For a little over a month, the Occupy protest movement has established itself in Canada. Born against the backdrop of our current economic crisis and claiming to speak for the “99%” of the population who the Occupiers say have been hurt by the policies of many of the world’s governments, financial institutions and the richest“1%” of the population, the Occupy movement has come to encompass a wide variety of demands for change that would address the increasing problems we face regarding unemployment, corporate power, environmentalism and a number of other subjects. The number of different voices who’ve joined the Occupy movement has been cited as one of its strengths, and indeed it’s difficult to reduce the Occupiers’ desires to a specific set of demands. What is clear, however, is that the Occupy movement has become overwhelmingly associated with left-wing politics.
Right wing politics have developed their own protest movement in the Tea Party. The Tea Party movement, although largely concerned with domestic politics in the United States, was formed in response to some of the same things that inspired the Occupy movement, namely the current economic crisis and the rising unemployment that followed it. Its other major concerns include the level of taxation in the U.S., the U.S. federal government’s massive deficits and the resulting growing U.S. national debt, and what many Tea Partiers view as government power growing beyond its constitutional limits and threatening individual freedom. Like the Occupy movement, it has no central leadership, and it is made up of a loose collection of affiliated groups that have various connections with one another.
Despite being based on opposite sides of the political spectrum, the Occupy and Tea Party movements share a number of interesting traits. They were both formed in response to the Great Recession, although their explanations for its causes are quite different. They are both leaderless, decentralized organizations who now have a wide variety of groups among their memberships, formed out of grassroots organizations by citizens frustrated with the current economic crisis and the current political leaderships in their countries. Their respective messages both have very broad, general themes, although to what degree any individual member of either movement adheres to these beliefs, how far they’d want to take them, and which ones they prioritize is an open question. Both movements have also faced considerable criticism: the Occupy movement has been labelled as a collection of “Marxists” who demonize the wealthy, or are lazy spoiled slackers who don’t want to get jobs. The Tea Party movement has been accused of everything from racism to fascism.
Besides all this, though, the Tea Party and the Occupy movement share another critical trait. The more radical of their critics, as well as the more radical of their members, pose a major but significantly overlooked threat in both Canada and the United States-namely, the danger of the polarization and radicalization of our politics.
In the case of the Occupy movement, its members have been referred to as lazy, spoiled and unwilling to work hard or take initiative for themselves. That seems like a pretty broad accusation to make, especially when we don’t know the circumstances that a lot of the Occupiers have had to deal with. Chances are that a lot of the people in the Occupy movement have actually been looking for the kinds of jobs that would allow them to make a good living. It’s one thing to insult people for not getting a job- how do you know they haven’t been trying, and aren’t able to find the kind of work they’d like to get, or that matches their skill level?  What’s a person supposed to do if he can’t find any work at his skill level, and he can’t get work beneath his skill level because he’s somehow overqualified for it? Especially now, with more people from the boomer generation staying in the workforce longer, we have more people competing for fewer jobs. Even Finance Minister Jim Flaherty alluded to this problem-in his reaction to the Occupy movement he noted the rising concern among young people about a lack of job opportunities, and could understand the “legitimate” frustration arising out of it.
Consider how it also looks when, against the backdrop of tax cuts, deregulation and free markets that we’ve been hearing for the last three decades, we’re now confronted with rising poverty levels, new jobs being created tending to be lower-paying or part-time, along with the fact that despite all the tax cuts and free trade agreements we’ve implemented for the last several years in Canada, our productivity has stalled, our spending on research and development has stagnated. Hence you can pardon some people for being sceptical of the idea that deregulation and tax cuts are somehow the universal solution to the problem.
Even some conservative commentators are raising the same concerns as they Occupy movement. Conservative commentator Jonathan McLeod pointed out the problems of what he referred to as “crony” capitalism and claimed that the Occupy protesters have a legitimate point when they criticize it. Institutions like the Conference Board of Canada-a think tank not known for its leftist credentials-have cited have cited the serious problem of rising poverty in Canada. The International Monetary Fund has noted how rising inequality can hinder economic growth, while addressing inequality can help growth over the longer term, provided that government measures to deal with it don’t take it too far.
