As the Occupy Wall Street protests enter their fourth week, a number of media commentators have made the inevitable comparison to the Tea Party movement that has galvanized conservative politics for the last two years. But are the two movements really that similar, or is the comparison simply a convenient media narrative? Tea Party Express Chairman Amy Kremer has been quoted dismissing the movement as "a kid having a temper tantrum because their parents won't buy them the whole ice-cream store." (Read a transcript of the interview after the jump.)
JH: Anything reminiscent or familiar to you about the tactics and participatory style of what's going on in Occupy Wall Street and what you experienced in the Tea Party Express?
AK: Well, when the Tea Party movement started back in February 2009, it was born out of Twitter, I mean that's where it all started. There were 22 people that came together, and the purpose of us coming together was to plan for Tea Parties, one week after Rick Santelli had his rant about the mortgage meltdown. And so we used social media to plan that and to do everything that we did. When we first came together on Twitter, we had a conference call.
You know, I understand why they're out there. I understand why they're mad at Wall Street — that the banks were bailed out. But you know, we were mad that the banks were bailed out too, that's one of the reasons we got started. But we certainly weren't out in the street for four weeks. At some point you have to turn. Having a protest attracts people to the movement, but at some point if you want to be effective, you have to do something to effect change. And being in the streets for a month isn't going to effect change. So, you know everybody wants to compare them to the Tea Party movement and I don’t know — maybe they will be a movement 2 1/2 years from now — but I don't really see a lot of comparison there.
JH: Amy, there was a lot of concern about, "What do you folks want?" When there were all those pictures at the various meetings on the health care overhaul, when members of Congress went to their meetings and were confronted by a lot of really angry and outraged people, in the beginning there was a sense of, "What do these folks want? What are they doing?" And then that began to condense into a set of candidates, a set of programs, specific outcomes, Christine O'Donnell in Delaware, Sarah Palin and some others. What's the tipping point do you think for a movement like this?
AK: Well, see, that's the thing — we didn't start over health care, we started because Washington spending was out of control and over. I mean, like I said, the mortgage meltdown and bailouts and whatnot. Health care was the thing that really galvanized the movement, and people engage because they're being affected personally, and that's what happened with health care. There's nothing more personal than health care. Not everyone's a doctor, but everyone's a patient. And now people are extremely engaged because money, because they can't afford to send their kids to school, and they're losing jobs, and so on and so forth. But that's the thing: from the moment we came together ... What concerns me about these people out there — and I absolutely respect their First Amendment rights and their right to be there — but what concerns me is they don't have objective or a goal and half of them can't even tell you why they're there.
JH: Well, maybe that will come. Are you saying there's no common ground between the Tea Party Express and these folks who want to occupy Wall Street? I met a half dozen without even trying who had never been to a demonstration before and were sympathetic just purely with the outrage. They didn't want to do any body piercings or walk around with signs. They were very interested purely because they are fed up with Washington.
AK: Well, you know what, if that's the case I would encourage them to come and join the Tea Party and look at what we do and how we've been effective. I mean, we've not only been effective through legislation but also we've affected legislation. This past summer, what started out as a pledge online turned into legislation that was actually passed in the House of Representatives — cut cap and balance to reign in the spending in Washington and to get a balanced budget. But a lot of these people are against capitalism. They want to spread the wealth. They want to take from the wealthy and do a redistribution of wealth. But I'm sorry we don't support that. That's socialism. The top 1 percent in this country already pay 40 percent of the taxes. Ten percent of the top earners in this country pay 70 percent of the taxes. There's not enough money to take from the wealthy to give to everybody across the country. There's simply not enough money.
JH: Okay, I don’t want to debate capitalism in the moment before we go, but I think you fairly categorized the distinction between some of the ideology in Occupy Wall Street and what the Tea Party talks about. But nevertheless, don't you think there's a danger that both of these movement get marginalized by being shoved into categories — the Tea Party Express is now conservative Republican and Occupy Wall Street is going to be progressive Democrats. And maybe it would be stronger if you were outside the party system.
AK: You know what you bring up a good point. Everyone wants to align us with the Republican party, and yes we do align more with conservative values. But this is not about being Republican or being Democrat, this is about being American. And what we want people to do is to educate themselves on the issues so when they go to the polls, they vote on the issues and not on the letter next to someone's name.
JH: Amy Kramer, ever camped out at a demonstration before?
AK: No, I cant say I have.
JH: You think you might, even for a Tea Party candidate?
AK: Um, you know, I mean, I would say never say never, but I want us to be as effective as we possibly can be. We had a great rally in Washington, DC in September 2009 and that really put us on the map. But we're just getting started. We've got a long way to go. We certainly have a lot to do to reign in Washington.
JH: Well participatory democracy on both sides of the ideological spectrum. That's Amy Kremer, Chairman of The Tea Party Express, speaking to us from Georgia on common ground and distinctions between the Tea Party movement and the Occupy Wall Street Movement. Amy Kremer, thanks for getting up early for us.
AK: Thanks for having me.