Anti-Occupy protesters turned up outside Rockefeller Center yesterday, demonstrating against those who would speak for the 99 percent. The rally was organized by Americans for Prosperity, which was founded–and substantially funded–by the Koch brothers. AFP was one of the most important national groups supporting the Tea Party, particularly in its early days.
AFP clearly meant to demonstrate a public counterweight to Occupy, which had commemorated its birthday a few days earlier with vigorous demonstrations. The politics were explicit: The Guardian quotes New Jersey AFP state director, Steve Lonegan:
The Occupy Wall Street crowd is nothing but a fringe element of malcontents bent on mayhem and destruction. These are people who despise free enterprise. They are not attacking Wall Street. They are attacking the very freedoms that everyday Americans cherish to pursue their own dreams and succeed.
On a weekday–and without a chapter in New York City–AFP was able to turn out a few dozen people. And it’s not clear they were all Tea Partiers. Well-dressed provocateurs turned up with signs and slogans they thought might embarrass the Tea Partiers (at left, for example).
The Occupy commemoration, which generated numbers the the Wall Street Journal estimated as over 1,000 in Manhattan, and sympathy demonstrations across the nation, was widely portrayed as a sign of the movement’s fading. Then again, unlike AFP, Occupy will not be sponsoring a $25 million ad campaign in support of a presidential candidate (AFP’s candidate is still Mitt Romney).
So, does this mean anything? One message is that the Tea Party’s capacity to mobilize at the grassroots isn’t what it used to be–not that Manhattan was ever a stronghold. At the moment, most of the energy and money is still going into the electoral campaign. If President Obama is reelected, however, it’s likely that the groups underneath the Tea Party will try to resurrect the grassroots mobilization approach of 2009. Organizers successfully steered that earlier wave of activism into electoral influence in the Republican Party and in the midterm elections.
Will they be able to go back to the grassroots?