Can the Tea Party and Occupy Movements Find Common Ground?

Can the Tea Party and Occupy Movements Find Common Ground?

Since the emergence of Occupy Wall Street last year and the subsequent rise of the Occupy movement in cities across America, many have viewed them as a liberal counterpart to the conservative Tea Party movement. But how accurate is that analysis?

UrbanFaith columnist Andrew Wilkes supports the Occupy movement’s “efforts to shift the public conversation from a narrow focus on deficits and a libertarian view of government and free markets to one that addresses income inequality and the easy translation of economic power into disproportionate political power on an international stage.” Rafael Rivadeneira, president of the Illinois Chapter of the Republican National Hispanic Assembly, shares “core beliefs of small/limited government, fiscal responsibility, constitutional adherence, free markets, personal responsibility and individual freedom” with the Tea Party movement. UrbanFaith posed a series of questions to both men in an effort to foster respectful dialogue and to explore areas of possible common ground. The pair answered the following questions, then were given the opportunity to respond to each other’s answers. The dialogue has been edited for length and clarity.

How Different Are They?

UrbanFaith: A Public Religion Research Institute poll that compared Tea Party supporters and Occupy supporters found some predictable differences between them. Among them are the fact that 85% of Tea Party supporters are white, one-third of whom are white evangelical Protestants, while 28% of Occupy supporters have no formal religious affiliation and a “sizeable minority” (37%) are people of color. Occupy supporters also tend to be considerably younger than Tea Party supporters. What do these statistics say to you? And, are there are areas of agreement between the two groups that might resonate with the 46% of respondents who said they didn’t identify with either movement?

Tea Party supporter Rafael Rivadeneira

Rivadeneira: A lot of people are fed-up with greed and waste. The Tea Partiers and the Occupiers are operating out of that same frustration, but Tea Partiers aim more at government greed and waste and Occupiers at corporate greed and waste. Of course, it’d be wonderful to see both the Tea Party and Occupy movement more diverse and representative of various races and ethnicities, religions and socio-economic standings, but I don’t believe that we need to look at these numbers and declare that one of these movements is more inclusive or more racist—or whatever wants to be said—than the other.

I’m a Hispanic Mainline Christian and I certainly don’t feel like an outcast based on any of that within the Tea Party. I’d imagine that a conservative white evangelical could say the same thing about the Occupy movement. When people agree on ideas and purpose, I’m not sure that race and religion get too much in the way. That the majority of Americans say neither movement resonates with them makes sense. Most Americans aren’t involved in politics and most Americans consider themselves “moderate.” Neither the Tea Party or the Occupiers are moderate positions, necessarily, and for the most part the members are active—or at least paying attention to—politics.

Wilkes: Many Americans are split between left-wing and right-wing populism. Chris Hedges, a former New York Times writer, tells a story about a veteran running for office in upstate New York that illustrates the point. He is frustrated by long-term unemployment, a fragile economic recovery, and the underwhelming performance of both political parties. Both movements, on one level, are an organized reaction to the perceived failure of established forms of dealmaking in our politics.

This poll, along with public opinion synthesis conducted by the Opportunity Agenda, suggests that many Americans share the three foregoing sentiments. The prognosis of each movement is different, but the diagnosis to some extent is shared – America needs to restore economic opportunity, particularly on the issue of jobs and education.

Rivadeneira: Absolutely. Consistently we have seen increased government regulation and the power of the teachers unions get in the way of economic and educational opportunity. There are many wonderful public schools, of course, and many wonderful teachers doing amazing work with few resources. However, I’m a big fan of charter schools and vouchers so that parents–ALL parents–have a choice in where their kids are educated. Choice in education leads to greater economic opportunities for individuals and communities.

Occupy supporter Andrew Wilkes

Wilkes: Various communities within the Occupy movement are concerned with corruption and ineptitude within both the public and private sector, but especially the financial sector. Despite Rafael’s personal comfort within the Tea Party, many Latino-Americans are put off by the nativist language that the Republican party and Tea Parties have used in the past.

Theologically conservative white evangelicals may very well be comfortable within the Occupy movement. It is highly unlikely, however, that politically conservative white evangelicals will not feel like “outcasts” within the Occupy movement. The untold story of the Occupy movement is that progressive voices of faith–progressive here referring to politics and economics–are organizing within the broader movement.

