Common Cause

Occupy Wall Street vs. The Tea Party: PHOTOS

How Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party are the same—and how they are really different.

How Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party are the same—and how they are really different.

The new lefty Occupy Wall Street Group is being referred to as the ying to the Tea Party’s right-wing yang. Both are grassroots populist movements that are united in their anger against bailed-out banks and corporate greed, but when it comes down to nuances, their values are fundamentally different. As one Occupy protester told The Daily Beast’s John Avlon, “The only thing we have in common is our homemade signs.” Their slogans are proof that a sense of urgency fueled by anger makes for a potent mix of gloom and doom.

Michael Conroy / AP Photo; Elise Amendola, AP Photo

Gadsden Flag

The Revolutionary War-era Gadsden flag did not originate with the original Tea Party in Boston Harbour, but rather in 1775 with a pioneering Marine patrol.  Not unlike the original group, today’s Tea Party strongly opposes unfair taxes and government spending and has demonstrated with the Gadsden flag during many rallies. Occupy Wall Street, the Tea Party’s newly dubbed “left-wing counterpart,”  has also used the flag in protests.

Left: A Tea Party rally in Indianapolis on April 15, 2010; Right: An Occupy Boston protest in that city's financial district on Oct. 5, 2011.

Bill Pugliano / Getty Images; LM Otero / AP Photo

We the People

The patriotic Tea Partiers have taken to uniting themselves with the nation’s forefathers, who introduced the United States Constitution with the phrase “We the People.” Meanwhile, Occupy Wall Street protesters say they feel they’re being denied many basic civil rights laid out in the Constitution. 

Left: A Tea Party Express rally in Clinton Township, Mich., on April 11, 2010; Right: An "Occupy" protest in Dallas on Oct. 5, 2011.

Brendan Smialowski / Getty Images; Pat Sullivan / AP Photo

Too Big To Fail

Most Americans heard the phrase “too big to fail” for the first time in 2008, and haven’t stopped hearing it since. Now a staple of political debates and book titles, it inevitably became the angry shorthand of those protesting the giant banking institutions that took government bailout money. Tea Partiers hate “too big to fail” banks because they require government to step in to save them, while Occupy Wall Street protesters argue that giant banks exert such control over public policy that they have undermined democracy.

Left: An "Occupy" protest in Houston on Oct. 6, 2011; Right: "Remember in November," a rally for conservative principles, on Sept. 12, 2010, in Washington D.C.

Bill Pugliano / Getty Images; Jacquelyn Martin / AP Photo

Student Debt

High on Occupy Wall Street movement’s list of demands is “free college tuition” and “immediate across the board forgiveness” of student debt—neither of which is particularly realistic, though student debt is indeed plaguing many unemployed recent graduates. According to, the average 2011 college graduate owes the government $27,204 in student loans. Tea Partiers have  pointed fingers at the Obama administration for excessive government spending in other arenas.

Left: A protester outside of University of Michigan Stadium, in Ann Arbor, where President Obama gave a commencement address on May 1, 2010; Right: An "Occupy DC" protest in Washington on Oct. 6, 2011.

Julie Jacobson / AP Photo; Bob Bird / AP Photo


For the Tea Party, the “Revolution” slogan echoes America’s uprising in the Revolutionary War, a period romanticized by the group as “the good old days.” But it also represents the party’s own freedom cries— freedom from excessive taxation and too much government intervention. The Occupy Wall Street movement is staging a revolution as well, calling for an end to taxpayer bailouts and corporate corruption, and demanding a government that holds itself more accountable for its actions. OWS has also drawn comparisons the Arab Spring uprisings.

Left: An "Occupy" protest in Las Vegas on Oct. 6, 2011; Right: A protest by West Virginia Concerned Citizens on April 15, 2009, in Charleston, W. Va.

David Duprey / AP Photo; Stand Honda, AFP / Getty Images

Mad as Hell

No surprise here: two grassroots, populist movements employing a little hyperbole to underscore their anger at the government and bailed-out banks. They’re not holding raucous rallies and stamping their feet for nothing.

Left: A Tea Party rally in Buffalo, N.Y., on April 12, 2010; Right: Occupy Wall Street protest in New York City on Oct. 5, 2011.

Don Ryan / AP Photo; Scott Olson / Getty Images

Think of the Children

Every American is concerned about how the next generation will fare in the aftermath of the economic crisis, and both left- and right-wing protesters are speaking out about it, though they’re blaming the government for slightly different reasons. Tea Party parents say excessive government spending will leave their children impoverished, while Occupy Wall Street moms and dads say their kids are among the 99 percent of Americans suffering the repercussions of corporate greed and corruption.

Left: An "Occupy" protest in Salem, Ore., on Oct. 10, 2011; Right: A Tea Party rally in Chicago, Ill., on April 18, 2010.

