What is Occupy Wall Street?

Political scientist Sidney Tarrow:

Both the civil rights movement and the Tea Party were created to serve specific constituencies—in the first case, African Americans suffering under the burden of Jim Crow in the South; in the second, older, white middle-class Americans who saw themselves as victims of an overweening federal government. “This is about the people who work hard to bring home the bacon and want to keep it”, one Tea Party group declared. In contrast, Occupy Wall Street puts forward few policy proposals and has a shifting configuration of supporters as it spreads across the country…But policy platforms are not the point of this new kind of movement.

Charles Tilly, the late Columbia sociologist, divided movements into three types, based on the policies they demand, the constituencies they claim to represent, and the identities they are trying to construct. Both the civil rights movement and the Tea Party combined the first and second goals. Occupy Wall Street is what we might call a “we are here” movement. Asking its activists what they want, as some pundits have demanded, is beside the point. Participants are neither disillusioned Obama supporters, nor or a “mob,” as House Majority Leader Eric Cantor cynically described them. By their presence, they are saying only, “Recognize us!”


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9 Responses to What is Occupy Wall Street?

  1. Jenny Hatch October 13, 2011 at 12:22 pm #

     I have spent quite a bit of time the past few weeks reading articles, watching videos, and listening to interviews with those political activists involved in the Occupy Wall Street Activism.

    As a Colorado Tea Party organizer and Political Activist I believe in building bridges with anyone who reverences the Founding Documents of the USA and seeks to promote Freedom, Peace, and Prosperity.

    The recent articles comparing and parsing the two movements have been an interesting juxtiposition…

    As someone who organized, hosted meetings at my home, and spent many hours on the phone and emailing fellow tea party activists at both the state and national level I can assure readers that the one constant point of connection with all of us was an absolute LOATHING of Marxism, Socialism, Collectivism, Communism, and Statism in all of its varying degrees and forms.

    The 9-12-09 Tea Party I organized was a Celebration of the Constitution of the USA and a Candlelight Vigil for Freedom. We began the event with a reading of the Constitution, The Bill of Rights, and The Declaration of Independence.

    I was shocked and amazed to witness hundreds of Coloradans standing in the rain and cold listening and cheering during the hour long reading of the Constitution.

    I had brought a few garbage bags to pick up trash after the party, but did not need to use them. I only picked up one cigarette butt on the Denver Capitol steps and since I saw no one smoking, figured it was probably already on the grounds before the party started.

    If points of connection exists between OWS and the Tea Party, I have yet to see them. While both groups may be protesting the Political criminals in our midst, the remedy to the problem and the various solutions proposed seem to me to be polar opposite.

    Marxism will never bring Prosperity and Freedom, much less Social Justice and equality.

    To even imply that Tea Partiers would use and/or promote Collectivist tactics to achieve Economic Wellness in America is ridiculous and objectionable.

    I support any group standing up to political tyranny in America, as long as they follow the law. But I heard yesterday that the hundreds of tents set up on a grassy plot of land at the Denver Capitol are being well tolerated by the police and the politicians even though such activities are illegal.

    I have to question the willingness of police to allow such criminality.

    Jenny Hatch http://WWW.JennyHatch.com

    Colorado Tea Party Documentary: http://blogmommagazine.blogspot.com/2011/01/colorado-tea-party-documentary-by-jenny.html

    Clip at You Tube – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p8fl6hNeo9A

  2. Brian Meyer October 13, 2011 at 2:04 pm #

    Jenny Hatch, throwing around the term “marxism” only devalues any coherent point you’re trying to make. It’s as meaningless as saying, “we believe in the constitution”. A thought so divorced from modern society it’s meaningless.

    If you’re actually interesting in having a substantive discussion regarding the structure of the United States Government, please tell us what this “Constitutional” America looks like. What would you abolish, what do you define as excessive Government, what is an ethical and moral tax system, etc..

    While there isn’t a coherent ideology amongst the OWS protesters (just as the Tea Party doesn’t have a coherent political ideology) many of the participants/protesters are advocating “freedom, peace, and prosperity”. And thus, by your own admission you must “build bridges” with them. As apposed to your throwing them under the McCarthy Bus of insinuating that they’re commie, socialist redcoats.

    • idiot October 13, 2011 at 4:21 pm #

      All movements are ideologically coherent if you are morally and ideologically flexible enough to determine that coherency.

      http://andrewgelman.com/2010/01/internal_vs_ext/

      Besides, coherency is overrated. What matters is if someone proposes good policy that works. If that happens, why should slavish devotion to “social justice” and “constitutionalism” stop us from implementing it?

