the original “tea party” was?? Was it peaceful?? (The answer is “No”.) So let’s not get lost in semantics. Regarding confrontations with the police – could it be that the police treat OWS protesters differently? And if so, why is this? You might want to do a bit of reading, here.

    Also, you say “the OWS contingent is, at best, jumbled”. Well. If you aim for substantial change, maybe jumbled is where you need to start. We should all embrace a movement (or, hopefully, future society) where dialogue is preferred over short slogans.

    1. 0
      Mr. X says:

      The term “tea party” is meant to invoke the idea of taking a stand against the government (or tyranny) and doesn’t necessarily equate to violent protest. I don’t, however, necessarily agree with the whole occupy=violent thing, either. I don’t know enough about the movement’s decision-making process that led to this name being used to be able to say whether it was meant to have such a connotation.

      And I wouldn’t necessarily use Namoi Wolf as your example. I have a hard time accepting on faith the words of a woman who equates the course of modern-day America with the rise of fascist Italy and Germany, as well as Communist Russia. Her story might be a tad exaggerated, just a bit. Though I do agree that OWS protestors might be treated differently.

      I would say they are treated differently because they act differently. Tea partiers I think in general are more tame because like Danielle said they tend to be older people seeking that “back-to-basics” idea. Younger protestors tend to be more brash, looking to capture camera time to get their idea out and the message heard (which is what I would do). Also, tea partiers don’t generally overnight for an extended period of time in the places they protest; tensions are probably high because police presence is always necessary at these events; the extended need for a police presence has probably pissed a few cops off.

      Also I think it is a little unfair to claim that the Tea Party’s movement has no dialogue and is formed on a series of short slogans. Just because the movement falls under the general idea of less government doesn’t mean it’s just a punch-line machine.

  12. 0
    eddie regan says:

    Very well thought out article. Seems to make a great deal of sense on all points. Yet when looking at the demands of OWS, one can see the media bias displayed. It smells of anti-americanism. It would be unfair to call them all losers but the majority of them are just that.The carnival mood of the protesters and the woodstock type attitude of the unthinking, uncaring mob,violating the rights of the people who live there.The woodstock generation caused heavy traffic for a weekend.plenty of weed smoking but the revelers were celebrating the music and the loving atmosphere of the crowds These people are not revelers, and they never go home.How many come from shelters, or are union plants.It’s starting to look like an organized riot, where no control can be exerted without it being planned out in some back room or a well guarded tent.In pelosi’s words this is astro turf, anything but a genuine protesters movement. Perhaps we could call it a zombie movement as all their cries are for dead things like Communism,Karl Marx, Lennin, Chairman Mao waves of socialism. Some of there complaints are valid but they’re so poorly put to the point as to make them look like they are just making trouble.Do they lack the knowlege to know that their anger is being used in a political way to achieve other goals none of which concern the OWS. the people they are protesting about are the current administration. check the wall street money going to Obama. They’re not making sense they’re making trouble Eddiebutch

    1. 0
      Sara '12 says:

      “How many come from shelters, or are union plants.”

      While I agree that plants are a disingenuous way to fill crowds (though I’m not sure this accusation is particularly founded), I have at least two problems with this statement.

      1. Questions generally end with question marks. This isn’t the biggest issue, but the English major/writer in me feels the need to bring this up.

      2. My real problem with this: This sentence implies that people who live in shelters or who have come form shelters don’t have legitimate political views or shouldn’t be taken seriously, or something along those lines. Why do you get to judge whether these people are valid participants, without having interviewed them and determined why they are there?

    2. 0
      totally with you there says:

      “Some of there complaints are valid but they’re so poorly put to the point as to make them look like they are just making trouble.”

      Yeah, dude. I know what you mean.

    3. 0
      LAWiley says:


      You sound so knowledgable about OWS it sounds like you have spent a lot of time at OWS gatherings observing what the OWS movement is all about.

      Would you please tell us more about your actual experiences on the ground instead of what you were told by Fox News. I am all ears.

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