Being a member of the 99% is a powerful thing. In fact, according to the democratic foundations of Western society, it is one of the most powerful tools with which to effect change. In lands where majority rules, what could be greater than the 99%? (The 99.5%, surely, but that slogan just doesn’t resonate in quite the same way.) Beginning in New York City on September 17, 2011, (though Spain and Kuala Lumpur had similar Occupy demonstrations months before New York) the Occupy movement has expanded to 82 countries and hundreds of encampments around the world. While their specific complaints are sometimes difficult to pin down, what is obvious is the immense dissatisfaction with the current financial and political systems.
The media quickly spread the Occupy movement, aided by the technology-savvy occupiers, themselves, who utilized social networking sites such as Facebook, Flickr, and Twitter to promote their causes. As the media kept a running list of new locations, police interactions, hygiene, and deaths in encampments–and Facebook was inundated with images of one of the 99% posing with his or her particular grievance written out on a poster–the movement seemed primed to take on the world, or at least 1% of the world. However, in recent months the media’s attention has been co-opted by the antics of the Republican primaries, the modern-day Greek tragedy, and Syria’s spiral towards civil war, and the Occupy movement has seemingly had little to no effect on the systems it is so adamantly protesting against. Indeed, the very structure and values of the movement itself are a barrier to enacting change, as complete participatory democracy, while undoubtedly fair, can stymie action.
While the movement has spurred global discussion on wealth inequality, the world has seen no financial restructuring, and the Occupy movement is no longer front page news, much as they would like to be. However, while the Occupy movement may appear to have stagnated, little Occupy tendrils are shooting out and taking growth as individual, focused movements: Occupy Our Homes, Occupy the Ports, Occupy AIPAC, even Occupy Catan (referring to the fictitious board game island). While local victories are important, the Occupy movement calls for global change. The media has grown bored with the 99%–or at least the movement can’t compete with other breaking news–and many of the occupiers themselves have moved back into houses, gone back to work, and entered the world again, not as the 1%, but perhaps as one of the 50%.
However, media coverage aside, perceptions aside, and lack of global change aside, the 99% are here to stay (after all, even the top 50% (or at least 49% of them) are part of the 99%). Perhaps a spring awakening will enable a more focused, more effective 99%. Occupying the Occupy Movement in order to develop agendas, demands, and institutions may allow the movement to transcend its tent encampments, which have increasingly been shut down, and move on to genuine political action and the desired financial, social, and political overhauls. Indeed, when one looks beyond the media-inspired perception that the Occupy movement has no specific goals, one finds a multitude of demands: more equitable income distribution, increased employment opportunity, a lessening of corporate influence in politics, and less profit for banks. While the demands, once searched for, may be clear, the mechanisms to prioritize these demands and shift them to actual policy implementation could be further developed.
This post was originally written by Alison Singer for the Sustainable Prosperity Blog in March 2012.