An Open Letter to #OccupyWallStreet: You Are Not The 99%—But You Could Be – By @BlackCanseco

by Karoli on November 4, 2011 · 14 comments

Ed. Note: This post is by @BlackCanseco, a twitter friend. Follow him, please.

Dear Occupy Wall Street,

For 45 days and counting most of you have braved weather, media scrutiny, and lately, police opposition to boldly proclaim yourselves “The 99%” and stand up to the 1%. Just one problem: You are not the 99%. Not even close. You don’t speak for the masses of America.

As part of America’s 99%, allow me to explain:

According to the US Census Bureau, as of November 1, 2011 there are an estimated 312, 540,000 people in America.

Now given the perceived bias of corporate media and other forces possibly at play towards OWS, let’s go only by #OWS numbers for discussion. Based on info and estimates directly from #OWS participants that I’ve regularly spoken with from #OWS encampments in LA, Oakland, NYC, Chi, ATL, there are, at best, about 5,000 participants at any given time at any given #OWS encampment. But also for discussion’s sake, let’s assume that even these first-person anecdotal estimates are low—by half; let’s say that there’s actually about 10,000 OWS folk encamped/publically protesting in each of our 50 states. Or better yet, let’s again double the estimate and assume there’s 20,000 people in each state marching, sitting, camping out in the name of all movements, “Occupy”.

So 20,000 folk x 50 states is roughly 1 million people. That’s 1 million out of America’s population of 312 million-plus citizens. Folks, that’s not 99%. That’s not 9%. That’s not even 0.9%. In fact, 1 million out of 312 million is exactly .0032% of America’s current population as of this November. So yea… Zero Point Zero Zero Three Two… Percent. That’s what Occupy Wall Street really comes down to: Thirty-two thousands of a single percent of American people. But then again, “We’re the 32thousandthsOfAPercent!” doesn’t look as good as a URL or twitter handle. Definitely doesn’t look as sexy as “99%” does on a t-shirt, either.

In contrast, Apple just sold 4 million units of the iPhone 4S in its first week of release. Adele has sold over 2 million copies of “21,” her latest album so far. “The Mentalist”—a CBS show no one I know has ever watched and I’ve barely heard of and isn’t even in the Top Ten pulled over 12 million viewers for its most recent episode alone. Justin Bieber has 14 million followers on Twitter. Justin Effing Bieber has 140 times as many followers as @OccupyWallSt—the biggest official account dedicated to Occupy Wall Street (roughly 100K followers as of this writing). Hell, I’d be more accurate numbers-wise in calling American Idol’s voting base ‘The 99%’ than conceding that title to the #OWS movement.

Now to be fair, maybe my math is faulty. Maybe Occupy Wall Street’s participant numbers are bigger than anything I’ve seen online, bigger than anything being reported by the co-opted press, and bigger than anything I’ve seen live. But even if you doubled the most generous of accepted calculations a couple more times, one thing’s empirically certain:

A good 99% of the country isn’t out occupying anything beyond their own daily lives. And one big reason for that is OWS hasn’t engaged the actual 99% much at all.

There are 311 million people out here. WE are the real 99% and OWS has largely ignored us in favor of coalescing with each other and yelling at three comparably smaller albeit exponentially more influential groups—i.e. the Obama Admin (roughly 100 members deep) & The US Congress (about 538 deep) and “Wall Street” (a few thousand folks at best) about how you’ve finally had enough of all of them. It’s like the old 300 movie—a few noble souls vs. the savage gluttonous hordes backed by their foul masters. But lest we forget: The Spartans didn’t actually win it themselves. In fact—all other historical conflations aside—it wasn’t until an additional army of reinforcements joined the fight that the Spartans won.

So instead of camping outside of office buildings—where OWS’ presence has not altered, delayed or impeded one single business transaction—why not focus on the actual 99% out here? Why not hit up neighborhoods, churches, schools, townhalls, etc. and physically recruit the average American? Why not knock on your neighbor’s door and ask them to join OWS; and when they say “why?” make your case.

You’ll find that many of us agree with OWS. We want corruption out of politics. We want to feel like we’ve got a fair chance at a good job, a good living and a home. We want affordable healthcare along with an affordable comprehensive education. We want all these things and more. But most of us simply don’t know enough specifically what Occupy Wall Street is all about and want to learn more before we act. And of course some of us don’t support OWS and won’t no matter what you say or do.

But again OWS needs to make the case to us of how taking to the streets, camping in parks and out of random businesses that don’t have traditional retail models that would be threatened by mass demonstration will actually help accomplish anything?

Explain to those of us with jobs, who could get fired for participating in an Occupy Wall Street encampment why we should risk our livelihoods for OWS in its current incarnation.

Convince us.

And please: Don’t fall back on attacking those of us who aren’t cheerleading OWS movement or packing up our sleeping bags and drums. Stop accusing us of being conservative plants, TeaParty sympathizers, delusional Obamabots or too scared-lazy-to-act. Don’t play the George W. Bush trope of “You’re either with us or you’re against us”. Instead, see us for the intelligent, reasoned, equally human, and equally deserving citizens that you see yourselves as and make your case for gaining our support.

