Time to Retire the 99 Percent

occupied wall street journalEliminating the ‘99%’ Can Lead to a Better Message for Social Justice

It’s time to retire the 99 percent. Not the people, but the slogan that identifies the Occupy Movement.

“We’re the 99 percent” slogan focused upon two completely different groups of people.

The 99 percent are the masses, the impoverished, the disenfranchised, the middle class; the 1 percent refers to the concentration of wealth in the top one percent of the population and in the dominance of large corporate and global financial systems.

The Movement, following the Arab Spring, began in the late summer of 2011 with the Occupy Wall Street protest. Central to the Movement, which quickly expanded into more than 500 American cities and 82 countries, was a call for social and economic justice.

During the 2007 Great Recession, the accumulated wealth of the 1 percent decreased significantly less than the wealth of the 99 percent, large numbers of whom first became unemployed and then homeless because of the tactics of greed led by the financial empires.

Within the 1 percent are CEOs and executives of the banking industry that willingly took government bailout funds, and then used some of that money to give six and seven figure bonuses.

The 1 percent includes Ina R. Drew, chief investment officer for JPMorgan Chase, which lost $2 billion in funds through misguided investment policies. Drew, one of Wall Street’s power players—and widely recognized as one of the more brilliant financial managers—earned about $14 million in salary. Jamie Dimon, in a stockholder meeting this past week, humbled by the huge loss, told stockholders, “This should never have happened. I can’t justify it. Unfortunately, these mistakes were self-inflicted.” But, Dimon, both the chief executive officer and the chairman of the board, kept his job and its $23 million salary.

The 1 percent also includes Mitt Romney, who earned about $21 million in 2010, and has a net worth of about $230 million, according to Forbes, but hasn’t filed his 2011 taxes. Somehow, he wants the people to believe he will bring the nation out of the depths of the Great Recession, but needs an extension to file his own taxes.

The 1 percent also includes right-wing celebrity mouth Rush Limbaugh, who is in the middle of an eight year $400 million contract that allows him to spew lies, hate, and venom at anyone who doesn’t agree with his ultra-conservative philosophy, which includes Occupiers and just about anyone with a social, environmental, and economic conscience.

The 1 percent includes Sarah Palin, once an obscure politician who now has a net worth of about $14 million, most of it the result of her participation in the mainstream media, which she claims she despises.

The 1 percent includes the Kardashian Sisters whose souls are wrapped in self-adulation, and who are worshipped by millions who have enhanced their importance by watching reality shows and reading vapid celebrity “tell-all” newspapers and magazines.

But the 1 percent also includes billionaire Warren Buffet, who is leading a movement to reduce tax loopholes and increase taxes on the rich, while improving the tax structure for the 99 percent.

The 1 percent includes Bill and Melissa Gates who are spending most of their fortune to improve the education and health of people throughout the world.

walter braschThe 1 percent includes George Clooney, who has been at the forefront of the fight for justice in Darfur, whose citizens have been the victims of genocide by the Sudanese government.

The 1 percent includes Angelina Jolie who is Special Envoy for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and who has put her money and time into helping the world’s children.

The 1 percent includes Ed Asner, Bono, Mike Farrell, Bette Midler, Sean Penn, Rob Reiner, Tim Robbins, Susan Sarandon, Barbra Streisand, and thousands of other millionaire celebrities who have willingly put their reputations and money on the line to fight for the important social, economic, and political causes that should be the ones that define America as a land of freedom and opportunity, and which would be supported by most of the nation’s Founding Fathers.

In contrast, the 99 percent isn’t composed solely of the victims of the 1 percent. Millions are as uncaring, as greedy, as self-centered as some of those in the 1 percent. Millions are racist, sexist, homophobic, and anti-Semitic. Millions follow Tea Party philosophies that selfishly place the health and welfare of the people secondary to a belief that cutting spending, except for the military, will solve all problems. It is a philosophy that, if left unchallenged, would force even greater misery to the American Middle Class and underclass, and lead to destroying the balance of nature and the environment.

walter brasch“We are the 99 percent” slogan, coupled with non-violent protest in the face of several violent police incidents, had served the Movement well, but its time is over. The Movement can no longer be an “us versus them” philosophy that has become divisive. It must now migrate to one that includes all people who are willing to fight for social, political, and economic justice in the Army of Conscience.

Walter Brasch

Walter Brasch—as writer and activist—has been a part of the movement for social, political, and economic justice for more than four decades. His current book is the critically-acclaimed novel, Before the First Snow, the story of an activist and her relationship with a journalist from 1964 to 1991, the eve of the Persian Gulf War.

Posted: Thursday, 17 May 2012


  1. Guest says

    The 99% of people in unions get to retire including all government employees.    Those that work in small businesses don’t get that perk or all the other perks that government employees get.     

