Tea for Two? Searching for Common Ground between the Tea Party and Occupier Movements

By Matt McKinnon

I want to briefly discuss the Tea Party.  No, not the new one, but rather the Original—the one from whom the current Tea Party got its name.

It strikes me that it can provide interesting if not entirely welcomed common ground between two polarities of contemporary American political activism—the Tea Party on the one hand and the Occupier Movement on the other.

Never mind that the original Tea Party was a wanton destruction of private property, or that, with white folks pretending to be Native Americans up to no good, it was the Colonial American version of “A black man did it” (Google Susan Smith and Charles Stuart if you’re confused).  Beyond all of that, this act of defiance and destruction did much to solidify Colonial resistance to the British Parliament, precipitated further demonstrations, led to the First Continental Congress, and ultimately to the Revolutionary War.

Now I don’t know about most of you, but when I was taught about the Boston Tea Party way back in grade school, the emphasis was on American anger at being taxed excessively by the British without fair representation.  In fact, the motto “No taxation without representation” sums up quite succinctly my initial take on the festivities.

Turns out, however, the facts are a little less neat, the slogan only partially correct, and the whole occasion more complicated than my fourth-grade teacher let on.

This is not to suggest that those original Tea Partiers were not opposed to what they considered unfair taxation without proper representation, for they were—and the Tea Party was in part a rejection of Parliament’s intrusion into local governance.

(This is obviously the point that our current Tea Partiers make in taking the Originals as their namesake, viz. staunch opposition to big and intrusive government.)
But there’s more to the story.  It turns out that the raison d’être behind the Tea Act that caused all the fuss was not just or even primarily asserting Parliament’s right to tax the Colonists.  More importantly, the point was to buttress the interests of the British East India Company—the 18th century version of a multinational corporation.

You see, the British government supported the company by granting it a monopoly in supplying all of the tea to the American colonies, though initially through tea merchants, or middlemen, who could only purchase the tea in London.  What the Tea Act did was threaten to remove these limitations and allow the East India Company to import tea directly to America.  The end game was an effort to shore up a financially troubled corporation by reducing its rather large surplus of tea.  (The origins of “too big to fail?”)  Oh yeah, and to maintain Parliament’s right to tax the Colonies.

What followed, as they say, is history: the American Colonists refused, revolted, left tea to rot, sent it back—and famously destroyed and defaced private property.  It was a major nose-thumbing aimed both at Parliament as well as the East India Company.

And that’s the point: the original Tea Party was just as much a revolt against excessive corporate interests and an uneven playing filed as it was against taxation without representation.  (This doesn’t make as good a slogan though.)

Which brings us to the current Tea Party and Occupier Movements.

Surely there is more that binds these two groups together than the larger public’s growing distaste for both.  I believe common ground exists and can be found for partygoers of both stripes: that common ground being the distrust by our nation’s Founders—both of big and intrusive government as well as big and intrusive corporate interests.

After all, then and now, aren’t they both still the same?

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6 responses to “Tea for Two? Searching for Common Ground between the Tea Party and Occupier Movements

  1. I really enjoyed the article and really concur with what you have written. There are so many parallels that I see on this level. However, my curiosity in these groups prompts me address this question: If the “tea party” stands for less big intrusive government and the “occupier movements” stand for less big instrusive financial corporations, why has there only been police actions against the occupier movements?

  2. Julia-
    The author here probably knows more about the situation than I do–but I know that Tea Partiers (the 21st century version) have indeed been arrested at various rallies across the country. The police action vs. Occupiers in California has certainly been a media spectacle, which might contribute to the sense of one-sidedness.
    -Marc

  3. I don’t know if one group has been *more often* targeted by law enforcement than the other…I just know that at least *some* Tea Partiers have been arrested. That doesn’t necessarily mean “equal”! You raise a really interesting question.

    • You see where I am going with this. Which group would stand to be more likely to be arrested — protesting for political reasons or protesting for economic reasons? Why? Both groups almost seem to be (in media generated information) from different socio-economic backgrounds.

  4. So, Julia, you’re driving at the question of which group is more of a threat to the status quo: those who protest excessive government power or those who protest excessive corporate power. The Tea Partiers certainly shook things up a bit with the 2010 elections, however brief it may be. Do the Occupiers have similar recourse? (Then again, I’m reminded of a quotation from the movie “Reds” some decades ago: “Voting is the opiate of the masses.”)