The language of the 99 Percent

REUTERS/Jessica Rinaldi

Brian Stelter has a piece in the New York Times today about language and the Occupy Movement.

I was among those interviewed for the article.

Within weeks of the first encampment in Zuccotti Park in New York, politicians seized on the phrase. Democrats in Congress began to invoke the “99 percent” to press for passage of President Obama’s jobs act — but also to pursue action on mine safety, Internet access rules and voter identification laws, among others. Republicans pushed back, accusing protesters and their supporters of class warfare; Newt Gingrich this week called the “concept of the 99 and the one” both divisive and “un-American.”

Perhaps most important for the movement, there was a sevenfold increase in Google searches for the term “99 percent” between September and October and a spike in news stories about income inequality throughout the fall, heaping attention on the issues raised by activists.

“The ‘99 percent,’ and the ‘one percent,’ too, are part of our vocabulary now,” said Judith Stein, a professor of history at the City University of New York.

Read the rest.


  1. Newt’s right. Our masses ignoring the fetid hills of bullshit about America’s supposed classlessness is historically unAmerican.

    Pointing out that his mouth is directly attached to the steer’s rear putting him in the bovine intestinal slush supply chain is probably unAmerican too.

      1. The Human Centipede as dissemination of political power analysis. Interesting. (I haven’t seen the movie proper but know of it from South Park)

  2. Note to Newt:  pointing out that something is divisive and un-American doesn’t make the person pointing it out divisive and un-American.  That thing still exists even if you pretend it isn’t there.

    1. More broadly, in a country where Free Speech is protected and listed first among all rights of the citizens, how could any idea really be labelled “un-American”?  Even the phrase “America Sucks!” will invoke a response in the listener to ask for clarification “I agree, but which part are you talking about right now?”, which would then go on about some part of the State, the police, the stoopids, the culture or something else specifically.  Even then, this isn’t “un-American”.

      For a presidential candidate to throw around terms like “un-American”, especially from Dr Gingrich the History Professor, is highly suspect.  Either he’s pandering to the base (low) conservatives, or he’s truly a McCarthyist.   Either way, he won’t get my vote.

  3. “occupying or passing into the “lexicon” is a sign of death:”being” exchanged for the dead letter— remember the difference between langue and parole. Being in, or occupying, the dictionary/lexicon is as non threatening and safe as being in the museum. It’s a nice historical anecdote and good for the personal CV or resume, and Ph.D. dissertations, but deadly for a political movement. NYT: past tense smear campaign, sums OWS to continue to sell papers–the nice message without the scary “messengers”, like we’re “dead”. But  ha ha. Here’s where it’s clear, the mainstream media 1 % gatekeepers know nothing about resurrection, let alone insurrection! Occupy takes back the town square, the public space, accessible to all. Public space is, ironically,  a metaphor for the very notion of the public, the 99%, public participation. We can’t let the militarization of America, whether it is through the police or simply the military, stop the movement towards reopening and revitalizing the reality of public space. Different strategies, yes, perhaps, of course, we cannot win over sheer force of law in the form of police, but we cannot lie down in the grave of nostalgia either. This article is toxic! So, let’s CARRY ON, we are not GONE!

  4. Y’know, it’s funny, Gingrich suddenly thinks the concept of the 99% and the 1% is “divisive” but I haven’t heard a lot about how “un-American” it is every time a politician talks about “taking back America.”  Taking it back from whom?  Were we invaded while I wasn’t looking?

    1. Actually, ‘Taking back America’ could be the next OWS rallying cry. As in taking it back from the 1%.

  5. Did I just read a post-mortem of the Occupy Movement? Um, this is going to sound stupid, but I live in South America and even though I read BB every day, and followed and re-posted about the police brutality, I didn’t know ALL the major places (except Boston?) were emptied out.  WTF? Did everyone just go home? Did they (hopefully) go straight to DC and start Occupying there?  Someone please tell me what’s happening up there.  

    1. Many of the major encampments have been evicted, but you can’t evict an idea. Occupiers are still very active even in those areas.

      As far as DC is concerned, there’s been an Occupy DC in place since not very long after Occupy Wall Street started, and the National Park Service has been pretty cooperative … so far.

      1. Thanks.  Though from a political perspective, I’m not sure I agree.  I think ‘out of sight, out of mind’ will take effect shortly.  Plus, the rest of the 99% who aren’t protesting are watching and now see that we lost.  “They” got us to shut up and go home.  Didn’t I read that a NYC judge ruled the eviction illegal? As for DC, I meant all the evicted protesters going to DC, then, not if they have a camp there.  Please tell me that people are following up with this fight.  

    2. Nothing is happening. The weather got bad and priorities took over. It wasn’t much to begin with so you can rest easily now.  The “rest” of the 80% are still getting up and going to work and taking care of business. Pay no attention to those children in their tents.
      91% of Americans are working, 5% are unemployable.  Move along.

  6. It is interesting to note that dear Newtie was the Speaker when the first major cut on the Capital Gains tax occured, which started the ball rolling for Investment Income Tax Avoidance/Prevention, in a big way. The legacy can be seen in all the CEO’s who like to brag about their $1/year salaries, when they receive millions on stock options that, when exercised, are now only taxable at 15% rather than the 30-35% us Wage Slaves pay. Slick deal. Now if the GOP could indeed get the Estate Tax removed, then all those Investment Banker/Major Co. CEO’s could lock up their family dynasty fortunes for decades to come!
    $$$ Uber Alles!

  7. The slogan is catchy, but I’m not sure I understand who the top 1% are.   Are we looking at wealth? income? adjusted gross income? household income? household wealth? The top 1% that have access to the levers of government?  The top 1% in ability to have their voice heard?

    I imagine the four Editors of BoingBoing qualify as the top 1% on several of the metrics (based on the value of an ownership stake in BoingBiong and other ventures). Judging by their posts, it is interesting to see that their sympathies do not line up with those of their fellow one percent-ers.

    Personally, I do not generally begrudge those who have made their fortune through dint of hardwork, skill or even good fortune. What disgust me are those 1%ers that   manipulate the government to adjust the rules in their favor after they fail (as the banks have done with respect to the bailout).   Makes one wonder if we should be protesting the government rather than the bankers.

    1. You do not need to _begrudge_ anyone. People are not out to punish or steal from the “bad rich”, the point is that the system is out of whack in favor of those with high income, on account of those who do use their wealth manipulate the government, and it needs to be put right.  We need expect them to pay their fair share in the infrastructure, law and order, military protection, etc which make the US the best place in the world to be rich, and to support the same education, health, criminal justice and market infrastructures which likely allowed them to become rich in the first place so that even more people can become wealthy.

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