One of the claims by the right-wing media about the Occupy movement is that they’re vague, e.g. they don’t know what they’re fighting for. I find this meme interesting in that it attacks the Occupy movement’s strength — the fact that the issues are so widespread and so palpable that you have to be in that 1% of advantaged folks to miss the point.
A caveat first — I think the “We Are the 99%” meme is inaccurate, slightly. Only slightly. While people in the 10th percentile are significantly disadvantaged compared to that top first percentile, they are significantly advantaged compared to the bottom 90%. I’m okay with the 90-to-99%ers joining the movement as long as they understand they’re not fighting for a bigger slice of the pie necessarily for themselves, but for the people under them, because that top 1% is getting very nearly all of it. The main problem is that the government’s actual constituents are not the majority of people, but a tiny minority of them who already have most of the money and power in society — the CEOs of corporations, the investment bankers, the people who use money to make money instead of working for it, the people who can afford a senator or two in their pockets.
There are some excellent charts at Business Insider that show the financial situation that has destabilized the economy, and provided the fertile grounds for people to want to retake power from the oligarchy that’s in place now. Nothing vague about the situation.
An insightful analysis of the words used in the “We Are the 99%” tumblr reveals that the 99%ers are not shiftless layabouts — they almost uniformly work multiple jobs, except those that can’t find jobs, and they still can’t dig their way out of the mountains of debt that medical problems or education has piled onto them. They basically show that the only people who can get by in this economy are the people able to work 120 hrs a week. Nothing vague about the individuals’ stories.
There are a number of myths that have been built by long decades of fetishization of capitalism, and many of these myths are being directly confronted. As skeptics, it is our business to bust myths. As humans, it is our business to help one another. Busting these myths helps right the listing that the political discourse has taken, which those in power have caused in order to maintain that power. Nothing vague about the way we’re busting myths.
The laws being used to stifle the Occupy movement are Draconian and arcane, intended to facilitate protest-busting. The world is watching, and the tactics used by the establishment to squelch the movement’s dissent is being exposed to daylight. Nothing vague about exposing the unfair laws used by the powerful to maintain power, by making them use those laws while everyone’s looking.
The demonstrable increases in income inequality in graphs adjusted to current dollars is clear — this is the source of the embedded image above. Payroll tax has gone up, corporate tax has gone down. CEO pay has gone up, worker pay has stagnated. Minimum wage has gone down even while overall wealth has increased, so the rich capture all of the profits. Nothing vague about these numbers.
And even where the exact numbers are in dispute in the circulated information, the truth is not much better. Where the average CEO makes between 185 and 315 times the average worker in the States, as compared to eminently productive Japan where the average CEO only makes eleven times the average worker, one can clearly see the disparity. It’s not quite the “437 times the average worker” claimed in some bumper stickers, but it’s along the same lines of saying that the average nuclear bomb can only destroy a city, not a county. It’s not like the fallout isn’t going to hurt everyone around. And there’s nothing vague about those numbers showing how impossible it is to achieve the American Dream.
The American Dream is that when you work hard, you’re rewarded for your efforts and can achieve great riches. And yet, looking at the historical data of who captures those riches, you’re hard-pressed to see anything but stagnation for the bottom 90% of people. Almost all the increase in wealth goes to the top percentages, always. And it wasn’t always like that. If you set the bars so you’re looking at 1979-2008, all of the increase in wealth was captured by the top 10%, 3/5ths of it going to the top 1%. The bottom 90% actually declined. Prior to that, from 1919 to 1979, the bottom 90% shared 69% of the growth in wealth. That’s despite the Great Depression, two World Wars and Vietnam. And even if this is more equal, this is still 90% of the people sharing less than 90% of the increase in wealth. Not 90% of the WEALTH, like some might accuse us of wanting — 90% of the INCREASE in wealth. This is not vague, it’s damned obvious. We wouldn’t be in the bottom 90% if everyone had the same salary and everyone got raised equally. With every dollar captured by the market, with every increase in the country’s overall richness, the income disparity grows, and the underclasses get closer and closer to insolvency regardless of how much work they do.
It’s a far cry from what people think is happening, that a rising tide lifts all boats. It doesn’t lift them all equally. When the strain of productivity is put on the majority of the boats, they’re weighed down, and many or most of them are now completely underwater. The 99% movement and the Occupy Wall Street movement are desperately fighting to stay afloat. That’s all they’re asking — not to have a super-yacht, not to get by on no work by boarding the rich folks’ yachts. Just to be able to stay afloat without having to bail out their meager dinghys constantly. To have the holes shot into their boats by the super-rich plugged up. To have the anchors tied to their boats released.
So they can live with some dignity, above the water.
Where you can breathe.