What the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street Have in Common


The #OccupyWallStreet demonstrations in lower Manhattan are rapidly expanding onto the national stage. As the movement gains momentum, it seems to be taking off in an eerily similar way to another political wave which has swept the country since 2008: the Tea Party.

The Occupy Wall Street protesters wave signs broadly demanding a better economic system, less government interference, an end to costly war, and a greater focus on privacy.

Sound familiar? Limits on government intrusion into Americans’ private lives and economic reform are also major talking points for Tea Partiers.

Strikingly, both of these movements claim they represent the voice of average Americans, and they are right. Many Americans who are disillusioned with government’s ability to handle the on-going economic crisis sympathize with these demands. But if these movements represent the “normal” American voter’s views, what does that say about where most citizens stand on the political spectrum?

The emergence of the hard-right leaning Tea Party and left-leaning Occupy Wall Street movements is an indication that rhetoric aside, Americans are not polarized, but rather share similar goals and objectives. Different groups may spring up seeking to tackle the same political problems, but they aren’t limited to solving the puzzle based on one-sided political ideology. Instead, both liberals and conservatives utilize the same strategies to achieve the same goals. In the case of the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street, both use grassroots mobilization strategies that seek to address Americans’ disillusionment and deep-seeded anger with the government and our economic system.

Each movement holds very different demographics. Those who identify themselves as part of the Tea Party tend to be conservative, white, married, male, and over the age of 45. The Occupy Wall Street supporters so far have been left-leaning and mostly young. Yet through these demographics, similar rallying cries are heard. Each movement is tired of business-as-usual politics, an opinion shared by a majority of Americans. Congressional approval in America is at an all-time low of 12%. Public trust in government is only slightly better, at 15%. 91% of Americans don’t think the national economy is in good shape.

We shouldn’t look at the Tea Party or Occupy Wall Street as fringe groups composed of radicals. Each truly does echo wider sentiments of a swath of Americans, and uses similar strategies to attempt to affect policy.

Traditionally, political scientists have discussed American politics as a straight line, with competing ideologies of liberals and conservatives on the respective left and right. But that characterization overlooks the commonalities between both sides. In fact, Occupy Wall Street protesters would benefit from the same organizational tactics used by the Tea Party. In 2008, the Tea Party marshaled a strong grassroots following by appealing to ordinary Americans frustrated with their political system, rallying them toward a single unified cause. So far Occupy Wall Street hasn’t had traction within major liberal groups, as their demands have been too varied and unfocused. Drawing from the Tea Party’s tactics by defining a coherent message and calling on average citizens to rally behind that cause could help the Occupy Wall Street movement build a more fervent and powerful base.

As Occupy Wall Street spreads to Chicago, Washington, Los Angeles, Boston, and even Puerto Rico, the movement would be well-served to look to the Tea Party as an inspiration.

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