Nicholas Kamm, AFP / Getty Images; Spencer Platt / Getty Images

Good and Evil

American politics and ethics are invariably linked (or at least they should be). The ideology of moral vs. corrupt and  good vs. evil inevitably sets the stage for populists to make sweeping statements about the state of the government. Many conservative Republicans, including  Tea Party advocates Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, and even Ron Paul—the movement’s “intellectual godfather”—are faithful Christians who often incorporate religion and even God into their political policies.

Left: A Tea Party rally in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 12, 2010; Right: Occupy Wall Street protest in New York City on Sept. 26, 2011.

Karen Bleier, AFP / Getty Images; Ethan Miller / Getty Images

Fascists and the Furious

Once the domain of dictators like Mussolini and Hitler, it’s a fairly extreme to say America's democratic, capitalist system is run by a bunch of fascists. Yet both the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street say the balance of power in the nation's corporate hierarchy has gotten out of hand. In their opinion, Wall Street’s exorbitantly wealthy private sectors embody fascism for the same reasons FDR noted in the 1930s: “The liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than their democratic state itself. That, in its essence, is fascism.”

Left: A Tea Party protest in front of the White House on April 15, 2009; Right: An "Occupy" protest in Las Vegas, Nev., on Oct. 6, 2011.

Richard Shiro / AP Photo; Stan Honda, AFP / Getty Images

End the Fed

If there’s one person most responsible for this slogan, it’s Ron Paul, whose 2008 book carried that as the title. It’s fitting, too, because Paul is a politician whose extreme platform falls into the no-man’s land between the two major political parties. Fringes of the left and right dislike the authority that the unelected, secretive Federal Reserve exerts on the economy; plus, with its furtive founding at a place called Jekyll Island, the Fed is an ideal target for conspiracy theorists.

Left: A demonstrator outside the Republican presidential debate in Greenville, S.C., on May 5, 2011; Right: Occupy Wall Street protest in New York City on Oct. 5, 2011.

Ben Margot / AP Photo; David McNew / Getty Images


Having labeled the ringleaders of corporate America fascists, it goes without saying that both the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street have a bone to pick with our form of government.  

Left: An Occupy Oakland rally on Oct. 10, 2011, in California; Right: A Tea Party rally sponsored by the American Family Association in Santa Monica, Calif., on April 15, 2009.

Jewel Samad, AFP / Getty Images; Corbis

Osama bin Laden

Tea Partiers begrudgingly celebrated the death of Osama bin Laden in spite of the fact that the order for his assassination was given by the president they loathe so much. The day after bin Laden was killed, Tea Party nation leader Judson Phillips wrote, “It took almost 10 years, but Osama is dead. That is the good news. The bad news is Obama is going to do what most politicians do, especially the liberal politicians. He is going to take credit for something that not only he had little to do with, but had we actually listened to him, the event would never have happened.” Not only that, he made the speech during Celebrity Apprentice, which was clearly, according to several Tea Party supporters, a dig at then-potential presidential candidate Donald Trump. On the opposite side of the spectrum, many of those occupying Wall Street are of the conspiracy-minded belief that Osama bin Laden’s death at the hand of Navy Seals this May was, in fact, a hoax. Theories abound as to whether he’s still alive or actually has been dead for years, with some accusing the Obama administration of faking the terrorist’s death as a promotional propaganda.

Left: A Tea Party Express rally in Washington, D.C., on March 16, 2010; Right: Occupy Wall Street protest in New York City on Sept. 30, 2011.

Ethan Miller / Getty Images; Julie Dermansky / Corbis

Honk If You Agree…

What better way to sincerely express your support for a movement than by honking your car horn? Both the Tea Party and the Occupy Wall Street protesters have solicited beeps for their causes. The Seattle Police did not appreciate the ruckus caused by rowdy Occupy Seattle supporters and started doling out tickets for honkers. Seattle protesters are now instructing their supporters to not honk if they love them.

Left: An "Occupy" protest in Las Vegas, Nev., on Oct. 6, 2011; Right: A Tea Party rally in Middletown, N.Y., on Oct. 23, 2010.

Ramin Talaie / Corbis; Scott Olson / Getty Images

Reductio ad Hitlerum

Nothing stops an argument faster than being compared to Adolf Hitler. While comparing President Obama to the Nazi leader has become prevalent in the past few years—we’re looking at you, Hank Williams, Jr.—the practice of comparing your enemies’ activities to Hitler dates back far longer than this president. Also known as “playing the Hitler card,” “Reduction ad Hitlerum” was first coined by an academic ethicist Leo Strauss in 1950, and since then it has been used as an attack of choice by many extremists. During the George W. Bush presidency, comments like “at least Hitler was democratically elected” were fairly common—but during the Obama White House, comparing the president to Hitler has become a favorite go-to insult for Glenn Beck and the Tea Party.

