Monday, October 10, 2011

Compare the OWS demonstrators to the Tea Partiers; They each represent the elites fighting over Washington, D.C.

Todd Gitlin explains the Occupy Wall Street movement - at least in part - in today's New York Times. He briefly states how the OWS movement resembles the early Tea Party movement. Both are rebellions against the domination of American politics by unelected elites who are out strictly for their own gain at the expense of the middle class - and in the case of the OWS, the working class.

Then he explains how the two movements differ - the Tea Partiers are a strongly hierarchical movement which finds the elites it follows are out of power.
The Tea Party, for all its apparent populism, revolves around a vision of power and how to attain it. Tea Partiers tend to be white, male, Republican, graying, married and comfortable; the political system once worked for them, and they think it can be made to do so again. They revile government, but they adore hierarchy and order.
The OWS individuals in contrast show:
Deep anger at grotesque inequities extends far beyond this one encampment; after all, a few handfuls of young activists do not have a monopoly on the fight against plutocracy. Revulsion in the face of a perverse economy is felt by many respectable people: unemployed, not yet unemployed, shakily employed and plain disgusted. A month from now, this movement, still busy being born, could look quite different.

And yet it remains true that the core of the movement, the (mostly young and white, skilled but jobless) people who started the “occupation” three weeks ago, consists of what right-wing critics call anarchists.


IN this recent incarnation, anarchism, for the most part, is not so much a theory of the absence of government, but a theory of self-organization, or direct democracy, as government. The idea is that you do not need institutions because the people, properly assembled, properly deliberating, even in one square block of Lower Manhattan, can regulate themselves.


This new protest style is more Rousseau than Marx. ... It likes government more than corporations, but its own style is hardly governmental. It tends to care about process more than results.

And oh, how it loves to talk. It is no surprise that it makes fervent use of the technologies of horizontal communication, of Facebook and Twitter, though the instinct predated — perhaps prefigured — those tools. Not coincidentally, this was also the spirit of the more or less leaderless, partyless revolutions of Tunisia and Egypt that are claimed as inspiration in Lower Manhattan. An “American Autumn” is their shot at an echo of the “Arab Spring.”

OCCUPY Wall Street, then, emanates from a culture — strictly speaking, a counterculture — that is diametrically opposed to Tea Party discipline. ... Such movements hope to remain forever under construction, fluid, unfixed. They slip laughingly through the nets of journalism, which prefers hard-and-fast answers to the question “What do you people want?”

[Can] ... the inchoate quality of the Occupy Wall Street movement ... continue[?] Probably not, since an evolving alliance demands concrete goals, strategies and compromises. But perhaps something of the initial free spirit can flourish. There is plenty of public sentiment to nourish it. It doesn’t take public opinion polls to detect American anger at the plutocracy and the impunity with which it lords it over the country.

The culture of anarchy is right about this: The corporate rich — those ostensible “job creators” who somehow haven’t gotten around to creating jobs — rule the Republican Party and much of the Democratic Party as well, having artfully arranged a mutual back-scratching society to enrich themselves. A refusal to compromise with this system, defined by its hierarchies of power and money, would be the current moment of anarchy’s great, lasting contribution.

Until now, fury at the plutocracy and the political class had found no channel to run in but the antigovernment fantasies of the Tea Party. Now it has dug a new channel. Anger does not move countries, but it moves movements — and movements, in turn, can move countries. To do that, movements need leverage. Even Archimedes needed a lever and a place to stand to move the world. When Zuccotti Park meets an aroused liberalism, the odd couple may not live happily ever after. But they can make a serious run at American dreams of “liberty and justice for all.”
I like Gitlin's distinctions between the OWS demonstrators and the tea partiers. Both are angry at the disaster the elites have heaped on America and on most Americans. One major difference between the two groups, as Todd Gitlin points out, is that the OWS are anarchists and the tea partiers deeply love hierarchy and order (even to the point of approaching fascism though they will never admit that.)

But another major distinction Gitlin does not discuss is the distinction between the groups of elites the two groups each oppose and support. The OWS is an organization in opposition to the Wall Street elite bankers and to the wealthiest families in America who are trying to carve out tax exemptions and regulation exemptions for themselves at the expense of the rest of the people in the economy. Add the top executives of the largest oligopoly and monopoly firms in America who want the same exemptions from taxes and regulations and who also want to destroy all workers' institutions starting with unions.

The "elites" the tea partiers oppose appear to be governments in general when not Republican dominated, unions, Democratic and Socialist politicians, Secular Humanists/Atheists/Muslims/etc., and intellectuals of all types, particularly those who claim that Global Warming exists, is largely man-made and is getting worse. They are also angry at government which rejects their desire to carry firearms anywhere and any time they wish. To a great extent the elites the Tea Partiers support caused the Great Recession which all Americans (except the wealthy elites themselves) currently are suffering from.

Where there appears to be a strong anarchist element in OWS, there is clearly a strong Libertarian element mixed with a strong Christian religious fundamentalist element in the Tea Partiers. Both strongly oppose certain elites. But the elites each oppose are quite different.

It's the battle between those elites which is behind the current paralysis in Washington, D.C. The two different groups of elites are battling over control of government and much of the battle is now centering over the refusal of the conservatives (for whom the tea partiers are surrogates) to let government function at all if they cannot control it. The level of dysfunction has clearly reached the point where political professionals on both sides are speaking out.

The differences between the demonstrators in the Occupy Wall Street movement and the Tea Partiers mirror the competing factions currently paralysing Washington, D.C. and preventing the government from functioning.

The run-up to the 2012 election is going to get very interesting. We've seen nothing yet.

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