    • Sebastian October 13, 2011 at 4:23 pm #

      I think Jenny’s insistence that Tea Party and OWS are fundamentally different is quite correct. I don’t agree with her politics, but she highlights quite well why the idea that there is a common ground between the two is very much mistaken.

      As we know from surveys, some of them discussed here on the blog, the Tea Party is essentially made up of politically motivated and interested right-wing Republicans (nationalist, pro (Christian) religion, law and order, anti-immigrant, anti federal government) who chose rather effective and unusual (for that part of the political spectrum) mobilizing strategies.

      The idea that there is much overlap between that and the OWS crowd is laughable. The fact that both will rant against large corporations means nothing. About 80% of Americans say that large corporations have too much power.
      Beyond that, Tarrow makes a great point that OWS also isn’t the left-wing equivalent of the TP, as much as some of the Democrats may want that to be the case. Don’t expect any Occupy Wall Street endorsed candidates in the Republican primaries, for example.

    • Jenny Hatch October 15, 2011 at 3:01 am #

      Brian,

      I don’t know what OWS reports you have been watching, but a strong undercurrent of Marxist thought, behavior, and action has been a part of the various reports I have viewed.

      One of the constants with Tea Party Activism here in Colorado was the high number of individuals I personally met who had either immigrated to the US for political freedom or were the children or grandchildren of those who had left communist homelands to seek freedom in America. I talked to literally hundreds of activists as I systematically created my Documentary over a two year span and the understanding that with the policies quickly railroaded through Congress and signed by the President early in his presidency We The People were on a trajectory towards Collectivism that required some serious political blowback.

      Thus the Tea Party.

      What I would have liked to see happen early in his presidency is when he fired the CEO of General Motors, I wish that Corporate Executive backed up by the board would have told him to Fuck Off.

      It would have sent a message and the proper tone would have been established between Business and Government.

      As for how this tea partier envisions a future of peace, health, and prosperity for all?

      I don’t see it happening any time soon, but new media is quickly pulling down the walls that madison avenue gatekeepers have errected to keep families enslaved to corporate interests… and one family at a time is being freed from political, medical, and economic slavery.

      With freedom will come the social justice we all seem to be aching for.

      I have written quite a bit about these topics on my blog and in my books if you want further clarification.

      Jenny Hatch

  3. Brian Meyer October 13, 2011 at 11:16 pm #

    idiot, coherency isn’t subjectively based on the flexibility of principles and ideology, rather it’s a standard by which a view is able to be understood. Not related too, not empathized with, but is literally sensible.

    The Tea Party is generally an “anti” incoherent rant, much the way OWS is. Thus it’s not so much a movement as a collection of right wing nut jobs that generally don’t stand for anything very specific. They’re not libertarians, which is a coherent political ideology – rather the Tea Party is generally a collective of conservatives who don’t understand the government which they criticize, nor the constitution which they seem hellbent on upholding.

    I will concede that there are moments when sensible points are made, but generally it’s a loose collective of anti-climate change, anti-vaccine (Jenny Hatch), anti-immigrant, PRO-EVANGELICAL-CHRISTIAN. There isn’t an underriding philosophy that supports these collective views, and thus it’s quite clear the “tea party movement” is a collective of conservatives who’s umbrella is ignorance and inflexibility to debate substantive issues in an intellectually honest manor.

  4. Robert Amory October 14, 2011 at 4:18 pm #

    There are many grounds for disaffection and outrage and appropriateness for protest, beyond the nominal cartooning of Wall Street. Show the impact across the country, not the mansions and suits of New York.

    Present the marginally viable lives of so many people that do their best to be financially responsible, and how close to subsistence are those on whose back the city “welcomes” the Bloomberg tourists.

    I think the hypothetical third category suggested, the “recognize us”, offers a weak claim to energizing and actively engaging a broader base, one that seems waiting to physically and symbolically add their voices and pressure for change.

    I think the missing category is “those in whose names we stand present here, in this location, in this moment.” Both civil rights and war protests, each of which cut across socio-economic and ethnic boundaries, carried a moral challenge. The great depression of the ’30s brought images of masses of people who were affected.

    For the current latency to catch fire, the moral knife must be sharpened, and must be seen as being wielded on behalf of a defined constituency who themselves acknowledge as being aggrieved. And they must show solidarity of heart and collective soul.