Left: Occupy Wall Street protest in New York City on Sept. 30, 2011; Right: A Tea Party protest in Chicago, Ill., on April 15, 2009.

Andrew Burton / AP Photo; Jacquelyn Martin / AP Photo

Guy Fawkes

It seems a bit strange that the man who tried to storm Parliament and install his own version has become a symbol of modern-day anarchists—and most recently, the Internet group 4Chanbut Guy Fawkes has managed to stay alive through these groups. Fawkes is famous for being part of a plot to overtake the British Parliament in 1605. After being found guarding gunpowder, Fawkes jumped off the scaffolding where he was set to be hanged rather than face death by the government. The Guy Fawkes mask entered mainstream culture after the graphic novel and movie V for Vendetta, where one of the characters dresses up like Guy Fawkes and then overtakes a dystopian government. The Internet group 4Chan has used the mask recently in their Scientology protests—they view Scientology as the evil government that needs to be overthrown.

Left: Occupy Wall Street protest in New York City on Oct. 10, 2011; Right: A Tea Party rally in Washington, D.C., on April 15, 2010.

We Want Jobs

Job creation has been on the minds of many Americans—and it’s been front and center at protests by both Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party. But the two groups diverge in what the government’s role should be in creating jobs. Occupy Wall Street has called for the government to put more regulation onto the financial industry and rein in some of the tax breaks that corporations receive, while the Tea Party has been focused on removing government regulations to create jobs.

Left: A Tea Party Express rally in Clinton Township, Mich., on April 11, 2010; Right: An "Occupy" protest in Salem, Ore., on Oct. 10, 2011.

Spencer Platt / Getty Images; Spencer Platt / Getty Images

Mind-Forged Manacles

In 1794, the poet William Blake wrote “In every voice, in every ban, the mind-forg’d manacles I hear,” of the mental shackles the victims of London’s economic and religious woes place on themselves. Blake’s argument was that, though government and the church had failed the city’s poor, they weren’t completely to blame for the lower class’s plight as they also seemed to place constraints on themselves. The members of the Tea Party have referenced Blake’s famous line in their argument against big government. In a takedown of President Obama’s then-pending health-care law, one Tea Party blogger wrote, “Today, the president quotes Lincoln, which is ironic since government dependency is the new mind-forged manacles—modern day American slavery—of countless masses.” The Occupy Wall Street effort has adopted the phrase as an explanation of how mainstream Americans allow themselves to be controlled by corporations.

Left: A Tea Party Express rally in Reno, Nev., on Oct. 18, 2010; Right: Occupy Wall Street protest in New York City on Oct. 5, 2011.

Henry Ray Abrams / AP Photo; Robyn Beck, AFP / Getty Images

Lady Liberty

The Statue of Liberty has long been a symbol of American idealism, the opportunity for success for any and all. Both the Tea Party and the Occupy Wall Street protesters have invoked not only the image of Lady Liberty but her engraved invitation to the world’s tired, poor, huddled masses. The Tea Party lists “individual liberty” as one of its core principles. “Allowing ordinary people to pursue excellence as they themselves defined it in their endeavors of choice—was the principle factor that transformed the United States into the dynamic and dominant nation she eventually became; and which, with leadership that is committed to restoring the principles of individual liberty, she can become yet again,” the conservative blog Red County explained. The masses protesting Wall Street greed use Lady Liberty as a symbol for the 99 percent: “the very countrymen that take a stand against the corruption and greed that has consumed our great nation.” 

Left: Occupy Wall Street protest in New York City on Oct. 8, 2011; Right: A Tea Party rally in Searchlight, Nev., on March 27, 2010.

David McNew / Getty Images; Jewel Samad, AFP / Getty Images


Bailouts are something bankers and fiscal technocrats came up with to spare the economy the worst effects of the 2008 crash. They worked, but everyone still hates them. Right-wing purists want unrestricted capitalism, with momentous rises and devastating crashes. Left-wingers say that if the government can find trillions of dollars to save banks, then they can probably manage a few million to help victims of student debt, crushing health-care costs, and poverty.

Left: A Tea Party rally sponsored by the American Family Association in Santa Monica, Calif., on April 15, 2009; Right: An "Occupy" protest in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 6, 2011.

Emmanuel Dunand, AFP / Getty Images; Spencer Platt / Getty Images

Take Our Country Back

Just exactly from whom are we taking our country back? For the Tea Party, it’s the socialist Obama administration. The OWSers aim to take America back from politicians and Wall Street profiteers and deliver it to hard-working middle and lower class Americans. 

Left: Occupy Wall Street protest in New York City on Oct. 11, 2011; Right: A Tea Party Express rally in Las Vegas, Nev., on Oct. 19, 2010.