  2. says

    Lauren Steiner stated it extremely well.  Occupy Torrance  has a weekly 2-hour vigil.  In that time period, about 50,000 cars pass us Northbound on Hawthorne Blvd. We hold up various placards, and “Honk  for the 99%” and “Honk if you can’t afford a lobbyist” get lots of honks!  We’ll stick with what works for us, and take it from here.

  3. Linda says

    I think 99 percent works just fine. We all know who we’re talking about. Best of all, it’s having an impact and Americans are finally starting to get it.

  4. says

    An excellent article, Walter, but I wish you’d ended with a strident call for someone (since you don’t appear ready to do so) to create the next slogan and campaign, and to re-motivate the existing groundswell of activism toward your inclusive vision.  When I march with Occupy and carry banners for the 99%, I always thank the cops for protecting us from the fascists hovering in the shadows.  At banks, I point out to the highest management I can contact that our beef is not directly with any employee at that branch, but with the apex of their pyramid, and that they have cause to be just as angry at the Plutarchs as we picketers are.  I am eager to point out genuinely good deeds by corporations like Starbucks, on those few occasions they occur, and I share your concern that our movement tends to engage in classism and generalities to the detriment of rational, productive discourse.  Let’s all remember that we really are all in this together– this humanity thing.  Now who is going to step up and carry this flag a little farther down the field?

  5. says

    I don’t agree.  The slogan has been too effective.  The 1% really isn’t even the 1% but the .001% who control everything.  The categories and who make up the categories are not the point.  The point is any effective movement needs an enemy.  The enemy is the tiny few who benefit at the expense of the many.  It’s worked well so far.  I wouldn’t throw it out.  

    P.S.  A lot of these celebrities just pay lip services to these causes anyway.  Yeah, some donate their time.  But how many donate their money?  And many of those celebrities you mentioned financially support Barack Obama who’s failure to break up the big banks and assure that his tepid Dodd Frank regulations actually get implemented show whose side he’s on.  Finally, not everything the Gates Foundation does is positive.  Among other nefarious things, they fund the private charter school movement which is responsible for the destruction of good public education for the 99%.

    • Alan8 says

      I agree with you: “1%” is a METAPHOR, not a literal definition!

      It clearly identifies the enemies, who are making life more miserable for the 99%.  It’s a great definition, and I suspect the motives of the author, who appears to be trying to take the wind out of Occupy’s sails.

      The actors cited aren’t representative of the 1% at all; they don’t exploit workers’ labor for profit or contribute to fascist organizations, like ALEC.  The author uses the fact that they earned a lot of money through their talents to muddy the water about WHO the enemy is.

      I haven’t read anything else by this author, but this article seems to be serving the interests of the 1%, who want to discredit and dismiss the Occupy Movement any way they can.

      • walter Brasch says

        You might wish to stop making real dumb statements w/o knowing the facts. But, facts don’t seem to be a part of the rhetoric of the Tea Party or the militant left. (Of which I am still a part).  Apparently, anyone not speaking the way you want is dismissed as a subversive. But, let’s just start with your belief that the cited actors aren’t representative. READ the column. These are examples. MOST people in the arts I know have been generous in time and money to social causes–even if some are conservatives helping conservative causes. Now for a reality check–you don’t advance society and social justice by making it an “us v. them” situation, with the “enemy.” It’s easy to set up enemies as strawmen; it’s harder to move an agenda to bring social, racial, and economic justice to the people. The 1% is just a strawman to make everyone tbhink they are part of the 99%–they aren’t. There’s just as much greed and lack of social justice among 99% as the 1%. March for justice; define goals. And work for those goals. But, don’t blame people for being subversive because they don’t agree like you.

        • Alan8 says

          Is there a point anywhere in that rant?

          The 99% movement has been the most wildly successful INTERNATIONAL movement against the oppression by the wealthy in DECADES.

          Yet the author concludes that “… its time is over.”, a sentiment that most of the 1% would appreciate.

          Walter: “you don’t advance society and social justice by making it an “us v. them” situation, with the “enemy.””

          B.S.  It IS an “us vs. them” situation with a very powerful, amoral enemy: The 1%.  And focus on a common enemy was a powerful uniting factor in the civil-rights and union movements, to name a few.

          People around the world are starting to realize the enemy isn’t other people with a different race, language, country, or religion: It’s the 1%!  This is powerful!

          If someone speaks for the enemy, they’ll be considered the enemy.

    • walter Brasch says

      Just an observation. While there are some problems with the President’s administration, your argument about celebs supporting Obama doesn’t ring true. Look at the greater picture, success v. failure and causes for failure. The left barking at the President has become more annoyance than anything else–don’t support him and get Romney. the Prtesident may not be all we want, but until a liberal comes along to be that most perfect person, we take the best we have available, and it sure isn’t anyone who’s been in the lead for the Repub. nomination

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