Warmer weather on the horizon, coupled with election-year politics, could translate to fresh energy for the Occupy Wall Street movement that last year swept through cities across the country, including Fort Wayne.
Meanwhile, tea party groups continue to wield their influence in races such as the Republican primary fight between U.S. Senator Dick Lugar and his tea party-backed challenger, Indiana Treasurer Richard Mourdock.
While the two movements might seem far apart on the surface, a debate Wednesday between local Occupy and tea party spokespersons, sponsored by The News-Sentinel and WANE, NewsChannel 15, showed the lines can get blurry.
For example, both the Occupy and tea party members of the six-person panel blasted the federal government's bailouts of the banking industry under the Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP. They also both criticized the government for national security measures, such as the Patriot Act, that they say violate civil rights of U.S. citizens.
About 100 people attended the forum, which was held at the Walb Student Union at IPFW.
While proving the two movements see eye-to-eye on some issues, the forum may not have helped neutral onlookers form concrete opinions about either side or discern precisely what sets them apart from one another.
“I was pleased to see there were points they agreed on,” Dave Armstrong, a local tea party member and assistant state director of the Fair Tax movement, said after the debate. “I was disappointed that they didn't really get down to the main differences between the two.”
Divisions became clearer when the two sides debated who should be held responsible for the practices that led to the banking and mortgage crises, how to improve the economy and how to narrow the gap between the wealthiest and poorer Americans.
Max Johnson, part of the Occupy panel, said the government could improve the economy by raising the capital gains tax to collect more of the money wealthy people earn on their investments.
“We should tax that money. They don't need it, and the rest of us do,” he said.
That mindset, tea party member Lisa Bobay-Somers said, amounts to redistribution of wealth, a concept that conservatives often link with socialism, and illustrates one of the key differences between the two movements.
“There's a lot of positives from Occupy, but there are a lot of people involved with Occupy who want to see redistribution of wealth,” she said.
The two movements clash when Occupy members call for greater government oversight in the business world, said Andy Downs, director of the Mike Downs Center for Indiana Politics at IPFW. Tea party members believe government should stay out of the private sector's business altogether, while Occupiers think government should intervene to keep big business from taking advantage of people.
“I think the tea party folks that are here have more faith in the free market system,” Downs said. “The stumbling block is that Occupy is looking for a little more regulation of the free market.”
The two sides also had disagreements on national security issues. The Occupiers argued that terror suspects should be tried in civilian court, while the tea party members said terrorists should be considered enemy combatants.