Is Race a Factor?

UrbanFaith: Last fall, The Washington Post asked “why blacks aren’t embracing Occupy Wall Street” when it “might seem like a movement that would resonate with black Americans.” Why aren’t blacks occupying?

Rivadeneira: I can’t speak for the black community, but there are other ways to protest and fight injustice than by setting up tents and hanging in public parks.

Wilkes: Black folks are indeed occupying. There’s Occupy the Hood. Some are involved in various Occupy Faith movements across the country. More recently, Occupy the Dream represents a broad attempt by black church clergy to reinvigorate its tradition of social justice rooted in Jesus’ liberating ministry, the prophets, and so on. It is true however, that a small minority of African-Americans are involved in Occupying. But at every stage in American history, from the abolitionist and suffrage movements to the civil rights and anti-apartheid movements it has been small groups of folks dedicated to making social change happen, not the majority

Rivadeneira: Small groups make big differences.

Do Tea Partiers Harbor Racial Resentment?

UrbanFaith: In a report produced for the NAACP, The Institute for Research & Education on Human Reports found that white Tea Partiers are more likely than other whites to downplay the problems faced by African Americans. They also tend to hold negative opinions about African Americans’ work ethic. Almost three-quarters told pollsters that government programs aimed at providing a social safety net for poor people actually encourage them to remain poor. One-fourth said the Obama administration favors blacks over whites, and three-fourths said the president doesn’t understand the needs of people like them or “share the values most Americans try to live by.” What, if anything, do these statistics prove?

Rivadeneira: I’m not sure that the findings “prove” anything, but here’s my take on government programs: I certainly don’t believe that “too much has been made of the problems facing black people.” As a minority, I’m well aware of the racism that exists—and the issues that stem from groups of people believing you are “less than.” But I know that this racism doesn’t respect party lines. I’ve faced racism from Liberal Democrats and Conservative Republicans (and every sort of moderate) alike. So I’m not ready to support any claims that the Tea Party is racist. Certainly some Tea Partiers are. But so are some Occupiers.

As to government “safety nets,” while certainly there is a place for public assistance, the truth is: many politicians delight in keeping people dependent on government (in one way or the other) because it gives politicians tremendous power over their constituents. So often big-government promises are less about helping and more about keeping people under government’s thumb. It sounds harsh, but it’s true. This is why we get so much fear-mongering in politics. Politicians want people afraid of how they’ll suffer if there is less help from the government.

I realize that many communities or people have battles ahead of them that are harder than many will ever have to face—failing schools, desperate poverty, cycles of abuse. So we can’t ignore that. But nor should we think that more government is always the answer.

Continued on page 2.

2011 News Highlights

2011 News Highlights

POLITICS

Protesters descended on cities across the country to make their cases for the preservation or elimination of federal programs.

1. In politics, the battle over the federal budget raged all year.  Lisa Sharon Harper offered thoughts on a Christian approach to it,  others debated whether or not to lift the federal debt ceiling, and former New Jersey Secretary of State Rev. De Forest Soaries offered his thoughts on a potential deal, which some described as a Satan Sandwich.  As a  government shutdown loomed, a congressional “super-committee” failed to compromise, and the battle rages on.

Sparks flew with Herman Cain on the campaign trail. (Photo: Gage Skidmore)

2. The 2012 presidential race heated up and former Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain briefly emerged as a Republican dark horse. We looked at his viability, asked if his candidacy was good for Americarealized he wouldn’t be easily written off, and lamented the scandal about which he may or may not have sung as he exited the race. Meanwhile, Michele Bachmann speculated that blacks may have been better off under slavery and Larycia A. Hawkins offered the congresswoman a bit of advice. Texas governor Rick Perry limped along, but it seems his ‘Rainbow Right‘ coalition didn’t help him much, and fleeting front-runners Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul were such long shots that they had nary a mention here until now.

3. Meanwhile, the Tea Party partied on and we talked to African Americans about the movement. First singer, author, and activist Loyd Marcus assured us that there are black Tea Partiers, then Tea Party activist Jesse Lee Peterson threatened to protest the NAACP’s annual convention and Hilary O. Shelton responded. Finally, LaVonne Neff reminded us that Tea Partiers need government programs too.

