Tea Party, Occupiers meet on TV

In a political climate that pegs the Tea Party as far right and Occupiers as far left, Ashland activist-broadcaster Jeff Golden is drawing both sides into a conversation to find common ground and explore possible goals — all as part of his television show, "Immense Possibilities."

Called "Tea Party Meets Occupy," the segment is set to air at 7:30 tonight on Southern Oregon Public Television Channel 8. It features four Rogue Valley activists from these surging populist movements agreeing they all feel powerless. But while the Tea Party believes government must shrink, Occupiers argue it's corporations that must be reined in.

Since the show's taping, the four have gotten together twice, been taped for an online political channel and have started a regular email conversation, said Joseph Snook, a Tea Party member from Grants Pass.

"We have a lot of common ground and are similar in our frustration with government and big business," Snook said. "But Occupy holds big business accountable and my frustration is with the government because I vote for them."

Snook said the four panelists are taking their conversation beyond "Immense Possibilities."

"We're trying to join together on things we all agree on," he said. "I'm very enthusiastic about what Occupy is doing locally."

Panelist Linda Sturgeon, web administrator for Occupy Ashland and a Phoenix resident, said she found both groups want "to root out corruption and bring integrity. We're still talking and trying to get to know each other."

"Building the relationship is of primary importance ... so there is no hidden agenda or attempts to manipulate," she said. "Then we can target things where we can be successful."

On his show, which is also viewable at www.immensepossibilities.org, Golden reads slurs made by one side against the other and asks for comments about the local reality. One tract slammed Occupiers for wanting more government programs and being jobless freeloaders. Panelist Ben Playfair of Medford said he and most other demonstrators go to school or have jobs and don't want bigger government.

Snook responded he'd read that two-thirds of Occupiers want universal health care, retirement and college education paid for by the government, "so I'm against that."

On the show, panelists parsed the role of the federal government beyond defense and infrastrucure.

Panelist and Tea Party member Nathan Wente of Medford said, "It's up to the individual to supply charity, not the government. The federal government should not be involved in education. Its only jobs are to protect our borders and control interstate commerce."

While fissures emerged between the two groups about the role of government and who should control corporate excesses, Golden noted in an interview, "It's clear to me there's a strong thread running through both, that some elite has hijacked government and the financial system for their own personal benefit, in dishonest ways."

Golden said his video already has seen wide circulation on the Internet, "starting a healthy conversation. My question to them (panel) is, 'What cooperation can we build, because there's a lot of interest in doing this together.' You get in trouble if you say all the Tea Partiers or Occupiers are this way or that way. I was struck by how they appreciated each other and trusted the others' intent, which is to build a better country."

Both Occupiers and Tea Partiers want to downsize the federal government, he said. Occupiers express concern about the power of the Federal Reserve, national security and intelligence and are showing a growing interest in state's rights — issues usually associated with the right.

"It's fantastic we're getting along," said Sturgeon. "There's no reason, none, zero, why people can't come together when they have integrity and listen and are willing to see things from a different perspective."

Snook said there are "bad apples" on both sides and some media "shine a negative light on both, making the Tea Party into right-wing, radical gun-lovers and Occupy into homeless welfare recipients."

Snook credited Golden with "opening my eyes and other people's eyes." He said he and the other panelists plan to develop joint efforts in the near future.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

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