On September 17, 2011, while Tea Parties and the rest of America celebrated the Constitution’s 224th birthday, Occupy Wall Street began its bivouac. The past few years have witnessed the rise and fall of several left-leaning political fads, each touted as a response to the rise of the Tea Party Movement: the Coffee Party, One Nation, and Jon Stewart's and Stephen Colbert’ s Rally to Restore Sanity. A month after the Wall Street occupation began, the protesters say they are just getting started. But, a month is more than enough time to see that Occupy Wall Street is no Tea Party.
Wall Street occupiers call themselves the 99%. They are united against the 1%, defined as the top income earners, who don’t pay enough taxes but still get government bailouts for their corporations and banks. As a corrective, the occupiers demand that the 1% pay more taxes and the 99% receive more benefits, in the form of student loan forgiveness, free health care, and jobs through New Deal-esque programs.
Beyond their general demands for redistributive policies, Wall Street occupiers have radically different plans for America’s governmental structure. “Since we can no longer trust our elected representatives to represent us rather than their large donors,” the Zuccotti Park occupiers explain, “we are creating a microcosm of what democracy really looks like.” Zuccotti Park is meant to be a model of the governmental structure that should replace America’s constitutional system. On July 4, 2012, some Wall Street occupiers plan to hold a new Philadelphia Convention to recreate American democracy. Their birthday gift to America will be eliminating the constitutional system.
But what about the Tea Party Movement?
They, too, were outraged by the bailouts, but not for lack of access to the government’s coffers. The Tea Party argued that government did not have constitutional authority to bailout anyone on Wall Street or Main Street. Far from the 99% waging class warfare against the 1%, the Tea Party wanted the same rules for 100% of Americans. As William Voegeli notes, the Tea Party concluded that “the general government has, over the last several decades, stepped further and further outside of the bounds of the Constitution.” Therefore, reviving limited, constitutional government became the Tea Party’s task.
Unlike those early patriots who "had to establish their independence and to start anew,” Matthew Spalding explains in Reclaiming America: Why We Honor the Tea Party Movement the twenty-first century Tea Party’s task is “not to overthrow; it is not revolution; it is renewal and restoration of those self-evident truths of constitutional government at the heart of America.” The Tea Party embraces the system of government outlined in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, and they demand their elected representatives do the same.
Though both sets of protesters are frustrated with America’s direction, Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party have very different goals. Occupy Wall Street seeks to loosen American democracy from its constitutional roots. The Tea Party recognizes that it does not need to throw away America's system of government, and—unlike the Wall Street occupiers—it's not trying to do so.