The problems crop up when the more extreme voices start spouting off. For all the problems that have resulted from the actions of some politicians and businesspeople, painting all capitalists with the same brush is just as absurd as painting everyone in the Occupy movement itself as being violent Black Bloc types. It’s worth remembering that businesspeople are like any other social group in that they’re made up of different people with different beliefs, goals and desires. It’s not fair to demonize them all when they also make their own individual charitable and artistic donations, and otherwise use their money for worthwhile purposes, ranging from the likes of Bill Gates today to our own former Prime Minister R.B. Bennett during the Great Depression. Of course you can criticize some businesses and businesspeople for the actions they’ve taken or the problems we’re facing now. That said, criticizing business owners and capitalists as a whole means that, logically, you’d have to end up criticizing the owners of vegetarian restaurants, organic grocery stores or bong shops, all of whom are also using their own capital to operate for-profit businesses that they use to make a living. Sure, they might sometimes benefit from government tax incentives, subsidies or what have you, but even then they’re not much different from a lot of bigger companies who’ve also benefited from the exact same things.
It’s also worth noting that some factions of the Occupy movement haven’t done themselves any favours with the talk about overcoming or destroying capitalism, to say nothing of the violence and hooliganism some of them have perpetrated.  Consider how that sort of thing looks to the people who are passing by the Occupy movement on their way home or to work, or whose property could just as easily be damaged by Black Bloc members who end up joining the Occupy camps. While the Occupy movement has a lot of important points to make, they end up risking having those essential points drowned out by the more radical currents among them, which the media and the general public end up focusing on. How many people look at the damage caused and the threats uttered by the more radical people in the Occupy camps, and end up associating those destructive acts with the entire movement as a whole?
As for the Tea Party, while their criticisms are primarily directed at the United States some of their main points still resonate in Canada. At the current rate that both the Canadian and American governments are spending, it’s an open question as to how long they can keep on borrowing money and expanding the national debt before they end up ruining their economies. Similarly, while tax increases and government regulation might be a worthwhile solution for some of our problems, like any solution it can be taken way too far. As the Tea Partiers have pointed out, how can businesses function if they can’t make any profits at all, or regulation makes it impossible for them to remain viable? If taking deregulation and tax cuts too far has contributed to our rising poverty and economic problems, going too far the other way can easily create just as many problems as it solves. Government intervention can easily become too much of a good thing.
Of course, while the Tea Party has raised some important points, it’s also run into its fair share of controversies. President Obama has been compared to the likes of Adolf Hitler and Vladimir Lenin and prominent Tea Partier Mark Williams made various sickening comments referring to Allah as a “Monkey God” and alluded to his Muslim worshippers being terrorists. The people who shouted that people without health insurance should be left to die if they can’t afford treatment couldn’t have been doing the Tea Party’s image any favours. Nor could the way some American conservatives label anyone who doesn’t agree with them as “traitors” who “hate America”, as Ann Coulter is so wont to do, have done much to help either.
These types of actions and statements, as well as their counterparts in the Occupy movement, both tie back into the major threat of polarizing and radicalizing Canadian politics. The important and legitimate points that many Occupiers and Tea Partiers alike are trying to raise end up being drowned out by the more radical voices among them. This, in turn, gives more ammunition to the critics who paint everyone in either movement as either lazy Marxists who refuse to work hard and take responsibility for themselves, or angry, hateful bigots who don’t care about anyone but themselves. The radicals in both movements, as well as the critics on the other sides of the spectrum who use them to paint their entire movements with the same brush, run the real danger of taking over the political debate. The implication risks becoming that if you don’t agree with them, then you’re somehow not a real liberal or conservative.
Sensible, reasonable ideas can just as easily be rejected out of hand as more radical ones, simply because they come from the “wrong” side of the debate. Demonizing and crushing your political opponents becomes more important than finding solutions that, as far as possible, balance and reconcile the various interests in society. Besides which, it’s not as if hard work and individual initiative are exclusively right-wing conservative values, or compassion for the poor and caring for the environment are exclusively left-wing liberal values! Although things haven’t gone as far in Canada as among our southern neighbours, we’re still on the same path and facing the same dangers. It’s poisoning the political dialogue in our country.
