New Internationalist

Why America’s 99% have rebelled

December 2011

If you haven’t seen it yet, you owe yourself a visit. If you’re already familiar with it, go back to remind yourself why the #Occupy movement is so powerful.

I am referring to the We are the 99 per cent blog, the most direct and articulate explanation available of why so many – across the US and beyond – have rebelled. The site is a blog to which people submit pictures of themselves. Usually, a person holds out a notebook or sheet of paper, their face partially obscured. On the paper, they have written their stories. Almost always, you can see their eyes.

A stocky man with a short beard, maybe in his forties, has written neatly in marker: ‘947 days unemployed. 2,000+ resumes sent out. 0 job prospects.’

A young woman in light lipstick: ‘I’m a full-time grad student and a full-time worker. I have chronic, excruciating migraines. I live in fear of the next attack. I can barely cover rent, gas, and groceries. I can’t afford a doctor’s visit, let alone health insurance.’

Photo by David Shankbone under a CC Licence
Photo by David Shankbone under a CC Licence

A woman with a weary stare: ‘My husband has been looking for work for five years. I support him, myself, our six-year-old son, and (increasingly) my ageing parents. Now my job is in jeopardy too.’

They write: ‘I am one paycheck away from not being able to make my loan payments.’ ‘I am 32 years old and live with my mother.’ ‘I have lost hope.’ ‘What am I doing wrong?’

They sign their messages, ‘I am the 99%’.

You will not get through all of the stories. As I write, there are 185 pages of them. Yet the message of the site is immediately clear: while our society’s richest one per cent enjoys a hugely disproportionate share of wealth and income, the economy has left the vast majority of us behind.

The majority has had enough.

Conservatives say that those protesting Wall Street are just complaining. Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain tells them, ‘Get a job’.

As a response to the movement’s website, rightwingers have made a blog called ‘We are the 53 per cent’. It is based on the misleading notion that since only around half of Americans pay federal income taxes, the rest are freeloading. (In fact, even those not subject to federal taxes on income nevertheless pay state and local taxes, gas and excise taxes, plus mandatory contributions for Medicare and Social Security.)

The ‘53 per cent’ stories are testimonials to dogged determination. One man, a father of a five-month-old, expresses pride in working 70-hour weeks in an effort to pay $100,000 in student loans. ‘I will be responsible for my own success through character and hard work,’ he writes. Another story that has gained notoriety reads: ‘I am a former Marine. I work two jobs. I don’t have health insurance… I haven’t had four consecutive days off in over four years. But I don’t blame Wall Street. Suck it up, you whiners.’

These stories only reinforce the message of the occupations. For if you’re working nearly all of your waking hours, we think you deserve healthcare. We want you to be free of crippling debt. In fact, we want these things for those who work 40 hours per week. We believe a just society should allow you to spend time with your children.

In large part, the difference between the two blogs is not the description of our economic plight. It’s whether individuals have recognized their personal struggles as part of something larger.

Those who have joined the #Occupy movement are not whining. They are drawing strength from shared experience. They are laying bare the failure of a system. And they are doing something to change it.

Their signature is not merely a denunciation of economic inequality. It is an assertion of a solution: true democracy and collective action. It is a statement of power. We are the 99 per cent.

Mark Engler is a senior analyst with Foreign Policy In Focus and author of How to Rule the World: The Coming Battle Over the Global Economy (Nation Books, 2008). He can be reached via the website: DemocracyUprising.com.

Front cover of New Internationalist magazine, issue 448 This column was published in the December 2011 issue of New Internationalist. To read more, buy this issue or subscribe.

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  1. #1 diana 07 Dec 11

    I believe the president is really trying his best, when up against a wall due to lack of voting during mid~terms. If only all would get on board with growing America.. A house divided will fall in on itself, PLEASE START WORKING TOGETHER for the good of the country.. I'm among the lower 50%..

  2. #2 DannyStar 08 Dec 11

    Cant really care about the 99% when 98% of them support Israels state murder and US occupation and bullying of non-nuclear powers, the quicker their economy implodes the better for the rest of the world!

  3. #3 Christine Cooney 22 Dec 11

    It's not all about unemployment. I'm sick ofpoliticians who stop progress because it's not in the interest of their side of the party! This ’do nothing and make the president look bad’ Congress has to be ousted.

  4. #4 calaverasgrandes 22 Dec 11

    please dont repeat that mindless nonsense about income tax. Everyone that works pays income tax. Those of us that are essentially below the poverty line get a worry free tax refund. Then there are those that through various credits, rebates and loopholes reduce their tax burden and can approach zero, or a refund.
    If the GOP and their friends the Dems want to talk about who didnt pay taxes just talk to the major us oil companies that through subsidies and tax credits paid no tax while raking in the highest profits they have ever seen.
    I do not understand why oil companies need tax credits or loopholes. It isn't as if they are going to pull up stakes and leave one of the most lucrative petroleum markets in the world. They should be taxed until they are barely solvent!