The Occupy Movement spread across the country.

4. From the other end of the political spectrum, the “Occupy” movement emerged and encamped across the country, but we asked: Is it too white and is it time for churches to take up the cause?

5. According to members of the Religion Newswriters Association, the biggest religion story of the year was the faith response to the assassination of Osama bin Laden.  Here at UrbanFaith, Todd Burke pondered what the terrorist’s death says about America.

INTERNATIONAL

Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani was arrested and sentenced to death in Iran because of his Christian beliefs.

In international news, 1.) dictators Kim Jong-Il and Moammar Gadhafi died. UrbanFaith editorial director Ed Gilbreath provocatively asked if Ghadhafi was a martyr and Helen Lee, daughter of a North Korean refugee, shared her thoughts on what it means to love an enemy like Jong-Il. 2.) The Arab Spring captured our attention and historian Kurt Werthmuller offered lessons from the revolution. We covered 3.) various crisis in Africa, including those in  SomaliaUganda, Malawi, and Sudan, and 4.) we wondered if race played a role in the London riots that preceded the European financial crisis. Finally, 5.) DeVona Alleyne reminded us that real persecution is that which is faced by believers like Iranian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, who was sentenced to death for his faith.

CULTURE & SOCIETY

Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial opened in August.

On the cultural front, 1.) the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial finally opened, though not without controversy and not without delay.  2.) Historian Charles Marsh reflected on the death of Civil Rights icon and pastor Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth. 3.) Apple founder and CEO Steve Jobs’ also died this year and Jelani Greenridge meditated on the entrepreneur’s wisdom. 4.) The nation solemnly observed the tenth anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and dedicated a memorial at the World Trade Center site, as the war in Iraq that those attacks spurred finally came to an end. 5.) The 150th anniversary of Civil War went largely unnoticed, but not by us. And sadly, 6.) legendary Penn State football coach Joe Paterno was fired amidst a scandal over assistant coach Jerry Sandusky’s alleged pedophilia. Wil LaViest, Julian DeShazier, and I responded to the horrific news.

ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

After 25 years Oprah Winfrey says goodbye to her talk show.

1.) In arts and entertainment, Oprah Winfrey ended her talk show after 25 years and we revisited the “Church of Oprah.” No need to fear a loss of black media power, however because 2.)  Forbes named Tyler Perry the richest man in Hollywood. We covered elements of his media empire here, here, here, and here. 3.) The Help opened in cinemas amidst plenty of debate about its merits or lack thereof. 4.) Controversial Gospel music crossover success stories like that of Tonéx got Jelani Greenridge thinking and we mourned the death of cross-over artist Jessy Dixon. 5.) Lastly, BET’s successful relaunch of The Game deserves a mention, even though our commentator didn’t care much for the values of the show (or lack thereof).

CHURCH & FAITH

Bishop Eddie Long and Rev. Bernice King before she left his church.

In church and faith news, 1.) Bishop Eddie Long agreed to a financial settlement with four young men who accused him of sexual misconduct, Bernice King left his church in the aftermath, questions continued to swirl about the allegations, but Long didn’t step down from the pulpit until his wife filed for divorce this month. In better news, 2.) The Hartford Institute for Religion Research reported that the black church is bucking a wider trend toward congregational decline, and 3.) the Southern Baptists got serious about diversity with the election of  Rev. Fred Luter as their first African American vice president. We also reported on other denominations that are pursuing diversity. 4.) Pastor Rob Bell stirred up a theological hornet’s nest with his latest book and conservative authors responded. 5.) Finally, Rev. Zachery Tims met an untimely death in a New York City hotel room.

What do you think?

What stories did we miss? Which ones will you remember? What do you think will top the news in 2012?

A Time to ‘Occupy’?

A Time to ‘Occupy’?

SEIZING THE NATIONAL MOMENT: Thousands marched to NYC's Times Square last month in support of Occupy Wall Street movement. (Photo by Mata Edgar/Newscom)

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter” — Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

On a cold Monday morning, I ran across the foregoing quote at Zuccotti Park, ground zero of the Occupy Wall Street movement. It’s quite a scene. The general assembly regularly convenes forums, teach-in sessions, and conversations on topics like economic theory and social movements.

