Tea Party and 'Occupy Wall Street' rebut comparison

NEW YORK, Oct 20, 2011 (AFP) - Could "Occupy Wall Street" be the Tea Party of the left? President Barack Obama has dared compare them but both groups see red at the suggestion and analysts also cite big differences between the two.

But there are parallels in what brought them into being, namely the "economic stagnation" engulfing the United States, said Julian Zelizer, professor of History and Public Affairs at Princeton University.

Since it started in early 2009, the Tea Party, an eclectic mix of conservative groups, has rapidly imposed itself on the political landscape, espousing a determination to cut government spending.

Occupy Wall Street, meanwhile, has used the Internet to spread its message, building on a series of popular demonstrations that have struck a chord with millions of Americans rocked by the fallout of the 2008-2009 economic crisis.

AFP - Members of the Occupy Wall Street community protest outside of the Manhattan District Attorney's office to demand the release of their fellow protesters who were arrested on October 18, 2011 in New York City.

On Tuesday, Obama said he understood "the frustrations being expressed in those protests," on Wall Street, noting that "in some ways, they're not that different from some of the protests that we saw coming from the Tea Party."

Robert Shapiro, a political scientist at Columbia University, however, said what both movements had in common was anger at the predicament in which the United States currently finds itself.

"They seem to be venting the same kind of frustration but the two groups are very different ideologically," Shapiro said, noting that the Tea Party wanted smaller government, less regulation and cuts to social welfare programs.

Occupy Wall Street, however, has blamed Washington for bailing out Wall Street with billions of dollars while simultaneously cutting public spending, arguing that 99 percent of Americans are losing out to the richest 1 percent.

Such intervention is loathed by the Tea Party, who want less "intrusiveness of government in the economic sphere," according to Shapiro. The Tea Party has also circulated a document among members criticizing the Wall Street protests.

In another contrast, Occupy Wall Street has no leader or clear demands, whereas the Tea Party has the allegiance of well-known politicians such as former Alaska governor and defeated vice-president nominee Sarah Palin.

"We do not have one or two simple demands," Occupy Wall Street said on a "Frequently Asked Questions" flyer, and the "goal is to create an independent voice," according to Mark Bray, one of its spokesmen.

"That voice may cause politicians to head toward the kinds of changes we desire, but given our past experience with Obama and Bush etc. we can no longer assume that they will be sufficiently responsive to our needs," he told AFP.

No analyst ventured to predict what impact Occupy Wall Street, which led to a similar group, "Occupy DC", camping out in the US capital, and numerous similar protests in American cities, will have on the 2012 presidential vote.

The success of Occupy Wall Street and the media attention it has attracted since setting up a makeshift headquarters in a Manhattan park on September 17 has been more or less condemned by the Tea Party.

"Tea Party rallies have always been safe and clean," it said in a jibe at its rival which laid bare the lack of solidarity between the two groups.

"Unlike in New York, we can find no reports of tea partiers being arrested, individually or en masse, at the thousands of tea parties across the country with millions of attendees that have taken place for years now.

"They are not lawbreakers, they don't hate the police, they don't even litter. A quick glance at the TV reveals the sharp contrast posed by the Wall Street occupiers."

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