By John Darling
Tea Party and Occupy supporters found that they have many similarities at a forum in Southern Oregon. In their first public outing together, Tea Party and Occupy backers â€” and an audience of 200 â€” found a lot of common ground. They agreed that corporations, lobbyists, the military and the federal government have a huge amount of power, are “bought,” and aren’t very responsive to the needs of the average person.
After being warned by moderator Jeff Golden not to drag others into a “hot debate,” the audience and a panel from both groups were all invited to tell their story of what triggered them into participation in public events, to define what’s wrong with the country today â€” and to toss a question that four panelists, two each from the Tea Party and two from Occupy, could answer
with inclusive, constructive ideas.
Tea partier Joe Snook of Grants Pass whacked the government, lobbies and big business for “failing the people” as the economy imploded in 2008, something he got to see up close as a mortgage broker â€” and sounded an oft-repeated theme that “we’ve got to start at the local level” to learn how to work together for a common good that benefits the majority of Americans.
Audience member and economist Torrey Byles of Talent, who got his political wake-up call in the 70s energy crisis, said it comes down to “too much concentration of power and that leads to too much concentration of wealth” â€” and that one of the purposes of the federal government is to be a check on the concentration of power.”The ideology in this country is so strong in believing in the individual, but to have power, individuals need to form solidarity in groups,” said Byles, “and focus on goals, so how do we resolve this paradox while still respecting the individual?”
In the public forum at United Church of Christ in Medford, the panel struggled to come up with firm answers that went beyond the goals of their specific groups and agendas, but Golden emphasized it was a first and would spur all sides to envision a “next step” â€” and to get together in coalitions and begin work on it, while serving as a model for other communities. Golden has already put some main players from Tea Party and Occupy together on his “Immense Possibilities” show on Southern Oregon Public Television.
Panelist Ron Lee of the Tea Party decried the apathy of the American people, noting that voters say they dislike negative campaigning, but “it works because people want to hear about the muck. They need to turn off the reality TV and pick up a book.”
Touching on a sense of powerlessness often voiced in the forum, Southern Oregon University student Evan Lasley of Occupy said, “The whole system is corrupted and we have to look at rebuilding it from the ground up, so the people are sovereign and their rights are respected. We’ve got to get rid of the loopholes the rich have. We can’t get to the root of the problem because we’re so lost in this muck.”
The four panelists from the two sides, often portrayed in the media as opposites, had sounded their common themes together before and one, Linda Sturgeon of Occupy, a self-proclaimed ’60s radical, said “I love these guys (Tea Partiers) and the most positive thing we can do is learn from each other.”
Rebuilding From the Ground Up
Golden challenged the panel about how they would respond if someone said, “We have a system to fix all this and it’s called elections.”
Lasley replied, “People with the money win elections 80 to 90 percent of the time” and with “tens of thousands of lobbyists in Washington,” the alienation of the average citizen is total. “The Tea Party and Occupy are the reaction against this, so let’s not be a victim of it. Let’s lead and inspire.”
Snook noted, “We the people don’t understand our rights. In politics today, both sides are owned. They’ve broken their oath of office and are serving their self-interest.”
Said Sturgeon, “The core issue is integrity. When you manipulate and exploit people to win office, that’s just not right.”
One audience member queried the audience, finding by a show of hands that a significant majority were Democrats, a minority were Republicans and independents were in the middle in numbers. Similarly, Occupy backers were double the numbers of Tea Partiers. After the forum, groups formed to create action coalitions for the next step in the process, which Golden earlier suggested could include lobbying.Î¦
John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.