The Hidden Similarity Between Occupy Wall Street and The Tea Party - And What It Reveals About The Way Forward

In a column posted at Forbes yesterday, Adam Hartung compares the relative importance of the Tea Party with Occupy Wall Street:

* The Tea Party is more organized than OWS, and has a clearer message.

* OWS draws a more diverse and less extreme crowd than the Tea Party and its members are growing.

He concludes that OWS is more important than the Tea Party: it "looks like a trend, even if we don't know exactly what that trend represents." One thing he can say:

"The OWS people are genuinely angry. They cannot comprehend why America cannot seem to create more jobs, or provide affordable health care for its citizenry, or even deal effectively with wave after wave of property value declines and foreclosures while those at the top of the economic pyramid seem to keep doing better every year."

On the surface the two movements differ because of who they blame for their problems: Tea Partiers say it's "Big Government"; OWS call out "the 1%," which is a veiled reference to capitalism, or Big Business (corporations).

Actually the concern is neither government or business alone - it is the rise of the nameless, faceless bureaucracy that is the problem, and its supremacy now over the individual.

Think about it: Both Big Business and Big Government promised salvation, both failed to do so, and yet we can't think of any better system. The result is a combination of social forces that threaten to destroy the individual from two directions at once: both suppressing individual freedom and removing the social protections we once took for granted. 

Here are some examples of what Big Business and Big Government have in common, from the perspective of the average person:

1. Each in its way has historically provided for the welfare of the individual, prompting the individual to give up certain rights and freedoms for the sake of economic survival and protection. We trusted them, but the promise is disappearing, and leaders seem helpless to reverse the trend.

2. Each is interlinked with the other, mutually reinforcing. Government depends on business for revenue, and business depends on government for favorable operating conditions. But the individual who challenges one, the other or both stands little chance of success under ordinary circumstances.

3. Each is a large bureaucracy, similar to Big Education, Big Religion, Big Technology, Big Law, Big Athletics, Big Healthcare, and so on. As such they are set up to promote their own hierarchies and their own survival even at the expense of the individual.

4. Each governs much of the individual's life, and the yet individual has little visibility into how they operate. However, the growth of the Internet and social media has led the individual to challenge what was formerly accepted with little question.

5. Each is increasingly intruding into the private life of the individual with the aid of technology, and there is little way for the average person to live their life "off the grid."

Social movements are neither good or bad, but evidence of an imbalance that society recognizes and seeks to correct. Looking at OWS and the Tea Party in a splintered way obscures the unity that underlies their distinct messages. 

Rather than wasting time trying to parse which is better or worse, or more important or less important, it would be useful to find the commonality between them. The most obvious of these, to me, is the individual feeling of helplessness in the face of the social machine. The corrective to disempowerment is obviously power. The task at hand is to restore the freedom and the dignity of the individual. 

In short, we need to go back to the day when everybody felt they could have a plot of land to call their own, if only they worked hard enough. If we do not, it's a certainty that the disenfranchised will simply camp out in the park - and begin to occupy others' property as their own, a devastating consequence for us all. 

What I'm hoping is that the people who have enough energy to take to the streets now use that energy to organize further, enabling our society to transcend an over-dependence on abstract "leaders" and move toward a greater sense of personal responsibility. It doesn't matter anymore who got us into this mess or how; what matters now is that we get ourselves out.

Have a good evening everyone, and good luck!