The emergence of Occupy Wall Street, along with the continued thrust of the Tea Party, signifies an intensity of citizen engagement that many Americans have not seen in decades. These civic currents also illustrate that some things — tax policy, the distribution of economic productivity, and the expenditures of government among them — are worth debating and dramatizing in public.

More ominously, the vigorous extraparliamentary movement from the left and the right is a populist indictment of our legislative branch — an indicator that many citizens are incensed about the inefficient impasse of lawmaking in Washington. I found it striking to witness a group of people bearing the elements night and day to make a political point. Occupy Wall Street, to be sure, is an act of political theater, but it is also a display of asceticism in the service of communicating a point of view.

Regardless of our socioeconomic views, Occupy Wall Street invites us to express our convictions more consistently, and when deemed appropriate to do so sacrificially. Very little mention of sacrifice and struggle occurs in our churches. In the words of Martin Luther, many of our pulpits have exchanged a theology of the cross for a theology of glory, a strange pattern of speech that rarely mentions disease, death, and despair.

When is the last time your church spoke about something penultimate that mattered? Churches can and should speak of ultimate matters — life and death, sin, and salvation, creation and consummation. But what of penultimate things? Shouldn’t churches offer words of wisdom and love here as well — “on earth as in heaven”?

Andy Stanley, the pastor of Northpoint Church in Atlanta who preached a series on greed and the Great Recession, argues that churches should converse about issues that grip the nation. Occupy Wall Street meets that standard.

The life of the church may not end when we are silent about things that matter, but it is certainly impoverished. There is, of course, a time to be silent. But, as even the most casual Bible reader knows, there is also a time to speak.

Is ‘Occupy Wall Street’ Too White?

Is ‘Occupy Wall Street’ Too White?

With the recession bearing down so heavily on African Americans and Latinos, one would think that the “Occupy Wall Street” protest movement that has spread across the country might appeal to people of color, but they are under-represented, Janell Ross reports at The Huffington Post.

Progressives, again, Fail to Reach Out

“I think that what we see in this movement is really not much different than what you see in a lot of progressive causes,” Julianne Malveaux, president of historically black Bennett College, told Ross. “Progressives frequently are so convinced of their cause and its merits that they don’t do enough to reach out. The problem is if we aren’t there, everybody’s concerns ultimately won’t be addressed.”

People of Color Feel Excluded

Iqua Ukpong, an unemployed visual artist who lives in Brooklyn, told The Grio that she is disappointed, but not surprised that more “brothas and sistas” aren’t represented. “Even though this is a protest for the marginalized … black and brown people feel excluded.”

Ignoring the Link between Poverty and Race

“While the racial dimension of the criminal justice system is obvious to many people, the movement to reform Wall Street may be less so,” said Colorlines publisher Rinku Sen. “In economic justice, it is particularly tempting to ignore the links between race and poverty.”

Too Busy Trying to Get through the Week

“Millions are neither lobbying Congress nor marching across the Brooklyn Bridge; they’re trying to make it through the week without another crisis,” Kai Wright wrote earlier at Colorlines. “They are also overwhelmingly and not in the least bit coincidentally black people. And I suspect that until we build our politics around their participation, we will continue to miss the point.”

Progressive Answer to the Tea Party?

“Occupy Wall Street may be a momentary political side-show, but it has the potential of becoming the Left’s answer to the tea party,” Tobin Grant wrote at Christianity Today. “Both are protest movements aimed at changing who holds power in American politics. The tea party took aim at government overreach; Occupy Wall Street points to the power of corporations.” But does an alternative to the mostly white Tea Party that doesn’t better represent people of color really count as a legitimate democratic alternative?

Stealth Leaders, Spiritual Analysis, No Black Voices

Meanwhile, Cathy Grossman considered the spiritual side of the Occupy Wall Street movement at USA Today, but didn’t include black voices, and Neil Ungerleider traced its “stealth leadership” to the Adbusters collective’s “media savy culture of art student resistance” and the Anonymous collective’s “hacker libertarianism” at Fast Company. Neither group is immediately identified with economic justice for people of color.

What do you think?

Does this movement represent you and your interests or does it seem like a protest for people with little to lose?