Nothing in Common?

By KELLYN BROWN, for the Flathead Beacon

Don’t compare the Tea Party to Occupy Wall Street protesters. Don’t do it. They are nothing alike. That’s what I’m told, although the effort of one to distance itself from the other seems strange as it persists anyway.

For one, we’re told, the Tea Party supports capitalism and Occupy Wall Street supports anarchism. The Tea Party is patriotic. And Occupy Wall Street is “anti-American.” There are other broad characterizations used for both movements, some of which are sometimes used for the other.

What are the occupiers protesting, anyway?

To be clear, I’m not sure. But when I read implications that Occupy Wall Street is simply an extension of the extreme wing of the Democratic Party, the criticism rings awfully familiar. Similar accusations were made against another group, albeit a different party, leading up to the 2010 election. At the time, I argued against that sentiment. I wrote:

Occupy Missoula protest on the lawn of the Missoula Courthouse. Photo by Patrick Record.

“Much has been written about how the Tea Party movement is simply an extension of the GOP, but I never really bought that argument … the rallies – at least locally – attract an eclectic group whose concerns range from deficit spending to social issues.”

Many didn’t agree with that characterization. And others won’t agree with this one.

Those camping near Wall Street and participating in other protests that have sprung up across the country are trivialized because they don’t have a clear agenda. Perhaps they need one. Or this is simply a way for a group of people with varying frustrations to vent: about a bad economy, about no one doing anything useful about it and, based on the location, about continued inequalities between the very rich and the poor.

The latter, especially, has been demonized as “class warfare.” But many of the wealthy work at institutions that would be bankrupt if it wasn’t for your money or mine. And from what I remember, the Tea Party was the first to criticize this blatant distribution of wealth.

At a 2009 rally in Kalispell, one protester, incensed by the bank bailouts, said, “I don’t think the government is capable of running any business; if a business fails, they should let it fail.”

Forest Laycock, 18 years old, sits in at Occupy Missoula for his sixth day. Photo by Patrick Record.

Instead, these corporations were deemed “too big to fail.” In the run-up to the 2010 elections, both Democrats and Republicans were harshly criticized for their support of the Toxic Asset Relief Program, or TARP, which was pushed through Congress by President George W. Bush during his waning days in office. The bank bailout totaled $700 billion, although the actual cost to taxpayers was far less. Still, voters questioned why rich Wall Street bankers were bailed out while their businesses were left to die.

The Tea Party, rightfully, expressed outrage. Largely because of his support of the program, Utah Republican Sen. Bob Bennett was rejected in the primaries at a GOP convention, with some of his fellow party members chanting: “TARP, TARP, TARP.”

But in response to the Occupy Wall Street protests, Sal Russo, chief strategist for the Tea Party Express, said, “The left is trying to create a counter force to the tea party, but it’s almost laughable that anyone is comparing the two.”

Russo has a point. The two groups have vast ideological differences and the Tea Party, overall, is much better behaved and organized than this new wave of protestors. But the two at least share outrage toward a government that subsidized a system that ripped off Americans and largely ruined the economy.

Lest we forget, these big bankers were trading junk mortgages and your retirement money using unregulated financial instruments few understood (even to some people who sold them) to get rich. And they did. Except the scheme failed and their greed triggered a global recession. And we bailed them out. And they continue to grant themselves multi-million-dollar bonuses.

And it’s OK if that outrages both the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street. It should.

Publisher’s Note:  We altered the original format of Kellyn Brown’s blog post that originally ran in the Flathead Beacon by adding Missoula photos that we feel localize the subject matter.


Kellyn Brown is a University of Montana graduate who has spent the last several years covering crime, government and social issues as a writer and editor in the Rocky Mountain region. He is the editor in chief at the Flathead Beacon.