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by Subhash Kateel

#Occupy is NOT the Liberal Tea Party! It shouldn’t be either.

It was just a matter of time before the #Occupy movement spreading across the country would be compared to the Tea Party. This past week, everyone from Bill Maher and CNN to Glenn Beck and the Tea Party Patriots’ founders themselves have invoked, or spoken against, the characterization of #OccupyWallStreet as a liberal version of the Tea Party movement.

There are a few things that seem to unite the majority of these commentators:

  1. Most of them, including the Tea Party reps, seem to have never attended a Tea Party rally or #Occupy rally, or actually talked or listened to members of either for longer than a minute.
  2. The mainstream media types seem to really wanna egg on a good old fashioned culture war. Think North vs. South, urban vs. rural, Biggie vs. Tupac.
  3. A bunch of my Democratic party and liberal friends always wanted their own version of a Tea party, and now they feel like they might actually get one. It sort of reminds me of how the kid in junior high getting picked on acts when his MMA-fighting brother comes to pick him up after school.

The thing is, over the past few years I’ve had the opportunity to go to a couple Tea Party events and speak to more than a few Tea Party members. I’ve always thought the movement is more diverse (not really ethnically, but ideologically) than anyone will ever give it credit for. At their rallies I have found folks that range from batshit insane to pleasantly disagreeable to potential allies in local campaigns. And when folks weren’t filming me without my consent at immigrant rights events and calling me a Marxist-Leninist, radical Muslim terrorist, agent of George Soros (speaking of consistent and coherent messaging) on their blogs, I found them to be folks I could generally have cordial conversations with.

The first of those cordial talks was on the premier of Let’s Talk About It!, the talk radio show I co-host. It was an hour-long talk with the chair of the Florida Tea Party Patriots, Everett Wilkinson. Last week, I went back to ask him about his thoughts on #Occupy. Considering that the Tea Party Patriots’ alleged co-founders issued a scathing statement against #Occupy, what he said would surprise most people.

“I think it [#occupy] is actually a very good thing. I don’t necessarily agree with everything that is coming out of…the signs you see there…specifically about capitalism necessarily being evil…and against free markets. But I do think it is a good thing for the American people to wake up and see what is happening with corporate nepotism and the big corporations…how much of a stranglehold they have on the American political system. And that is I think in line with a lot of the Tea Party beliefs. Big government and big corporations are the reason for a lot of our problems today.”

In the part of the interview I didn’t play on the show, he explained to me that his Tea Party friends in Boston were warmly received by #Occupy members when they attended their actions there. That doesn’t mean that all Tea Party factions agree with Everett, in fact some call him “a self serving publicity monger.” But before our show, I even received tweets from Tea Party members saying that the “real” Tea Party (“Not the one Palin and Bachman hijacked”-their words) fully supported #Occupy. In truth, the Tea Party has never been the unified movement with a unified message that the media portrays. But even if Everett and the guy who tweeted me only speak for a third of the Tea Party, they don’t sound like people that see #Occupy as being diametrically opposed to them.
To their credit, the leaders or, um leaderless, of #Occupy seem to, in their wisdom, genuinely not give a damn either way about the Tea Party. For all of the snide Bill Maher-P.J. O’Rourke jokes about #Occupy not having a consistent message, folks I talk to always seem pretty focused on what their purpose is. Their purpose has never been to respond to the Tea Party. From everything I see, the movement is responding to one major question best summarized by friend and #Occupymiami participant/organizer/not-organizer Muhammad Malik:

“What is our role in society? Do we live in a democracy or plutocracy? Do we live in a country where we truly have a say in the economic decisions that lead to our well-being? Or do we have no role whatsoever?”

(If you had to look up plutocracy, it means rule of the rich.)

And for all of the screams that this is a Democratic Tea Party, the 99%’ers don’t seem to have any particular love for most Democrats either. And why would they? Most “top 20” lists of “Who Caused The Financial Crisis” include Clinton’s Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin (current Secretary Geitner’s mentor). And most Democrats in Congress voted with Bush to bailout the banks while literally leaving regular folks to die a fiscal death.

This leads me to the particularly angry response from the Glenn Becks of the world. Glenn (can I call you Glenn?) has said that the #Occupiers are going to “drag you into the streets and kill you.” But when he said it, he sounded a little frazzled and not like the smug cry-on-command Glenn I am used to. No, he sounds like the captain of the cheerleading squad yelling at her teammates to not sit with the new cool freshman in the cafeteria (I really don’t know what’s with all the school analogies today). Dude is freaking out. He knows that at least a third of his base, deep down inside, supports the goals of #Occupy and probably identifies with the 99%.

On a deeper level, Glenn’s warning to his base that the 99% are anti-capitalists “wrapped in hate” is his way of telling his base to do nothing to change the current system. It is his way of conceding that he believes that the only way for the current system to work is for the superrich to call the shots, implement the solutions and control our destiny. In the same vein, the Robert Rubins and Timothy Geitners have long conceded that the only way their economic model can work is by creating a massive socialist give-away to the top 1%. In the end, both shivering sides of the political spectrum basically affirm in each and every one of their actions their profound belief in plutocracy. They have both answered Malik’s question. They have placed their bets, and our loved ones’ future, against the 99%.

For this reason, the wisest decision for the #Occupy movement is for it to remain indifferent to calls for it to become a #liberalteaparty…to avoid the culture wars…to avoid becoming hacks of any broken party.

That doesn’t mean that they should never pursue electoral solutions. That doesn’t mean they should never create the damn list of demands every pundit wants them to create. It doesn’t mean that the movement shouldn’t better incorporate calls for racial and other types of justice. It also doesn’t mean that they should wear powdered wigs and dress like Thomas Jefferson. It sure as hell doesn’t mean me and Everett are gonna start watching NASCAR together.

What it does mean is that somewhere in the 1%, there is a tofu-eating dude wearing an Obama shirt that got a corporate bailout and then screwed his workers right before he took his kids to a Damian Marley concert. And that dude probably plays golf with some cattle ranch owner who hired Hank Williams Jr. to play for his daughter’s sweet sixteen. And with one call from his rhinestone-encrusted iphone, he screwed working families out of their life savings.

It also means that among the 99%, there is probably some other dude with a long pony tail that had to sell his vintage Don’t Tread On Me flag and his granddaddy’s shotgun to avoid losing his home. There is also this West Indian woman who raised that tofu eating dude’s kid for 15 years that is now getting evicted from her home. And besides their mutual love for country music, they both share a common feeling that this current system is rigged against them.

This is one of those rare times in history when a single question is being posed to most of us: Do we want to live in a democracy or a plutocracy? If we want to live in a democracy, we have a unique chance to fight for it, together, with our mind, body, and soul.

As I wonder the fate of my 99%’ers in Liberty Park, and contemplate my participation in #Occupymiami, I leave you with our anthem, courtesy of La Guardia World, Let’s Talk About It!, Devin Arne, and Fernando Castro, “We Are The 99%.”