Whatever the solutions are to the problems raised by the Occupiers and the Tea Partiers, letting the radicals and the extremists dominate the discussion won’t help us find them. The moderates on every side of the political spectrum need to speak up more vocally, not just against the radicals on the other side of the debate but against the radicals in their own camps as well. The moderates are the ones who need to take control of the debate and marginalize the radicals, and try and establish a more constructive dialogue between the different political groups than we’ve had in recent years. Otherwise, chances are we’ll all lose.
 “One In Four Young Canadians Overqualified for Jobs: Report.” Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, April 17, 2008. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/story/2008/04/17/bc-youth-labour.html.
 Quoted in Robert Hiltz, “Occupy Wall Street Coming Home To Canada.” Postmedia News, October 15, 2011. http://www.canada.com/news/Occupy+Wall+Street+coming+home+Canada/5553452/story.html
 Armine Yalnizyan, “The Rise of Canada’s Richest 1%.” Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, December 2010. Available online at http://www.policyalternatives.ca/publications/reports/rise-canadas-richest-1. Mel Hurtig, The Truth About Canada. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 2008. Pages 72–85. See also “Canadian Wages Plummet”, CBC News, November 24, 2011. http://www.cbc.ca/news/business/story/2011/11/24/statscan-wages.html?cmp=rss
 Linda Stern, “The New American Job: Are Freelance and Part- Time Gigs The Future?”, Newsweek Magazine, January 27, 2007. http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/blogs/jobbed/2009/01/28/the-new-american-job.html.
 Hurtig, pages 86–106.
 Jonathan McLeod, “Occupy Can Save Capitalism.” The Mark News, November 8, 2011. http://www.themarknews.com/articles/7366-occupy-can-save-capitalism
 The Conference Board of Canada, “Hot Topic: Canadian Income Inequality,” published July 2011. http://www.conferenceboard.ca/hcp/hot-topics/caninequality.aspx Cited in Armine Yalnizyan, “Inequality Is Bad For Business.” Behind The Numbers Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives blog, September 15, 2011. http://www.behindthenumbers.ca/2011/09/15/inequality-is-bad-for-business/#respond
 Andrew G. Berg and Jonathan D. Ostry, “Inequality and Unsustainable Growth: Two Sides of the Same Coin?” International Monetary Fund discussion note published April 8, 2011. http://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/sdn/2011/sdn1108.pdf
 Author with the screen name of “Red Tory”. “OCW Vancouver/Victoria Update,” November 8, 2011. http://redtory.wordpress.com/2011/11/08/ocw-vancouvervictoria-update/ See also “Fact Check!”, October 23, 2011. http://redtory.wordpress.com/2011/10/23/fact-check/ It should be noted that “red tory” is not a devotedly hard right conservative, and the majority of his posts are in fact harshly critical of the conservative movement in the U.S.
 Patrick Ross, “Mirror, Mirror.” October 12, 2011. http://nexusofassholery.blogspot.com/2011/10/mirror-mirror.html. As with “red tory”, while Ross is conservative he can and does critique conservatism itself when he feels it’s warranted. See also “Missing The Balance”, March 11, 2009. http://nexusofassholery.blogspot.com/2009/03/missing-balance.html
 “Mark Williams, Tea Party Leader, Says Muslims Worship ‘Monkey God’.” The Huffington Post, July 20, 2010. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/05/20/mark-williams-tea-party-l_n_582591.html
 “Tea Party Debate Audience Cheered Idea of Letting Uninsured Patients Die.” ABC News, September 13, 2011. http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/politics/2011/09/tea-party-debate-audience-cheered-idea-of-letting-uninsured-patients-die/
 Julie Driscoll, “Occupy Wall Street: A Liberal’s Quagmire.” Addicting Info, October 9, 2011. http://www.addictinginfo.org/2011/10/09/occupy-wall-street-a-liberals-quagmire/
This article was originally written in November 2011 as a commentary on the differences and similarities between the Occupy Movement and the Tea Party.