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!”