Blog #12 – We Are the 99% – The Slogan and the Reality


Blog #12 – “We Are the 99%” – The Slogan and the Reality­­

A.     Structure of the Argument.


This is the first of a set of blogs dealing with the Occupy Wall Street movement and the Right to the City Alliances, as representative of the 99%, who is in them and who in the 1%, why historically they have arisen now, how they have changed since their beginnings, and what their future demands and strategic possibilities and dangers might be.


They are divided as follows:


Blog #12 – We Are the 99%: The Slogan and the Reality

Blog #13 – Who are the 99%? The Exploited, the Discontented, the Oppressed

Blog #14 − Who is the 1%? The Ruling Class and the Tea Party

Blog #15 – The Right to the City and Occupy: History and Evolution

The Death and Life of the Right to the City Movement

The Four Faces of the Occupy Movement

Blog #16 – The Future: Transformative Demands, Transformative Strategies


Blog #12 provides a detailed Table of Contents.


THE ENTIRE ARGUMENT IS TOGETHER IN BLOG #17, WHICH CONTAINS THE ENTIRE FIVE BLOGS.  The only difference is that footnotes in the five blogs are endnotes in blog #17, and page references are accurate in Blog #17. The argument is presented both ways only for possible convenience in down-loading (and my uncertainty on the best way to use a bog!).






B.      Table of Contents (ignore page numbers; they are correct in Blog #17)


Blog #12 – “We Are the 99%” – The Slogan and the Reality. 1

A.             Structure of the Argument. 1

B.              Table of Contents. 2

C.        The value of the 99%/1% formulation. 3


Blog #13 – Who are the 99%? The Exploited, the Discontented, the Oppressed. 6

A.             The directly exploited, (labor +). 7

B.              The discontented (Occupy +). 9

C.              The oppressed (Right to the City Alliance +). 10

D.             The commonality of the 99%. 12

Blog #14 Who is the 1%? The Ruling Class and the tea parties. 13

A.        How is the 1% defined?. 13

B.        The Tea Party and the 1%.. 15


Blog #15 – The Right to the City and Occupy: History and Evolution. 22

A.             History: Rise, Defeat, and New Life of the Resistance Movements. 22

B.              The Death and Life of the Right to the City Movement 26

1.       Right to the City One: The ideological concept. 26

2.       Right to the City Two: the liberal version. 28

3.       Right to the City Three: Alliance on Individual Issues. 29

4.       The Future: The Dangers Ahead. 31

C.              The Four Faces of the Occupy Movement 31

1.       Occupy One: Class Targeted Discourse. 32

2.       Occupy Two: Physically Taking Over Spaces. 32

3.       Occupy Three: An Umbrella Function. 32

4.       Occupy Four: Occupy as Process. 33

5.       The future: The Dangers Ahead. 33


Blog #16 – The Future: Strategic Implications. 34

A.             Transformation. 34

B.              Concrete Individual Demands, but Aimed at the Whole. 37

C.              Unity: The Right to Occupy the City. 40

D.             Transformative education, ideology: culture. 40

E.              Ideology and Values. 40

F.              Patience for the Long Haul 43

G.             Transformative Strategies. 44

1.       Recognizing Practical Minority status. 44

5.       Direct Action. 45

6.       Illegal disruption: e.g. occupying Wall Street offices. 45

7.       Spaces of hope: Model-Building. 46

8.       The solidarity economy. 46

9.       Building coalitions, then alliances, around consistent demand. 47

10.    Winning over those with inconsistent demands, including the tea party. 48

11.     Taking advantage of weaknesses and contradictions within the 1%. 48

12.      “Occupy” does not mean Fetishizing Space. 49

13.        Electoral Strategies.. 50


C. The value of the 99%/1% formulation.


The purpose of this discussion is both theoretical and practical. It is based on the assumption that there is much wrong in the world: poverty, social injustice, insecurity, and discontent, that these problems are produced by specific social arrangements, and that social action is required to change specific aspects of these arrangements. . Further, that such social action will require a rallying of the forces adversely affected by the problems, that they will meet with opposition from the forces benefiting from  them, and that therefore a clear understanding of who is on what side, today and potentially, and why, is useful in supporting the forces for change.


I further take Occupy Wall Street and movements such as the Right to the City to be in the forefront of movements for change in the United States today,[1] and the analysis of their strengths and potentials to be helpful in maximizing the impact for the better.


Along the way, I believe the historical evolution of these two groupings, and their theoretical basis, will illuminate the current issues they face.


The linked rallying cries of the two movements have resonated widely:


We are the 99%

Occupy (Wall Street)[2]

The Right to the City


As slogans or rallying cries, they make intuitive sense, and analytically, they reflect a critical reality: that a very small proportion of humanity has wealth and power that by rights should belong to and be exercised by the vast majority and that the vast majority are injured by this arrangement.. The inequality which the slogan accurately reflects evokes a strong sense of injustice, and calls for resistance to the reality thus described.


