As much as I hate to give the Tea Party credit, I cannot deny that they have been remarkably effective. They have succeeded in dominating the political conversation for well over two years, and show no signs of slowing down.
No one can deny the similarities between the Tea Party and the national Occupy Wall Street movement. Both were born out of frustration, both were born as grassroots organizations, and both seek to move the political conversation forward (or backward). The only difference is that the Tea Party has been successful, and if something doesn’t change quickly, Occupy Wall Street is doomed to fail.
If you remember back to 2009, the Tea Party started as a very loose band of conservative causes– the anti-abortion movement, the anti-gay movement, the anti-Muslim movement, and others were all represented at the initial rallies. However, the Tea Party soon figured out that if they ran on so many platforms, they would not be strong enough to affect real change. They then united on the most basic issue upon which every group could agree: Cut taxes, and cut social spending. They then stuck to that message, and fought for it hard, and their success speaks for itself.
Over the last two months, the Occupy protests have also seen a plethora of different groups with different agendas at the various parks. Environmental groups, labor unions, students, social justice groups, economic justice groups, women’s rights groups. marriage equality groups, and others have all been represented, and have all had their little “Occupy against [insert an industry name here]” day. The messages of “we are not happy and we want someone else to do something about it” and “the whole world is watching” is not enough to make real progress, and it is real progress that we need, not rhetoric.
The Tea Party also benefited greatly from having a leader/figurehead, even if it was Palin (or later Bachmann). Having a leader, even if it is not an ideal one, gives the advantage of being able to be a part of the conversation not just the object of it. The current media narrative, whether positive, negative, or skeptical, has only been about OWS, with no one to defend it, clarify it, or personify it.
A leader also gives a movement the opportunity to make demands. Suppose Michael Bloomberg wanted to negotiate with Occupy protesters, who would he meet with? Even if we found a few people to represent, there is nothing to guarantee that everyone else would follow. The Tea Party had that face, and it worked.
The Occupy movement’s model of full collaboration or “true democracy” is inherently flawed and cannot work in modern society. General Assemblies may be an effective way to make decisions in a college club, but when it comes time to make real decisions that affect a large amount of people, we need leaders to take charge. Some people just don’t have the knowledge, or the capacity, or the interest to make these decisions. And even if they all did, collaborative efforts take too long to get anything done. In a negotiation (which we will need to have, so just admit it already), you need someone who has the power to make a decision– not someone to take the idea back for a group discussion in two weeks.
If Occupy Wall Street cannot move beyond Zuccotti Park and into the halls of Congress they will fail. There is only so long that they can last on the streets. And to be honest, anyone who’s been to Zuccotti knows how bad the conditions were, and the Bloomberg Administration was probably well within its power to end it (though maybe not with such excessive measures).
It is also worth mentioning that it would be foolish to think that the protesters are having a considerable effect on the big corporations they are demonstrating against. The NYSE has still been functioning, and the banks have still been making money. The only people who are really hurting from the protests are the small, local businesses in the area that cannot get people in their doors because of the noise and the smell. Occupying the subways only affects the people who need the trains to get to their minimum-wage job because they can’t afford to drive. It may be a great way to make a point, but at the end of the day you are hurting the people you say you’re fighting for.
So, fellow 99 percenters, let’s move beyond Zuccotti Park and start occupying the polls and the offices of our elected officials. Let us make it clear to them that we need to hold the wealthiest people in this country accountable, and remind them of what President Kennedy said, “if a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.” Let us focus on the issues, not how many people we can get on to the Brooklyn Bridge. And let us focus on doing right for this country, not for our egos.