The Occupy Wall Streeters and tea party have much in common, though one suspects there would be public denials. Both are disgusted with the direction of the nation.

When the first Occupy Wall Street (OWS) protesters arrived in Lower Manhattan along with the autumn winds, few people paid much attention to them, less those who were inconvenienced and some members of the media who sensed this could be a big story. But for most people, there was little new in what appeared to be just another protest in a city that has protests nearly every day. Not too many weeks later, OWS groups dotted the urban landscape of the United States much like mushrooms in the fall, a large patch here and a smaller one there. In time they may come together to create a Made in America movement.

As we know from the history of our nation, a movement is often another word for a highly politicized pressure group. Leaders, with the ability to distill an often disparate message into a common theme, do emerge. Sometimes it can take years, and other times less than a year, as we have learned from the rapid evolution of the tea party, which now commands the attention of Republican hopefuls and those they elected to office in the last election, all of whom are careful not to make a verbal misstep. The Occupy Wall Streeters and tea party have much in common, though one suspects there would be public denials. Both are disgusted with the direction of the nation, though for a host of different reasons, and remedies are worlds apart.

The ranks of the nascent OWS protesters may swell quicker than most believe, since they have hit a responsive cord among the armies of the unemployed as well as people with jobs, college graduates drowning in debt from education loans while looking for jobs, some of the major unions in New York City, returning veterans, and above all, those who believe that greedy Wall Street and corporate America were given the keys to the nation by our politicians and drove us into the greatest economic downturn since the Great Depression. And this is hardly an American affair as we have seen with similar protests in Rome, Athens and London.

As we have witnessed, the protests in Rome and London became nasty and they could here. In every major economic downturn, civil unrest becomes commonplace and if things get out of hand on this side of the Atlantic, we can expect those charged with keeping the peace to intervene, which could give the movement greater momentum.

The level of nastiness could rise if the protesters focus on the individuals they believe should be held accountable: the heads of the great banking houses on Wall Street. When Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry accused the Fed chairman of treason, there was an outcry. In time, finger-pointing may become more commonplace. In good times, below the veneer of civility, hostile feelings are contained. In times such as these, they surface.

What we may be witnessing is the transformation of an initially disparate protest into a movement that may, in time, have greater clout than the tea party. While President Obama may try to align himself with OWS protesters, a move in this direction will be viewed as transparent, an opportunistic effort to harness their energy to his re-election campaign. With some of his base now fractured, someone else in the Democratic Party may try to capture the momentum as we witnessed in the anti-Vietnam movement era. While it may be a reach, we may even see someone in the Republican camp reach out to the OWS, cutting a diagonal and drawing in the energy of the tea party. They are angry about different things, but share a common agenda in their disgust over the state of the nation.

Sander A. Diamond is a professor of history at Keuka College in New York.