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Occupiers Vs. Tea Partiers
Oct 24, 2011
I have had the pleasure of attending and speaking at two Tea Party meetings, one in Watertown and the other in Aberdeen. This weekend I got a good look at Occupy Cincinnati, one of the anti-Wall Street protests currently happening across the country. Returning to my hotel this evening, I was swallowed up by a column of protesters winding down Vine Street. They were chanting “Bankers got bailed out! We got sold out!” I didn’t chant and I marched only to avoid being trampled. I did pump my fist in the air a couple of time, just to put some skin in the game. So I can honestly claim to have participated in both protest movements.
I am in a good position to report on both the tea partiers and the occupiers. The protesters in Watertown, Aberdeen, and Cincinnati tended to be rather young or rather old, but in opposite proportions. The average age at the tea party gatherings was probably over sixty, though there were college-age folks at both. Most the occupiers looked to be in their twenties. Many of them sported punk rock haircuts, leather, and chains. There was a sprinkling of folks old enough to be receiving Social Security checks. Most of those older occupiers were decked out in hybrid hippie style. The men had beards and long hair tied back in ponytails. They wore hats and blue jeans and, amusingly, sports jackets. Despite their anti-industry bias, nearly everyone there seemed to be supporting the tobacco industry.
In spite of the rage expressed in the signs they carried, the occupiers were a pretty friendly bunch and seemed to be having a good time. The same was true of the tea partiers. At Aberdeen and Watertown there were several American flags waving in the prairie winds. The tent camp set up below my hotel (I can hear them from my balcony) is also flying Old Glory.
Both the left and the right in American politics want to believe that their own army of protesters is spontaneous and righteous and that the folks across the street are artificial and pernicious. In fact, the Tea Party movement and the Occupy movement are entirely genuine, composed of red-blooded American sons and daughters of liberty. We’re mad as Hell and we aren’t going to take it anymore, or at least not without a good shaking of our fists.
After the Tea Party movement emerged Democrats launched a campaign to show that the movement was violent and racist. Neither accusation was true. Whoever you are, you’d be safer at a Tea Party gathering than pretty much anywhere else. And now that the current favorite of the tea partiers is Herman Cain, the charge of racism is refuted.
It’s true that out of the hundreds of tea party gatherings a handful of racist signs have been observed. It’s also true that some occupiers have carried anti-Jewish posters. There are bad eggs and oddballs at any gathering.
The Tea Party movement had a big influence on the last election. The influence of the Occupation remains to be seen. Let me just say that this is how Americans are supposed to behave.
Dr. Ken Blanchard is a professor of Political Science at Northern State University and writes for the Aberdeen American News and the blog South Dakota Politics.