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.
It’s hardly surprising that members of the corporate plutocracy and their accomplices in government and media should smear Occupy Wall street at all costs. What’s especially impressive, however, is that they’ve convinced so many far less wealthy citizens to be water carriers in their propaganda assault. Many people (including, no doubt, people you know and hear from frequently) seem to have made a full-time career out of attacking OWS, and within that profession there is a dominant specialty of comparing it unfavorably to the Tea Party.
Grass or Astroturf?
One common theme you’ll hear is the claim that while the TP is a genuine grassroots movement, OWS is an astroturfed frankenstein formulated by a large subversive organization and passed off to the rabble to do its bidding. Perhaps the appropriate response to this is: sort of; maybe;yes; no; not really.
It’s true that the Tea Party had rather humble beginnings, with a few sparse gatherings of citizens protesting high taxes and “big government”, whatever the hell that means. But it likely would have remained tiny and insignificant had it not been quickly co-opted by the Republican Party, the corporate media and megabusiness interests- the very people, in other words, largely responsible for the very grievances that inspired both OWS and TP.
OWS, on the other hand, started out as a grassroots movement and has remained that way. This, of course, contradicts the common belief that it is the creation of the iconoclastic magazine Adbusters. But Adbusters merely supplied the inspiration, not the blueprint, and took no real steps toward making the suggestion a reality. That task, from the beginning, has been the handiwork of a leaderless mass of ordinary citizens. It’s about as close to a genuine grassroots phenomenon as it’s possible to find these days.
Some people, incidentally, make an issue out of the fact that Adbusters is published a few miles north of the Washington state border. That is indeed rather significant, but for exactly the opposite reason that the detractors suggest: it reflects that Occupy is a phenomenon of international rather than egocentric scope. Accordingly, it’s caught on in many countries besides the United States. The Tea Party, on the other hand, would face a tough sell abroad. Not only are people in other countries far less likely to be concerned about the tax rates on American billionaires, they are far more likely to revere the American presidents whom ideological extremists loathe. (The reverse is also true, as we saw under George W. Bush.)
Among the major string-pullers of the Tea Party are the Koch brothers, billionaire corporatists who are obsessed with destroying Barack Obama, whom they consider “the most radical president in the nation’s history.” (Presumably, they say this with a straight face.) Consequently, they’ve poured millions of dollars into promoting the Tea Party and also were instrumental in organizing it. This fact is often overlooked, yet many people claim that another billionaire activist, George Soros, has done the same for Occupy. Hardly surprising, since he’s accused of having a finger in every pie that comes out of the oven if it tilts even one iota to the left. (You haven’t lived until you’ve watched this video, in which the excruciatingly embarrassing Victoria Jackson, who led a Tea Party assembly in chanting “there’s a communist living in The White House”, even maintains that Soros owns Snopes, which apparently has debunked some of the other batty ramblings she’s made.) But there’s no indication that Soros has ever donated even one penny to Occupy Wall Street.
So what we have here is a sort of double standard compounded by falsification, right? Actually, make that a triple standard. Because good old Michael Moore, one of the favorite bugbears of the reactionary set, also gets dragged into the picture quite frequently. Not just because he’s a prominent presence at Occupy events, nor because he’s funded OWS himself, but because he hasn’t. Yes, you read that right: the same folks who ignore, downplay or deny the financial contributions of the Koch Brothers to the Tea Party and demonize George Soros for funding OWS when he really hasn’t also demonize Michael Moore for NOT doing likewise. Is your head spinning yet?
Not only do they seem to believe that Moore should assume fiscal responsibility for the movement itself, but for everyone participating in it. Hey, if they’re hurting financially and he’s so successful, why doesn’t he just turn over his cash to them? It’s a subtle way of suggesting that the protesters are all just lazy bums looking for a handout, an assertion that many people make with far less subtlety – often adding the glib recommendation that they “get a job”, and then they’ll have no reason to complain.
Disciples of Destruction
But probably the most common meme about OWS demonstrators is that they’re disruptive and violent – two words which the detractors apparently believe to be synonyms. And this behavior is in stark contrast to Teabaggers, who all conduct themselves like perfect angels. Well, except maybe for the occasional spitting on a black congressman. Or manhandling a woman peacefully displaying an opposition sign, throwing her to the ground and stomping on her head. You know, paltry things like that.
But those Occupants – holy Hannah. Mass arrests. Camping out in public. Littering. Even a couple of sexual assaults. Maybe even an occasional singing of “Kumbaya”. They must really be the scum of the earth, right?
This CBS affiliate video, which went radioactive on the Internet, even purports to depict them terrorizing a group of school children. What it actually reveals is a blistering self-indictment on the part of the CBS station, and an iconic illustration of the general tone of media coverage of OWS. Watch the video carefully. Do you see ANY sign that ANY protester is yelling at ANY kid? Sure, there’s a lot of commotion; it wouldn’t be surprising if some of the kids were frightened; it wouldn’t even be surprising if some parents inferred that some of the yelling was directed at their offspring. But there is just no evidence, certainly not in this video, that the protesters were harassing ANYONE.
