Wilkes: These findings are disheartening. The portrayal of Obama as un-American and “not one of us” is nativist, parochial, and ugly. Secondly, the perspective of Tea Partiers is a type of Newt Gingrich-like paternalism and social distance that ignores the reality of the working poor. Most folks in America that are poor work in low-wage sectors like retail, building services, warehousing, and so on. Economic mobility exists in our country but the prospects of securing a stable source of income and housing are increasingly difficult for many families.
One purpose of government is do that which 1) individuals cannot do for themselves and 2) that which either the private sector (and we might add now the civil sector) either cannot or will not do. Government social insurance programs … are not a sinister plot to keep folks dependent, but an indispensable effort to provide financial support and benefits to folks who have been economically dislocated, rendered unable to work by old age or calamity, or otherwise in need of public investment. Public investment in safety nets are not in place of charitable private efforts, but rather an attempt to bring those efforts to scale.
Rivadeneira: While a “Newt-Gingrich-like paternalism and social distance” may be the perspective of SOME Tea Partiers, it’s hardly fair to describe this as the truth for all of us. I’m speaking as someone who — as a self-employed person without income stability — knows very well the realities of the working poor, as I’ve been among them. I also know that there is no government program that will alleviate this. The answer to more opportunities for “stable income and housing” lie in rewarding people for ingenuity and providing jobs. Not through punishing taxation.
Wilkes: Racism is a structural issue with personal implications, not simply an issue of narrow-minded individuals. I would argue that Rafael is describing experiences of racial prejudice that he has experienced, not racism in the sense that most sociologists and political scientists use the term. One way of thinking about racism is prejudice as it is institutionalized within organizational structures, practices, laws, and so on. Racism often refers to a disproportionately negative impact on communities of color.
Are Occupiers Anti-Semitic?
UrbanFaith: The Tablet published an expose’ on Adbusters co-founder Kalle Lasn, whose initial call to action and continued influence have spurred on the Occupy movement. The article charged Lasn and his publication with a history of egregious anti-Semitism. What role should bigotry charges play in discussions about these movements?
Rivadeneira: I’m sure that some Occupiers are anti-Semitic. Obviously, some are misogynist and anti-human—if the reports of the rapes and violence are true. And obviously wherever bigotry exists, it should be addressed—and not stood for. But again—I can’t speak for the Occupy movement. I speak for what may be the secret underpinnings of the movement—or if there are any at all.
Wilkes: Charges about bigotry, when well-substantiated, should always be brought up and addressed appropriately. Secondly, charges of anti-semitism with one respect to one organization–or one individual within an organization–is not a solid argument that the entire movement itself is anti-semetic. Likewise, well-publicized instances of racism within the Tea Party movement doesn’t mean that the movement itself is racist. The focus should be on issues and how they impact people, not an opaque search for which movement is more intentionally racist or anti-Semitic. Here’s a better question: how will the policies or political visions that the Tea Party and Occupiers support impact Americans across lines of race, gender, class, and so forth?
UrbanFaith: According to New Scientist, “those tweeting about the Tea Party emerge as a tight-knit ‘in crowd,’ following one another’s tweets,” while those tweeting about Occupy form “a looser series of clusters, in which the output of a few key people is being vigorously retweeted.” Analyst Chris Holden concluded from New Scientist’s data that the Tea Party is “dominated by political actors,” while Occupy is seen as “extremely risky to embrace politically.” Do these groups have more in common than either one would like to admit or do their organizing structures reflect irreconcilable differences?
Rivadeneira: It’s true that many Republican politicians are catering to Tea Party groups. However, plenty of the politicians that cater to the Tea Party don’t really even align with us politically—many are much more moderate. The Tea Party is just seen as yet another group to reach.
Wilkes: The Tea Party, for many Republicans, is simply an organized group to reach. By contrast, however, the Tea Party is partly responsible for facilitating the election of some of the most conservative Congressional members in modern American political history.
Rivadeneira: Attending Tea Party events will prove that it’s not dominated by ‘political actors. Ideologically, it seems that the Democrats would want to align with the Occupiers. Of course, the reality is that Democratic politicians benefit greatly from Wall Street and corporate America—so they don’t want to bite the hands that feed them too much.
Wilkes: Rafael and I both assert that Democrats, like Republicans, are dependent on Wall Street contributions, independent expenditures from large Super PACS, and corporate contributions. … Each movement, if we can speak of them in the singular, harbors a different scale and scope. In regards to building what sociologist Aldon Morris calls ‘local movement centers’—the lifeblood of any movement—Occupy in America may lag behind the Tea Party. Occupy, however, is international in scope. The Tea Party, by contrast, is largely an American phenomenon.
Rivadeneira: Interesting point. I suppose Tea Party movements are more of an American phenomenon because the idea of being able to speak out against the government is such an American ideal. For instance, many members of my family spent years in prison in Cuba for merely distributing pamphlets that questioned Castro. Of course, not every other nation is as harsh on its citizens as Cuba, but certainly our ability to speak freely against our government without (much) fear of retribution is an American luxury — one I wish every person on earth could enjoy.
What do you think?
Can these groups work together from their common ground to effect real political change?
* * *
About Our Participants
Rafael Rivadeneira is president of Epiphany Portfolios and president of the Illinois Chapter of the Republican National Hispanic Assembly. The son of Cuban exiles, Rafael grew up in Chicago’s Roger’s Park neighborhood where he attended St. Ignatius Grammar School. He’s a graduate of Loyola Academy in Wilmette and the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. Rafael lives in Elmhurst, Illinois, with his wife, three kids, one dog, three hermit crabs, and a varying number fish. He and his family are members of Elmhurst Christian Reformed Church.
Andrew Wilkes works at Habitat for Humanity-NYC as the Faith and Community Relations associate and serves as an affiliate minister at the Greater Allen Cathedral of New York. He is an alumnus of the Coro Fellow in Public Affairs, Princeton Theological Seminary, and Hampton University. You can follow him on Twitter at: @andrewjwilkes.