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Activist sees 'old' Tea Party in Occupy

| Thursday, Nov. 17, 2011

There are all sorts of people who are part of the Occupy Pittsburgh movement: hippies, some homeless, activists, the Tea Party. ...

No, that is not a misprint. The national Tea Party movement has been vocally opposed to the Occupy movements. But the disagreement is a bit surprising, considering they're both grassroots groups born of dissatisfaction with government. Can they be that far apart?

OK, yes. But "day camper" Jan Kiefer, a member of both groups, sees some parallels. At the Occupy camp on Mellon Green on Friday, we talked about how it is that a Tea Party member can align himself with the Occupy people. To him, it isn't that much of a leap.

Kiefer, 51, lives in Scottdale, Westmoreland County, and makes the hour's drive to Downtown on most days. As a full-time activist, he lives for these uprisings.

"See, this is like Christmas, with Occupy and the Tea Party going," he said. "When you live in a little town and you're an activist, you go where the action is."

Kiefer joined the Tea Party when it first began, he said. It has changed a bit since then.

"I was in the early Tea Party, before there were Republicans ... and that Tea Party is disappearing," he said. "A lot of those people that were in the original Ron Paul Tea Party show up here."

He sees the "old" Tea Party in the Occupy movement and hopes it remains free from political influence, although he said he's a realist.

"It's very likely that Occupy loses its virginity, or its purity that it's still holding," he said, especially if there is a rise in violence at protests or if political personalities show up.

Kiefer considers himself an independent progressive, free of political ideologies. He says both Tea Party and Occupy supporters can agree on a few things, including disapproval of domestic government surveillance and the idea that there is something wrong with government. But he said they'd probably disagree about what that "something" is and how to tackle it.

"We talk more about the philosophical things here," Kiefer said of the Occupy camp. "Their tools are political."

To change government, he said, you have to do it from outside the system -- not from within.

"Occupy Pittsburgh's view is that politics is irreversibly rendered impotent by the concentrated wealth, aggression and control of government policy," he said. To change the system, it will take revolutionary measures used by the likes of Gandhi or Martin Luther King Jr.

That includes the use of boycotts and strikes, two tools Kiefer believes the Occupy movement will employ more as it evolves.

"We all need to spend every dollar consciously. People need to ask themselves, 'I'm spending $20 on this bag of tobacco. Could I spend that to help hunger or something else?'"

It was at this point that it began to snow a little bit. I suddenly became aware that I could not feel my toes or bend my fingers and after only about an hour outside. It seemed as good a time as any to ask about the upcoming winter.

Is Occupy Pittsburgh really ready for a Snowmaggeddon II?

"You need to show some respect for these people," Kiefer said, adding that some of them have dealt with bad weather conditions before. "We have food, and it's safe. They're here, no problem."

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