Occupy Wall Street Movement Intrigues, Confounds the Tea Party

Article excerpt

Even as analysts note similarities between the two populist uprisings, many tea party activists say a merger could never happen. Many are put off by Occupy Wall Street's civil disobedience and economic prescriptions.

When Joanne Wilder's compatriots from Central New York Patriots wanted to decamp for New York City to help "educate" Occupy Wall Street protesters, the local tea party organizer balked.

"We stay away from this," she told her friends.

That sentiment illustrates the arm's length approach that many tea partyers are taking toward a new social movement that is starting to threaten the tea party's preeminence on the political stage.

Some commentators are drawing parallels between the two populist uprisings - opposition to government bailouts of corporations is one prominent example - and some have even suggested a big-tent merger that could yield policy to alleviate the economic dissatisfaction, political powerlessness, and middle-class angst that drives both movements.

"We've ... got a conservative populist movement and a progressive populist movement happening at the same time," Rory McVeigh, director of the Center for the Study of Social Movements at the University of Notre Dame, tells San Jose Mercury News columnist Chris O'Brien. "There's a sense on both sides that it's us against that unnamed force out there running the world."

But some local tea party activists say in interviews that the small-government tea party and the anticapitalist Occupy movements have irreconcilable differences. While the root causes of the protests may be similar, many in the tea party view as unacceptable both the tactics of the Occupy protests - challenging law enforcement, among them - and most of its prescriptions.

"I'll never be against people being able to organize and protest, but I can't say I agree with most of their reasoning," says Brandon Welborn, a tea party member in Georgia. "It's almost like they want their debts completely erased. I understand the government made bad decisions, both Bush and Obama, but at some point you have to take responsibility for your actions and quit waiting for handouts."

Though both movements express disdain for a perceived elite plutocracy in Washington and New York, most tea partyers are not inclined to forge a bond over that. Rather, they see an opportunity for political haymaking, to try to tie Democrats to radical visions espoused by some Occupy protesters (such as the 62 Zucotti Park protesters, out of the 200 surveyed by Democratic pollster Douglas Schoen, who said they support using violence to achieve their ends).

That may be one reason most Democratic leaders have been careful about embracing the Occupy movement too tightly. President Obama's statements about it, for instance, have been measured, acknowledging people's frustrations but not endorsing their proposals. …