Tea party, Occupy loyalists gather for Medford forum

After bringing the two seemingly opposing Occupy and tea party forces together on his public TV show, Jeff Golden decided to hold a town hall meeting to hammer out a short list of goals on which both sides could agree.

The meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Monday, April 23, at the Medford Congregational United Church of Christ, 1801 E. Jackson St., Medford.

The two sides have been meeting for the past six months, said Golden, host of "Immense Possibilities."

"I looked at the supposed clashes around the tea party and Occupy and saw strong similarities between them," he said. "We were held back from positive changes when we separated ourselves because we disagreed on some issues. We've not looked for common ground, and that's what we need to do if this country's going to make it."

Both sides are concerned with protecting basic rights guaranteed by the Constitution and easing government restrictions that prevent legal growing of hemp for a livelihood, said Joseph Snook, a tea party activist from Grants Pass.

"Both groups have been communicating for some time, and now it's time to get the community involved and have input about our common ground," said Snook, one of four panelists at Monday's forum. "We're pushing hard on industrial hemp and have heard strong support from everyone, including the (Josephine County) commissioners and sheriff's office."

Golden, a former county commissioner, author and commentator living in Ashland, said several churches stepped forward to support the meetings between the two sides.

"There is misunderstanding among different ideological groups, but when you put people together as people, you see we have a lot of the same concerns," said Linda Sturgeon, an Occupy member from Ashland who will be on the town hall panel. Sturgeon and fellow Occupy backers visited regional conservative group meetings and found "we're all very concerned about our Constitutional rights as the number one issue. If you don't have that, you don't have anything else."

The National Defense Authorization Act, for example, passed last year and signed by President Obama in January, allows military and Homeland Security police to detain people suspected of terrorism indefinitely. "That's intimidating to both tea party and Occupy people," Sturgeon said. "We all have a lot of concerns about how free we are."

Golden said the town hall is "not a debate" but is intended to help residents across the political and economic spectrum move beyond the left-right separation.

"Both Occupy and tea party are grassroots organizations, without leaders, and if they can get a short list (of goals), maybe they can lobby," Golden said. "It's very powerful if it comes from both the left and right."

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

Correction: The headline on the published version of this story contained the wrong city for the event.

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