Seeing is believing, they say. But nowadays, it’s much more common for hearing to be believing in spite of what one has seen to the contrary, particularly if something is heard often enough. Viewers of this video have been entirely willing to discard the evidence their own eyes have seen, or not seen, and accept what the interpreters tell them they’ve seen instead.
Notice the loaded words used to describe the scenario: gauntlet, nervous, fears, overwhelmed, etc. All under the banner of the leading question “How far is too far?” At one point a putative journalist talks to a four-year-old about the incident, and he comments that it was like a parade. Wow, he really must have been terrified; we all know how traumatized kids are by parades. But then the interviewer prompts him to categorize it as scary, and of course he complies.
At another point, she (the “journalist”) tells us that we’re witnessing a protester following a parent and child halfway down the block, obviously with sinister intent. But in the video, you’ll see that the man in question evidently is trying to catch up to them and walk BESIDE them, clearly wanting to just talk to them about something. He is armed only with a camera, not a Teabag rifle, and makes no menacing gestures whatsoever. In fact, when somebody yells at him to back off, he promptly does so and holds up his hand to suggest that he meant no harm. The media, however, tell us what to believe we’ve seen. And most people comply.
Having said all of this, we must acknowledge that indeed Occupy events have been more unruly than Tea events. It would be pretty hard to deny that. Trouble is, virtually nobody is asking why. Because everyone appears to know the answer already: folks who sleep in city parks are just lower on the evolutionary scale than folks who carry signs about “Niggers” and “white slavery”. Seeking any other explanation, though it wouldn’t require much exertion at all, might border on the scary variety of investigation and analysis that used to fall under the heading of journalism.
(COMING UP: some reasons for OWS unruliness. In other words, we’ll do the media’s job for them. Somebody has to do it.)
As you may have noticed, the Tea Party is rapidly drying up. Well, maybe you haven’t noticed, since there isn’t nearly as much media fanfare about its demise as there was about its ascendancy. And let’s face it, the media hype hasn’t exactly been honest and accurate. In fact, few movements, if any, have ever depended more on deception to gain support. Here are the five most common myths you’ll hear about the tea brigade.
Myth # 1: It’s a new faction.
The Tea Party believes that taxes are evil, government regulation of business is evil, secularism is evil, and above all “liberals” are evil. And guns are supremely good. If this sounds familiar, it should. It’s the same sermon that radical Republicans have been preaching for years. So what exactly is new?
Myth # 2 : It represents a large segment of the American public.
Depending on the poll, as little as TWO PERCENT of the American public consider themselves members of the Tea Party (which in fact, is not even a single organization, but several groups sharing the same ideology). A larger percentage (25-30) of Americans have voiced support for some of the Tea Party’s stated objectives, but that covers a broad swath – and bear in mind that its claimed objectives and its actual objectives don’t necessarily mesh. The movement’s decline is probably due to the fact that people have discovered that Tea Partiers are really just radical Republicans in populist garb. Oh, and if you’ve ever enjoyed trying to find Waldo, you might want to study photos and videos of Tea Party rallies and attempt to spot minority faces.
Myth # 3 : It’s a grassroots movement.
The genuine grassroots movement is an endangered species these days, and the Tea Party is not exactly a preserve. Sure, there were a handful of “tea party” and “tax day” protests that sprang up spontaneously. That had been going on for years. But it didn’t become a full-blown movement, much less an official organization, until the media began loudly beating the drum – first right-wing pundit Michelle Malkin and then, immediately, Fox “News”, which has promoted Tea Party events relentlessly. (And by “promote, we don’t just mean giving coverage to events that had already happened, but giving advance notice for future events and urging people to attend.) One organization that got the kettle boiling was FreedomWorks (Notice how extremist groups like to co-opt noble words like freedom, liberty, and family?) This right-wing think tank is the brainchild of former congressman Dick Armey, a classic Texas Republican. Additionally, the movement has been heavily funded by a number of right-wing interests, including the billionaire Koch Brothers, who never spare any expense to provide the best democracy money can buy.
Myth # 4: They’re protesting higher taxes.
According to one poll, 44% of Tea Partiers believed that President Obama had raised their taxes, while 34% believed that he’d kept them about the same. Only 2% were aware (or just made a lucky guess) that he’d actually LOWERED their taxes. In fact, taxes in 2009 under Obama and the heavily Democratic Congress were the lowest they’d been since 1971 – that’s THIRTY-EIGHT YEARS, folks. Of course, that applies only to 98% of the population. Taxes indeed were increased on the richest 2% – which, by some wild coincidence, is the bracket to which the Tea Party masterminds belong.
Myth # 5: They’re doing what those guys in Boston did.
The protestors in Boston weren’t just opposing taxes. They were opposing a monopoly on tea that the crown had granted the British East India Company, the Wal-Mart of its day, which would have been able to jack up tea prices as high as it wanted. Given the fondness for unfettered corporatism demonstrated by today’s Tea Partiers, it’s likely that if those guys from Boston showed up at a Tea Party rally today, they’d be branded socialists and possibly subjected to violence.