Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Tea Parties, Occupy movements, and Arab Springs

Revolution. It's a big word. When used in earnest, it means something, it signifies at the very least the potential for serious change, if not actual change itself. And revolutionaries, those are the ones asking for, demanding, or forcing change on a government, nation, or society.

In just the last five years or so, there have been two pseudo-revolutionary movements in the United States, alone: the Tea Party movement and the Occupy movement. Because of their proximity in time, the two movements--and their respective adherents--have been compared again and again and again, particularly during the period of the Occupy movement's apogee. I've addressed such comparisons previously. From both directions.

From the first bit:
But the point is, the two movements--despite the overlap and the above similarity--are fundamentally different, with regard to purpose. The Tea Party movement is about taking back: taking back government from corrupt and entrenched politicians, taking back daily life from government control and/or interference, taking back freedom. The Occupy movement is about taking, period: taking from the rich, taking from government, taking from anyone that has.
From the second:
But my point here is not to discount the Occupy movement. I find interesting, if somewhat misguided and uninspiring, and I would never discount the potential that exists within it. My point is that the tea party movement was a response to very specific things--the Bailout and the Stimulus--and to the entitlement mindset, yet few pundits and politicians seem to remember and/or understand this.
Now, the lessons of history are already clear, when it comes to both movements. The Tea Party movement, whose genesis predates the Occupy movement by nearly three years, had a profound and measurable impact on American politics in the 2010 mid-term elections, at national, state, and local levels. The Occupy movement, whose potential for such an electoral impact would have been in 2012, more or less fizzled in this regard (Elizabeth Warren's success being the exception, no doubt). Despite the constant fawning over the Occupy movements by various pundits and academics, the lack of a meaningful agenda and other factors served to de-fang the movement, politically speaking.

One of those "other factors" was the negative press garnered by the less-than-civil behavior of many Occupiers, the destruction of property, the disruption of public life, along with some serious allegations of even worse behavior. National Review Online actually kept a running blotter of criminal activity at Occupy sites and by self-described adherents to the movement. From public masturbation to assault to, yes, even rape.

These activities stand in stark contrast to Tea Party events, where protesters were mostly criticized for poor spelling on some signs and the admittedly heinous racist lingo (which was far less common than the media coverage would lead one to believe) on other ones. In fact, where the Occupy protesters (some, not all) were defecating all over public and private properties, their Tea Party counterparts were cleaning up the sites they used after events were over.

And this contrast is, itself, a fascinating thing, given the very common assumption among the political left that politically-motivated violence and bad behavior is more common on the political right, more common by far. Yet, it was (and still is) the case that of the two movements, the Tea Party crowd presented the safer, family-friendly environment.

Which brings us to the much-vaunted Arab Spring and the locus of protests in Egypt, Tahrir Square.

During the Tahrir Square demonstrations in February of 2011:
Breaking a months-long silence, CBS war correspondent Lara Logan talked to "60 Minutes" on Sunday night about what really happened to her in Cairo's Tahrir Square. On the night of Feb. 11, as the dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak was falling, Logan joined the more than 100,000 people celebrating in the square, where she says a mob turned on her and sexually assaulted her.

"Suddenly, before I even know what's happening, I feel hands grabbing my breasts, grabbing my crotch, grabbing me from behind," she told Scott Pelley of "60 Minutes."
During the Tahrir Square demonstrations in October of 2012:
A journalist for France 24 has described how his female colleague was attacked and groped by a group of men while filming live during protests in Tahrir Square in Cairo on Friday night.

Sonia Dridi was surrounded while filming in the square, with the mob closing in on her as she was reporting. The news channel said in a statement that she was attacked at about 10.30pm.

Her colleague from the English section of France 24, Ashraf Khalil, was by her side waiting to do his spot next for the camera but cut her off midway and led her off as the crowd began to move in. All this was caught on camera...

"When we went back for the second live shot the crowd was worse, it was really hard to control the crowd. If you see the video you can see me popping up on the fringe telling people let her work. By the time it was finished everybody was too close and no one was listening to us. I told Sonia to just go straight to [the shop] Hardee's and wait for me because I didn't want her to wait with this crowd of feral youths."

But the crowd had already begun to close in as Khalil and Dridi made their way to the Hardee's branch at the corner of the square. By the time they made it to the shop Dridi discovered her shirt was open and was grateful that the "tight thick belt" she was wearing prevented worse happening.
And during the Tahrir Square demonstrations Friday night:
Dina Zakaria, an Egyptian journalist reporting for the "Egypt 25" news channel, reported that a Dutch journalist in Tahrir Square "was raped by men who dub themselves revolutionists". 
"Her condition is severe and she is hospitalised," Zakaria wrote on her Facebook page. 
The Dutch Embassy in Cairo issued a statement saying a 22-year-old Dutch woman was attacked in Tahrir Square on Friday night.
These cases represent just the tip of the iceberg, they involved journalists and so were widely reported. There were many, many more attacks on women during each period. All by the self-proclaimed "revolutionaries," by people looking to supposedly take back their freedom from the powers that be, just like the Occupiers.

Make no mistake, the Occupy movement and the Arab Spring were inexorably linked from the beginning by those captivated by both movements. Anne-Marie Slaughter, former Director of Policy Planning at the State Department (under Obama) and supposed expert on politics explains:
The American mainstream media is gradually beginning to pay attention to the Occupy Wall Street movement and its spinoffs springing up in Atlanta, Chicago, Boston and Seattle. But from the very beginning the movement has attracted extensive coverage from Al Jazeera and other Middle Eastern news outlets and Twitter users — probably because they recognize the forces that are reshaping politics across their region.

Indeed, the twin drivers of America’s nascent protest movement against the financial sector are injustice and invisibility, the very grievances that drove the Arab Spring.
Indeed.

Yet apparently, those "twin drivers" also seem to spawn a certain amount of lawlessness among adherents to the cause, a lawlessness that leads paradoxically to the mistreatment (to put it mildly) of a group with historically less power, a group that suffers even more from those twin drivers: women.

In contrast, the supposed (if you believe the hype) bastion of rich white men, the Tea Party movement, lacks such antics at its events, almost across the board. While the Occupy movement is certainly not ground zero for attacks against women, the reality is what it is. The conduct of protesters there was much more akin to those of protesters in places like Tahrir Square, as opposed to pretty much any Tea Party event one might care to name.

True enough, it can be argued that those acting badly are only using the unrest, the protests, as cover for their criminal activity, yet that fails to explain the lack of such activity at Tea Party events. Surely, there must be a reason. Gun-toting tea-baggers? Hardly.

The reason is clear: of the three, it is only the Tea Party movement that has goals and ideological tenets. The other two have only the "twin drivers," which represent little more than reasons to get angry and act out. People who happen to be around when such acting out occurs? They're just collateral damage, I guess. Cold comfort for Logan, Dridi, and many others.

Cheers, all.

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