When it comes to covering Occupy Wall Street, the media seem to have a severely split personality. On the one hand, they’re obsessed with declaring that the movement is just like the Tea Party; yet on the other hand, they’re obsessed with painting the Occupiers as booger-eating vermin and the Tea Partiers as noble revolutionaries and defenders of The American Way.
On the first point, there is in fact little in common between these two factions, despite what Joe Biden says. (What, politicians can be wrong?) OWS is a grassroots movement (or as close to it as a movement can get these days) that has no political affiliation, no leaders and no major funding- collecting a median donation of $22. The Tea Party was a sort of grassroots movement in the very very beginning, but it was promptly hijacked by (the extreme batshit loony wing of) The Republican Party, and is heavily funded by the Koch Brothers and backed by other right-wing ideologues. And even though it has no central leadership, it’s comprised of several official organizations calling themselves the Tea Party something-or-other.
But the second point is the reason we’re here today, ladies and gentlemen. One can’t very well deny that the Occupy gatherings have been more unruly than Tea Party rallies. But why? The official spin is that it’s just because the Occupiers are an inferior species. In fact, there are several likely factors contributing to the chaos – factors that are glaringly obvious. But hewing to an ideology, as the media often do, frequently requires ignoring the obvious. So while we’re not particularly dedicated to defending the Occupiers (especially since so many of them have started slurping the Ron Paul Kool-Aid) and we’d prefer to spend the time pointing out things that are not so obvious, today it appears that the obvious is demanding our attention.
1. The Meaning of Occupy
First, let’s not forget what is involved in “occupying”. These demonstrators are, by definition, hanging out in places where the authorities don’t want them to be. There’s scarcely a municipality anywhere that doesn’t have some kind of ordinance against camping/ sleeping in public. By definition then, they are in violation of the law, though enforcement of these measures is at the discretion of local officials; and the protestors certainly would argue that their transgression is insignificant compared to the offenses of those they are demonstrating against, and that their modus operandi the only way to get their message across effectively.
So inevitably there’s going to be some conflict with law enforcement, and even some arrests. Even so, these arrests, though they on occasion number in the hundreds, have been overwhelmingly peaceful. In fact, many Occupiers are trained in nonresistant protest, and taught how to be arrested peacefully.
But of course there is the occasional bad egg – not only among the protestors but also among the police. In New York, in Oakland, at UC Davis and elsewhere, certain law enforcement personnel have used tactics on peaceful protesters that were highly questionable to say the least (not to mention showing a less than adequate response to civilian attacks against protesters). And mind you, the police, much more so than the demonstrators, have been thoroughly trained in the avoidance of conflict.
So why don’t we hear people offering blanket condemnations of police departments? Because everyone seems to realize that it’s unfair to judge an entire group by the actions of a few irresponsible individuals. Unless that group is Occupy Wall Street, and then it’s no holds barred. But when it comes to the Tea Party, people seem quite willing to excuse irresponsible statements even when they’re made by the organization’s leaders and key speakers.
2. A Full-time Job
At Tea Party rallies, participants attend, then go to their hotels and their comfy homes in the suburbs or small towns. The Occupiers, some of whom have no homes to go to, are in it for the long haul, many of them camping out in tents. That kind of round-the-clock presence is naturally going to result in more unsavory incidents. It’s a matter of math if nothing else. And note that this kind of street presence, particularly in the neighborhoods where it usually occurs, can attract individuals who really aren’t even connected to or supportive of the movement.
3. The Bigger Tent
Another important point to consider is that the Occupy movement is far more diverse than the Tea movement. The latter, despite its claim of populist anti-tax underpinnings, is designed to appeal to those who passionately despise President Obama, and relies on an extensive campaign of misinformation targeting him. (He was born in Kenya, he’s a socialist, he’s a Muslim, he’s raised our taxes, “Obamacare” provides for death panels, etc., etc., etc.) And oh yes, Michael Moore is worth millions.
OWS, on the other hand, is designed to appeal to anyone who feels disenfranchised by the current economic paradigm, and that includes a hell of a lot of people – even most of those who are so antagonistic toward the movement. Naturally, such a varied demographic is going to attract its share of rowdy, if not undesirable, elements.
And it’s surely not insignificant that there’s a wider age range at Occupy, with an estimated average age of 33 and a median of 27 (at least among those arrested) – compared with a rather consistent fiftyish range at the Tea Party. There’s more volatility in youth; that may be a lame excuse, but hey, if politicians can plead “youthful indiscretion” for actions in their forties (I’m looking at you, Dubya), maybe we should cut Occupiers a wee bit of slack in their twenties and thirties.
4. Genuine Anger
Listen to a Tea Party speech, and you’re likely to hear delusional ranting about things that the speakers fear may happen: Obama will hike their taxes, Obama will try to Islamize the country, Obama will confiscate their guns, Obama will mandate death panels, etc. Such paranoid fantasies can be quite effective in mobilizing mass action; if the Tea Party manipulators ever decide to make good on their implied threat to storm the White House armed with hunting rifles, pitchforks and crucifixes, they might have plenty of backup. But perhaps spontaneous outbursts of inappropriate behavior are more likely to be occasioned by frustration over things that really have happened.
Let’s face it, Occupiers have had to deal with a lot more in-your-face hostility than Tea Partiers, and it would be naive to expect that some of them would not respond in kind. It’s hard to be perfectly stoic when you’re being sprayed with pepper, whacked with batons, or run down by drivers. Furthermore, there has been at least one known example of a right-wing agitator infiltrating the group with the express aim of inciting violence. Are there others? I’d bet the deed to the farm on it.
The Courage of their Convictions
This isn’t meant to be a comprehensive list or a profound analysis; on the contrary, it’s meant to show how easy it would be to discover factors contributing to OWS rowdiness if only the media had an interest in looking beyond the boilerplate narrative.
As for why Tea Partiers haven’t displayed more unseemly conduct, perhaps it is in part because they lack the courage of their convictions. They’ve certainly been urged on by their leaders, who exhort them to hate certain individuals who don’t concur with their ideology, and even to try to drive them out by violent means. It’s a wonder, especially considering that so many Tea Partiers are also gun enthusiasts, that this rhetoric hasn’t led to violence.
Or has it? In fact there have been numerous incidents of violence and threatened violence directly connected to Tea Party-style polemic, and in some cases to the Tea Party itself. Peeing in the streets is nothing compared to this stuff. But the fact that these episodes did not occur at Tea Party rallies completely lets them off the hook. And so the media can look for someone else to demonize – not a hard thing to do since there’s a certain gathering of protestors camped out under their noses 24/7.