Populist movements are a common theme in the American lineage, history books are replete with their rise and fall. Still it is interesting to see two populist movements arise within a few years of each other. The Tea Party Movement, often associated with the political right, and the Occupy movement, generally associated with the political left.
Much can, and often is, made of the differences typified by these two movements. In the simplest of terms, Tea Party can be generalized by the slogan “guns, glory, and god”; meanwhile, Occupy can be generalized by its anti-capitalist beliefs. Of course this over simplification debases both of these movements.
Let’s begin with Tea Party. Whether it grew out of Ron Paul’s 2008 campaign for the presidency or if the Koch brothers invented it is immaterial to our present discussion. We can understand its roots in the causes that it first championed. The first issues taken up by the fledgling Tea Party were Bush’s Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 (the bank bail outs), while Obama’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (deficit spending) became its second rallying cry. The very name of the movement, “Tea Party”, invokes an anti-taxation message, while the taking up of the Gadsden flag as its symbol hints at resistance to the over reaching arms of government. In its earliest stages, Tea Party drew from all parts of the political spectrum; democrats, independents, republicans, and outcasts could all be counted among its ranks. However, Tea Party was quickly co-opted by, and consumed by, the paleo-conservative wing of the republican party. There are presently Tea Party caucuses in both houses of congress, but for all intents and purposes, Tea Party as a movement has died out.
Then there is Occupy, the new kid on the block. Rising from anger at Wall Street, Occupy has since taken up many causes ranging from, but not limited to, undue influence of lobbyists to student loan debt. Due primarily to the non-hierarchical nature of its form, Occupy has not yet been co-opted. The short and long term prognosis for Occupy is presently unknown.
Much is made of the disparate nature of these two movements Tea Party is more rural in nature with Occupy manifesting in cities across the nation. As the preceding indicates, some of these comparisons are valid, however most are of caricatures of the actual movements. Tea Party is portrayed as white, fundamentalist, anti-Islamic, and potentially racist. Occupy is caricatured as anarchist ne’er-do-wells with nothing better to do.
As stated, much can be, and is, made of the differences in these movements. However, I find it much more interesting to look at their commonalities.
Within the purple shaded area above we find a few things that could help either bring these two movements together or help to spark a new movement which combines and strengthen Tea Party and Occupy. Both movements have a deep mistrust of government. Both are opposed to wars waged without benefit in far away places. Both are frightened by a future of declining wealth, with deep (and understandable) fear of economic collapse, and both place an emphasis on individual liberties and freedoms. These are not small similarities, and neither side wishes to see themselves mirrored in the opposition movement, yet mirrored they are.
Threats of government shutdown, the inability to compromise, promised reductions in entitlements, the rich getting richer at the expense of the rest of us, decreasing civil liberties (The Patriot Act–National Defense Authorization Act, both bipartisan attacks on citizen rights); real fear exists across the political spectrum.
After 8 years of Bush, most Americans do not expect the right to help us out of our current predicament. Obama in his three years of office has also shown that the left has no answers and are exacerbating the problems with deficit spending. Is there a third way? If so, how to do we achieve it?
To be honest, I don’t now if another way is possible, I am not sure that the two sides can be brought together to fight the power; but I do know that we can’t get there from here. If we want to achieve change then we need to start angling toward a common platform that gives us a clear shot at the target lasting change. That change begins with language, is followed by belief, and culminates in action.
We begin by re-defining the opposition. We drop the buzz words like stupid, evil, and crazy. You do not compromise with stupid people, thankfully the other side is not stupid. You do not compromise with evil, thankfully the other side is not evil. You do not compromise with crazy people, thankfully the other side is not crazy. These terms, and others like them, only serve the political establishment, they separate those with common goals and prevent any useful dialog. The language we choose to employ has real world consequences, real change must be preceded by real understanding, real understanding is predicated on mutual acceptance. The opposition is not anti-American, they are not crazy, evil, or stupid. They are human beings like us, with similar hopes and fears. Most importantly, we have common enemies, the political parties and the politico-economic system that has brought us to the brink.
Once we accept that our opposition are like us, with the same hopes and fears, they cease to be opposition and together we become the change that we are all seeking. If you wish our nation to become a third world country then by all means continue with the divisiveness. If you want a better world tomorrow, then today is the time to start changing our language and beliefs. By dropping the red/blue divide and focusing on the purple, we can and will achieve a better tomorrow.
It starts with you, right now. What do you think? Are you up to the task?