In Nov. 2010, days before the Republicans’ midterm triumph, at the crest of the Tea Party wave, The Guardian’s Gary Lounge wrote that the movement “…does not exist. It has no members, leaders, office bearers, headquarters, policies, participatory structures, budget or representatives.”
One year later, the Tea Party’ fortunes have ebbed somewhat, and it has been largely supplanted by Occupy Wall Street as the epicenter of American populism. And yet, Lounge’s words are perhaps even more pertinent now than they were then, as they also aptly encapsulate the gravest deficiencies of this latest protest movement. Like its rightwing predecessor, Occupy Wall Street has been criticized—by The Crimson, no less—for its permeating incoherence and debilitating disorganization.
Enter “Occupy the Facts,” a new, Harvard-grown student group dedicated to providing an intellectual foundation and policy platform for the headless movement. “Occupy the Facts” appears to be a direct response to these allegations of incoherence; its goal, according to co-founder Peter D. Davis ’12, “is calling those peoples’ bluffs.” His colleague, Talia B. Lavin ’12, likewise said that “I’ve noticed this persistent criticism that the demands of the movement aren’t specific enough. The goal is to reach out to people who have heard a lot about Occupy but aren’t sure what Occupy is trying to achieve.”
Our democracy is ill-served by blind, amorphous rage, and so we are heartened to see some effort to channel this populist energy into constructive issue advocacy. We are living today with the consequences of the Tea Party’s failure to provide intelligible solutions to our most pressing national problems, and the effort to better inform and orient this new upsurge of populist agitation gives us hope that the same mistake will not be repeated. Furthermore, students who are passionate about public policy and civic engagement can only be a positive force in our society and for our political discourse.
Nevertheless, we fear that “Occupy the Facts” is ultimately solving only half of the problem, while the other half is one that is in dire need of addressing. It turns out that while Lounge was spot-on in his critique of the Tea Party movement’s lack of policy proposals, he was misdirected in his criticism of its lack of political infrastructure. As a political organ of the Republican Party, the Tea Party was an unqualified success, sweeping into office a nearly unprecedented number of archconservative activists at every level of government. For all of its intellectual failings, it did rekindle a spirit of political activism across a wide spectrum of the country. Occupy Wall Street, unfortunately, has thus far demonstrated no intention of replicating this achievement.
“Occupy the Facts” may help Occupy Wall Street overcome its ideological incoherence, but unless the movement can overcome its aversion to engaging within our existing political system, its odds for political success will remain long. Remember, the Tea Party has yet to develop its own version of “Occupy the Facts,” and while it would surely benefit from such an outfit, it has somehow managed to change the trajectory of American politics without one. The Tea Party managed to succeed politically in spite of its incoherence, and until the Occupiers start spending less time forming puppetry guilds and more time mobilizing grassroots support for politicians sympathetic to its goals, it has little hope of, in Davis’s words, “making the kind of change that a lot of people in our generation have been dreaming of.”