A Tale of Two Protests

The second large-scale movement since the financial and economic collapse in 2008 is in full swing now. The Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement with the slogan, “We are the 99%,” is sweeping the nation, taking place not only on Wall Street, but in many other American cities.

OWS has, of course, drawn comparisons to the Tea Party movement that erupted suddenly in 2009.

Both movements claim to be the voice of the people fighting against “elites” and both have shown discontentment with the current state of the country. So the question is: What is the difference?

For partisans on the left and right the differences are clear, and probably not too far off. The Tea Party movement is seen as fundamentally right-wing and the OWS movement, left-wing.

While hard-core supporters that show up to the rallies may be driven mostly by ideology, there is definitely some overlap when it comes to overall message.

This diagram has been making the rounds on the internet that shows the differences and similarities between the two movements:

Clearly both groups are targeting the large, powerful institutions whether financial, corporate or governmental. They are populists—free-market populists on one side and progressive populists on the other.

Both believe that average Americans are being treated unjustly, but target different institutions as the main culprit of the transgressions.

Just looking at the typical supporters at a these rallies, and their tactics, demonstrate the differences between the two movements. The stereotypical Tea Partiers carry Constitutions and wear Revolutionary War era Ben Franklin costumes and the stereotypical OWS people carry books by leftist historian Howard Zinn and wear peace symbols on their clothing.


Tea Partiers tend to be a bit older and more inclined to orderliness. Most of the Tea party rallies occur at a scheduled time with permits secured and leave the property in fairly good shape after they leave.

The OWS groups tend to be younger, take more bold actions, are a less friendly to the police and care less for the property that they occupy.

The actions of these protestors often reflect the philosophy of the most active supporters within these groups.

While the behavior of some protestors has been over the top in many cases, both groups do express a lot of the frustrations that many Americans are going through. The economy is poor, there are few new jobs to go around—especially for the young—and there doesn’t appear to be much of a chance for a change on the horizon.

An interesting article by in the American Spectator by author Robert Merry pegged this moment in American history as a repeat of the Jacksonian Era in American politics.

As I mentioned in a previous Pick Your Future article, the parallels between the crash in 2008 and 1819 are apparent. The failure of a large, government-backed banking institution lead to a reshaping of the political landscape and a new kind of American leader.

As Merry mentions, the similarities between the Second National Bank in the 19th century and Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in the 21st is also glaring. The anger among the general populace when these institutions failed was intense and long-lasting.

Many establishment politicians of the early 19th century dismissed criticisms of the Second National Bank, while often being practically on its payroll.

The fact that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac still exist and were left completely untouched after their 2008 implosion leaves many Americans scratching their heads and angry their their money was used to bail them out.

There is now such anger at large, distant and failed institutions that people are willing to take to the streets to protest and go to the polling booth to “throw the bums out”.

While the deepest motivations and core supporters of the two populist movements in America may be different, both represent the general discontentment from a general population that simply wants gainful employment and a fair chance to succeed.

These movements and general civil unrest are likely to gain strength, not fade away.


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