Tag Archives: Occupy

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?

Occupy Capitalism

By Wade Maki

I’ve started writing this from a hotel room in Kearney, Nebraska where I’ve just finished five presentations at a two-day symposium on the Morality of Capitalism at UNK. Several times during the conference, the “occupy” protests came up (especially the occupy Kearney protests here in a small college town). Most of the faculty presenting said nice things about the protesters for getting involved and standing up for something (most faculty get the impression students won’t stand up for anything other than their own grade). These faculty encouraged students to join in a movement – whatever side they choose – as that is the only way to change things. Other faculty, a smaller bunch, spoke of the occupy protesters as a muddled and confused group making more of a spectacle than any positive change.

The idea of students getting involved in something (other than the quest for test scores and grades) is something I approve of. Of course I’m not much of a protest type and find serious faults with the occupy tactics such as:

  1. The name occupy implies a hostile trespass of someone else’s space.
  2. Camping in parks and hanging out attracts the wrong kind of attention.
  3. Chants, drum circles, and odd dress do not help market the message.

Professional Organized & Appealing to Middle America

This is intended as a friendly criticism. Think back to how Dr. King managed his movement for positive change. People dressed up, gathered at a particular time, marched where they would be visible (but not overly intrusive on others daily lives), held a rally with well thought out speeches and then everyone went home. This created a positive impression with the middle-American majority whose support is needed to effect real change. To convince people, it helps to have a coherent message, presented by people who look like the intended audience, and ensure that your side avoids exposing itself to bad PR (every crazy dressed, incoherent speaking protester gets interviewed by the news, which does not advance the cause). It is my sincere hope that these well meaning folks get it together.

Not the marketing image for Middle America, but sure fire Fox News interview!

Having offered a critic of the occupiers (best thought of as outsiders), I’ve saved a few words for the insiders. After the last symposium session when I returned to the hotel where there was an additional conference (some sort of business professionals’ event) I overheard the following perspective expressed in the hallway:

“You see the occupy people protesting?”
“Yeah there were 8 of them.”
“They’re all unemployed with nothing else to do aren’t they?”
“Yes, oh, and they got run off too.”

Are all capitalists necessarily greedy pigs as portrayed?

While I didn’t hear every word in that hallway conversation, the disdain they held for the (presumably) unemployed people exercising their rights to assemble and express opinions were a stark contrast to the generally positive messages of support expressed by conference faculty.  I’m often surprised how the same event is seen so differently by different groups of people. Why some are encouraging protests and others are ridiculing protesters without a focus on resolving the very real problems that cause people to protest (even if they can’t quite articulate exactly what they are)? Further, who among us that is employed doesn’t see how it very well could be us that were laid off in the recent crisis? Why is there no compassion from the insider (who knows they are lucky) for the outsider who is unemployed because of a combination of bad government policies combined with short term incentives of financial traders and mortgage sellers? While insiders and outsiders may differ on what should be done, that something needs to be done to prevent the next crisis should be the real focus. Neither the “greedy capitalist” nor “neo-hippie-protester” depiction of others accomplishes the real goal.

No one here engages in capitalism?

Some say the occupiers are “anti-capitalist” but I suspect they (like all of us) really want a job that pays us for the value we provide rather than a revolution. Capitalism done right makes us better off not worse. Don’t agree? Imagine trying to live a week without engaging with capitalism. What will you wear or eat without trading or buying from a store? We may favor different versions of capitalism (as we do TV shows), but we don’t really oppose all capitalism as that is like opposing all TV.

The real conversation is one of setting the right incentives for workers, managers, regulators, and customers. The core problem of the financial crisis was individuals having short term incentives for taking large risks without any individual consequence for the downside of those risks. For a good explanation of this read The Big Short by Michael Lewis. I expect capitalists and protesters would find a lot to agree upon and start focusing on real solutions rather than stereotyping each other.

Perhaps this is the Bull needed on Wall Street?