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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.


09:13 pm - Mon, October 24 2011
Bernie Hunhoff said:
I agree ... I'll take someone who gets involved over an apathetic sap any day. More power to both groups. At least they care enough to show up.
07:42 am - Tue, October 25 2011
Katie said:
Ken, what did you speak about at the two Tea Party meetings?

10:54 am - Tue, October 25 2011
Ken Blanchard said:
I was asked to talk about deficits, which I did.
06:53 am - Sun, October 30 2011
I too had the good fortune to attend a Tea Party Event in opposition to a visit by Obama to Seattle, Washington a year ago. I found those who attended to be reasonable and succinct in their message and articulate about their cause.
Since I work a block from the Occupy Seattle protest I make it a point to walk through the protestors at noon each day and speak with those who are willing. The common issue at this protest is that there is no common issue. It is less about politics and "banker-hatred" and more about an opportunity for those prone to liberalism to congregate and share their opinions with those who will listen. They realize that there are a lot of cameras present and it is a great party. This is as deep as the movement seems to go. I've heard it compared in the media to a modern Woodstock but would not give the Seattle Group that much credit. Those that I've interacted with wished me to believe that Bill Gates and his efforts to innoculate the third world was actually a part of a conspiracy to eliminate the children of the world. Another enlightened soul was happy to share his theory that the jet contrails in the sky were actually a form of human crop dusting and "someone" was trying to kill us all. Those who profess anger at bankers did not seem able to articulate what it was about bankers that they hated. Clearly many are angry but an equal number are just confused.
Fundamentally, the movement seems to boil down to the fact that the street urchins of Seattle have a place where they can gather, share a doobie, talk to those in the media and feel relevant. It is the best of what America offers and the worst.and the plight of the merchants who endure urine soaked sidewalks, a significant reduction in patrons and ultimately economic harm seems to elude those who have the cameras. Absent a strong central link, the Occupy Protestors will gradually move off to the shelters as the weather becomes a bigger story than their addled protest.

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