The 99%/1% formulation already in itself makes a key point, which has nothing to do with the particular numbers used. It divides residents into two camps. And it suggests that the actions of the one have to do with the condition of the other. It is not some arbitrary line or demographic characteristics that separate the two parts: It is the action of the 1% that creates the conditions from which the 99% suffer, and the subservience of the 99% that permits the 1% to live as they live. That may seem intuitively obvious, but it is hardly the guiding view of vast amounts of scholarly writing and media talk.


The dividing line between the 1% and the 99% is not any of the many used to calculate numbers or percentages, or provide some quantitative definition. It is not: do they have more or less than a high school education, or are they black or are they white, or are they elderly or are they in the prime of life, or are they manual workers or white color workers, do they work in hi-tech occupations or on an assembly line, are they in export-oriented industries or are they in ones threatened by imports –although all of these factors are relevant also. But they do not provide an explanation, and certainly not a justification, for the inequalities in economic or social or residential or health condition to which the 99%/1% has called such dramatic attention.


Certainly hedge fund managers are by and large better educated than street sweepers, workers in prospering industries more secure than workers in shrinking ones. Residents in suburbs better off than residents of ghettos. That does not explain why the ones are paid more than the others, or have power over them. The inequality in income and status is entirely a function of societal arrangements. The average hedge fund manager works less hard physically, enjoys his (generally his) work more, lives longer, is better positioned to appreciate high culture, than the average health care aide or street-sweeper is.


Why? Would it not be fairer if the one that did the harder and dirtier and more tiring – and more socially necessary? – work than the other aide were paid more  than the other, the sweeper and the aide paid more than the hedge fund manager?


A least the question should be asked, and the answer considered in the shaping of societies’ social arrangements. It is not asked, because the 1% (symbolically) is entrenched in power, and the 99% have it not.


The 99%/1% formulation can however use some closer analysis. It is clearly meant symbolically, not as the quantitative analysis of the real situation. But it is problematic for one reason, and correct and extremely useful for a second.  It is problematic because both the 1% and the 99% are arbitrary numbers composed of very many and differing types of individuals and groups, so differentiated as to make the “them” of the 1% and the  “we” of the “we are the 99%”  very cloudy concepts.


But 1%/99% is also correct, if properly understood, and extremely important. I take the 1% as being understood to be the holders of power and accumulators of wealth in the society, and of which Wall Street is only a part (more on this below). I take the 99% as understood to be the large majority of the population adversely affected by the actions of the 1%, a majority of which the Occupy and Right to the City movements are a small part, although striving to represent all. This is what Arundhati Roy means when she says, “we are many, and they are few,” a tremendously important statement both morally and practically.


But if it were literally true that the opposition to the position of the 1% constituted 99% of the population, then even in the restricted democracies we have in most of the world the distribution of power would be quite different. I elsewhere suggested, purely to make a point, that the active part of the 99%, those protesting in the two movements mentioned and their active supporters, constitute perhaps .5% and 15% of the population of the United States (see Blog #2[3]). There’s a long way to go before they are even passively joined by even 51%. As we are reminded every July 4th in the United States of what was already understood in 1776:


…all experience hath shewn, than mankind are more disposed to suffer while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they re accustomed.


But [we are also told] when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.


Clarity as to who the 99% are (and who the 1%), and what the absolute despotism of the profit-driven market can lead to, is not simply an academic exercise, in the pejorative sense of that term. It has practical, strategic importance. If the goal is resistance and change in the direction of greater justice and a society promoting fuller and richer human development possibilities for all, then just who can be expected to be on which side in the inevitable struggles that will and are taking place becomes of critical importance. From whom can reliable support be expected? Who may take leadership in efforts at resistance? Under what circumstances will what groups join in the resistance, when and why will they stay outside of it?


In what follows, “99%” will be used to denote the totality of the potential components of the 99%, rather than a quantitative statement of its active members.

Only a small portion of the 99% are active: the protestors and their engaged supporters are perhaps only the 15.5% of Blog #2, hoping to represent the other 83.5% of the population. Sometimes, in this discussion, where the meaning is not clear, where the entire potential full 99% as above understood is meant, it will be referred to as the “broad 99%,” as opposed to “the active 99%.

[1] That is, within the United States, Europe, and Japan, not necessarily in the rest of the world, where, just for instance,  the relative role of exploitation, and its aspect of colonization, past and present, would result in the three components of resistance having different relative weight, exploitation and oppression more, discontent less, but all three more or less present.

[2] “Occupy” is used in a wide variety of different settings;  for instance,  Occupy the University, Occupy the Economy (Wolff), Occupy Philadelphia, Occupy Racism (Hartman) I take it generally to be readable as “take militant action to transform xxx”

[3]It is my initial attempt to play with a quantitative approach see “Blog #2. Perspective on Occupy: Occupiers, Sympathizers, and Antagonists “at They are clearly not intended to be an empirically based numbers!

Author: pmarcuse

Just starting this blog, for short pieces on current issues. Suggestions for improvement, via e-mail, very welcome.

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