  5. #5 Millionaire 22 Dec 11

    #occupy a job

  6. #6 Jed Marum 22 Dec 11

    I looked it up. It's an effing lie!

  7. #7 cesar balbin 22 Dec 11

    Are you really this ignorant?

    I need an assitant but cannot easily find and honest one. It is hard.

    Most people I know who loose their job and take anything that comes eventually get on their feet again. But those who try to work the system and demand from it get stuck.

    99% of people in the US are not poor. Most people in the US do very well.

    It is not the 1% alone that does bad things. A sign I saw at occupy sums it best: SHEEP RUN BY WOLVES OWNED BY PIGS. If it was not for the Wolves, many pigs would not get their way. And all owners are not Pigs but many of the 99% if given the chance turn to wolves.

  8. #8 Sire H 22 Dec 11

    Realized yet that our 'two-party system' really consists of one party- the party of the individuals most willing to stain their pocketbooks with the blood of the vulnerable- which simply owns politicians of greater and lesser extremes? Stop being played by it! Vote Rocky Anderson 2012!

    Seriously, I encourage you to look up the Justice Party USA, our newest political party, and Rocky Anderson, who is running for president as a part of the Justice Party. Just type it in to your little search bar up there. Get the money out of politics; we don't need our politicians to be selected and bought by the wealthy any more. Also, hold the individuals in our government, military, and on Wall Street accountable for their actions!

    Most of our democrats have become conservatives, and most of our republicans have become fascists, if my understanding of fascism is correct. They're all batting for the same team in the end, however. They don't represent the American people anymore, they represent the corporations that pay them. Look what they've done to our country together! Vote them out! Justice Party USA!

  9. #9 Greedisnotgood 22 Dec 11

    What the hell is wrong with you conservative/back the rich people? You want to live like animals. You want to live by domination through killing each other? We are humans. We think. We have laws. We help each other. Yes, you can meek out a living working 3-5 jobs working 70+ hours to gamble that somehow you'll pull ahead through insane work, luck and kicking others down to someday be rich enough to afford your own personal doctor, abuse loop holes to not pay taxes and live off the majority of other people working to barely get by. But, why? You go live your hell world Mr. and Miss. Pull yourself up by the bootstraps no whiners. We won't. We're going to topple your world. The elitist rich will not get their entitlements. They don't get to control us. They and you masochists don't get to mandate the world. The rich and you don't get to decide what the world will be. By the way, live by your words and buck up and shut up. Go live your self abusive lives and stop whining about the Occupy Movement. Hypocrites.

  10. #10 GRC 23 Dec 11

    The misconception of the 53 percent is to think that the 99 percent does not want to work, and wants things for free. First of all, give your head a shake and ask, is it healthy and/or humane to have to work -as many of the 53 percent claim they do- two, three jobs just to make ends meet? Is it a healthy, just and fair society, where ANYONE has to work that much and STILL be one pay cheque away from bankruptcy?
    The other misconception is that 99 percent is lazy, do not work, want hand outs and live off the 53 percent. Well, take me. I am an Immigrant to this country (I live in Canada) and I came with one husband, three children under age five, and two suitcases, one filled with books, twenty five years ago. I worked hard, I paid my taxes, did not take free things. I got divorced, raised my children as a single parent, and still did not take free things. I went back to school, earned a degree and paid for my tuition myself. I saved -very modestly- for my retirement. I do not live in a tent, I do not drink, nor use any substance. I want to leave a word to my children and grandchildren where they do not have to work 90 or more hours a week, just to have more stuff, and fill the pockets of the 1 percent. I want to leave a word, where we spend money on education ,not war. I want to leave a word, where everyone, even the weak and the sick have the basic necessities. I want to leave the word a better place than when I came, not just for myself, not just for my family, not just for my neighbourhood, not just for my country, but for EVERYONE, EVERYWHERE: but, I'll settle if I can leave a word that is just, safe, fair and liveable for 99 percent. I am the 99 percent.

  11. #11 one angry girl 27 Dec 11

    Republicans say if you work hard you'll get ahead. By that logic all those people with three jobs should be millionaires.
    BTW, how many hours a week does a CEO work? Does he ever lift anything heavier than a briefcase? Why is his work considered ’harder’ than a migrant laborer picking tomatoes?

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This article was originally published in issue 448

New Internationalist Magazine issue 448
Issue 448

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