For nearly three weeks, a group of twenty-somethings have been camped out at Zuccotti Park, as close to the Federal Reserve Bank and the financial institutions as you can get these days. Estimates place the number of people in the movement at two hundred, and while the media and curious on-lookers have checked the encampment, the main stream public has largely been unaware of what this group was all about. But on October 5, fifteen major unions announced they would march with the Occupy Wall Street protesters and suddenly main stream America has started to pay attention.
From the Occupy Wall Street’s web site its clear that the roots of protest that they are grounded it resemble those of the nascent Tea Party. Not the Tea Part circa 2009, but the original one whose purpose gets lost to the sands of time. In 1773, the original Boston Tea Party activists were protesting against a private corporation, the East India Trading Company. The British Parliament created the The Tea Act, essentially a tax cut for the East India Trading Company, exempting it from taxes while the American tea companies had to pay the tax. The Occupy Wall Street protests center on similar themes, the signs of “banks got bailed out, we got sold out,” “Corporations need to pay their fair share,” and “We are the 99%,” all speak to those themes.
The other more recent tea party also started with the populist claim that it was fighting for the middle class but quickly morphed into anti-government spending and a strong anti-tax of any kind dogma.
The common thread here is the perceived assault on a fair economic environment. That should be worrying to the corporate and political classes. While the 2009 Tea Party has successfully been integrated into the Republican Party, and for the most part subsumed, the 2011 Occupy Wall Street movement is just at the early stages of its conception. And while the 2009 Tea Party could easily be defined by angry white men whose fight was more about protecting their assets, the Occupy Wall Street movement is fueled by angry young people, who recognize that they have been left with mountains of debt and little voice in how the country has been making economic policy for years. For the Occupy Wall Street founders, its personal too. Signs and stories about how much they owe in college tuition debt, and the stark unemployment numbers for the twenty-something generation should be a wake-up call to everyone.
Even in tony New Canaan, the young twenty-somethings who have been brought up in a world of economic privilege are experiencing first hand the harsh economic realities of jobs that don’t pay enough for them to dig out of college debt and afford the basics of suburban life. While much focus will be placed on the themes of class warfare, and the statistics of how few hold how much of the wealth of America, simmering just below that is the plight of the youth. And they all have parents who are facing economic uncertainty whether by gyrations in the global markets, or the domestic economic policies that seem focused undermining their stability.
For now, Occupy Wall Street is attracting every protest group in solidarity. From the anti-war, anti-government, to the anti-corporation, anti-nuclear crowd. It would be easy to dismiss this movement as yet another drum circle infused radical happening. And while labor movements have been focused union centric messages, there’s the overriding recognition amongst all groups that it is the economy that is driving the angst, anger and action.
Only time will tell if Bank of America’s $5 a month debit card fee will be the same spark that the 1773 Tea Act was to another generation. But one things is as clear as the sign hoisted to proclaim it, “the middle class is too big to fail.”