The Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street -- two serious protest movements with urgent messages about the condition of the economy and the purpose of government -- do not currently communicate or collaborate with each other. What a wasted opportunity! Even worse, Tea Partiers and Occupiers often look at each other as opponents -- a ridiculous idea, since we are all protesting the same injustices and mistakes, and we all seek the same basic goals: an honest economy, a smaller government, greater freedom and greater opportunity.
It's time for the Tea Party and Occupy movements to begin working together. Throughout history, protest movements with common goals have benefited from collaboration even when they've disagreed on specific issues. The Tea Party and Occupy movements have a few major differences on principles, but we should not let this obscure the fact that our goals converge more often than they diverge. So why are we at each other's throats? Why isn't there a combined Occupy Wall Street/Tea Party gathering going on in every city in the United States of America right now?
I like to develop and improve my political ideas by talking to as many different people as I can, and I've already tested today's argument on a wide range of friends, co-workers and relatives. I discovered a surprising and encouraging thing: people who do not have much interest in either the Tea Party or Occupy movements are the ones most likely to dismiss the idea that they can work together, to declare that the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street are opposites.
People who support or participate in either protest movement, though, are more sympathetic to the idea. Because they are serious about their goals, they are willing to accept that the other protest group is serious as well. They sometimes have derogatory things to say about the other protest group, but once the insults are out of the way they have little trouble seeing the common ground, and are open to working together. Here are three major points of agreement between the two protest groups, along with a brief reality-check regarding the barriers to cooperation on each of the three points:
Neither the Tea Party nor the Occupy movement favors intrusive federal, state or local government. There is a strong libertarian streak in both protest groups.
Do both sides really agree? The call for smaller government has been considered a key plank of the Tea Party, but some may question whether or not the Occupy movement stands for smaller government as well. Many Occupy demands -- affordable education, universal health care, regulations against corporate abuse of the environment and the economy -- appear to favor a strong, active central government. However, many supporters of the Occupy movement (including myself) have no taste for large government, and we believe that these goals can be achieved without enabling an oppressive and bureaucratic federal government to play a bigger role in our lives.
This may seem contradictory -- but then, some policies that are popular among many Tea Partiers, such as support for strong military spending, or laws against abortion and gay marriage, also contradict a call for smaller government. This has been a complex issue for both protest groups, but it's important to realize that both the Tea Party and Occupy movements share a general anti-authoritarian sensibility, and that new initiatives to reduce the scope and role of government in our lives will be enthusiastically welcomed on both sides.
Honest Finance and Government
This is the most obvious point of agreement. Most Tea Party and Occupy protesters are furious about bank bailouts, critical of the over-active Federal Reserve Bank system, and sick to death of corporate payoffs to Congress, the Senate and the White House. We want honest capitalism, and we want our elected politicians to care more about us than about their corporate donors.
Do both sides really agree? Occupy protesters have spoken out more clearly and consistently on the need for honest finance and government than Tea Partiers have, partly due to the Tea Party's strange habit of blaming only the federal government, rather than the government and banks and corporations together, for the crash of 2007/2008. Indeed, the Tea Party's myopic sole emphasis on government misbehavior and disinterest in corporate misbehavior is, from the Occupy point of view, the Tea Party's biggest blind spot.
But it's a mistake to overemphasize this difference and fail to realize that the spirit of the Tea Party's protest against corruption in the US economy is fully consistent with Occupy's. There is a bridge to cross regarding who is to blame for corruption and dysfunction within the economy, and whether or not stronger federal regulations can help to fix these problems. But the Tea Party's vision of an honest economy is largely the same as Occupy's.
Balance the Damn Budget and Begin Paying Off the Deficit
Both Tea Party and Occupy protesters want to balance the budget and pay off the deficit. Both see the nation's dysfunctional spending as a critical problem to solve.
Do both sides really agree? Yes, though there is a big difference in how each movement wants to address the problem: the Tea Party tends to call for spending cuts, while Occupy tends to call for wealthy Americans to pay more taxes. This has been a deeply divisive and often hysterical debate since the crash of 2007/2008. Ironically, the hysterical tones of the public debate are irrelevant to any real-world solution, because it's perfectly obvious to anybody who believes in basic mathematics that both changes are required: the federal government has to cut spending and collect more taxes from the wealthy, and even then it will take years of shared sacrifice to balance the budget and pay off the deficit.
The noisy, often senseless debates over principles of taxation and revenue have obscured the larger point: this is our country, our economy, and it's been badly managed. Both Tea Party and Occupy protesters want the federal government to balance the damn budget and begin paying off the deficit.
Tea Party groups and Occupy groups have at least enough common ground to begin holding open events and gatherings together. We've got plenty of issues to debate -- but we can have better debates without the wall of mainstream media (which includes Fox News and MSNBC, Rush Limbaugh and Jon Stewart) between us. We are allowing the cynics, doomsday merchants and amateur humorists among us -- people who are not serious about practical, achievable goals, who never go near an actual protest event -- to define our positions, harden our stances, and keep us from working towards real change.
Let's meet and have our debates in person. We will all improve our own positions, and gain new levels of understanding to back up our arguments, if we can take the first step towards communication and cooperation. I'm pretty sure we'll be stunned to find how much common ground lays between us.
I hereby call for these Tea Party/Occupy gatherings to take place, though I have to admit that I'm not sure what I can do to encourage the idea other than to blog about it. (I am not a very good event organizer, and I do not have the kind of extroverted personality it would take to, for instance, jump up on a marble planter in a city park and yell "mic check" until I've got a movement going.)
But this blog is my platform, and I can at least offer the idea here. Wherever you stand on the political spectrum, I hope you'll consider what I'm proposing and, if you agree with it, help spread the word. And if anybody out there doesn't think a combined Tea Party/Occupy protest is a good idea, I hope you'll post a comment here to explain why.