Personally, I just want some answers worthy of action. And again, OWS: at this point you are exponentially less than 1% of the US population. You need our support. But if you don’t value us enough to speak to us and engage us, then you are not us and will never be us. WE are the 99%. Not you, but US. So while you, the .0032% are claiming us, know that you don’t own us anymore that the 1% does.

So OWS, come talk to us. We, the 99%, are waiting.

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Jeremy Tanner November 4, 2011 at 8:44 am

Yep, your math is faulty.  1 million out of 312 million is .32%, not .0032%. Still a valid point though. 


2 shadows November 4, 2011 at 11:49 am

I’m sorry to disturb your beautiful dream but this is real time to wake up.
Comparing  #OWS with Apple’s or Bieber is absolutely ridiculous because #OWS sells nothing.
What you wrote is the most evident proof that you have been well educated to do and think as the best consumer of the year.Congratulations, you win a 20$ WallMart coupon to finance your next excavation !
 I’m not in #OWS and i’m not even living in that country that you still call “land of freedom” despite all the criminal shit that covers your everyday life  : shale gas, us troopers dying in foreign countries to protect financial interests, deepwater and it’s beautiful horizons, subprimes and so on… I could easily make that list last much longer but i’m sure you know what i mean.
I think #OWS is the story of people who are fed up with all this shit and who wants more justice, more rights, more humanity and sharing . This is the story of people who do not want anymore to be treated like sheeps . This is the story of people fed up with lies , fed up to battle only in  hopes to eat or to survive. And i don’t think counting people sitting in #OWS is a valuable calculation. In 2010, more than 46 millions of your citizens were considered as living in poverty (almost as much as citizens living in my country).  These could occupy the street tomorrow too. Because there would be nothing else to do except if you consider that starving of death in front of a KFC shop is a really good end.
Of course , you’re right some people can afford to #OWS because they’ll loose their jobs. This is the actual deal of your society : want more democracy ? want to protest in the street ? then get down in the street, but you will stay definitively there ! Obey or die, anyway you will shut up… So guess now how many are not counted in #ows but think exactly the same ?
You see, i’m not living in your country but i support #ows.  Because there’s not only one way to support real democracy. Because i am a human being and i’m not for sale. Because i want a better world for my children. Because i couldn’t afford staring down in silence if my kids would ask me “and what about me ?”. It’s not a question of pride, it’s just cause as every mother, i love them.
You see, it’s a question of choice. Red pill or blue pill… But remember…Choosing the blue pill brings you back to the eternal wonderland shit you’re dying for.

PS: You made a mistake… As long as your future is submitted to the good will of a few societies holding your life in their hands, you’re a slave. And so…you belong to the 99%. Thank you for your attention.

3 Stephen Downes November 4, 2011 at 12:48 pm

When the OWS people say ‘we’ they do not mean it in the sense of ‘we who are camped out’ but rather ‘we’ as in ‘we who are not among the financial elite’. When they say ‘we are the 99 percent’ what they are saying is that there is a small group of people – the one percent – who own most of the economy, and then there’s the rest of us.

The OWS people are the social equivalent of somebody running through the halls clanging on a lid and yelling that the building is on fire. He doesn’t want everyone else to start clanging lids, he wants them to get out of the building. It’s not a question of how much people ‘support’ him, he’s sounding the alarm. When he says ‘we are in danger’ he means not simply the ‘we’ who are clanging on lids, but everybody in the building.

OWS isn’t a political entity. It doesn’t need your support. It’s sounding an alarm. Whether you heed it is up to you, and you ar the one who will gain or suffer as a result of your actions. Not them.

Having said that, the numbers are quite stark and should be as convincing as a smoke-filled room to anyone. A very small percentage of the people own most of the economy. And while they have become exponentially richer over the years, the rest of us have lost ground. And moreover, these rich are acting in ways that will make the poorer even more so, by using up the environment, eroding political and economic rights, and entrenching corporate power.

OWS isn’t about solutions. That said, when asked, a few things have been discussed. Among these:

- an end to corporate personhood, which would make corporate owners responsible for the debts (including, for example, pension plans that have simply ‘evaporated’) and legal liabilities (eg. the costs of environmental harm) caused by corporations. Because as it stands now, corporations constitute the archetypical ‘tragedy of the commons’, with nobody stepping forward to take responsibility for their excesses.

- a small tax – on the order of 0.04 percent – on financial transactions. This would on the one hand result in the financial community giving contributing *something* to government, and on the other hand would create a little bit of friction on financial transactions, making it much more difficult for huge investors to profit by holding national economies (such as Thailand in the 90s and Greece today) hostage.

Will these solve all the problems? Probably not. The OWS movement recognizes that we aren’t facing problems that can be addressed by political rallies positing simplistic demands. We face much deeper issues created by the widespread intransigence of the business communities on social issues. We need to redefine our priorities as a society. As AdBusters magazine (which was a force behind the initial OWS protests) used to ask, “Is ‘economic progress’ destroying the planet?”

Right now we live in a society where this question cannot even be posed – advertisements run by AdBusters along these lines have been refused by national media, magazines, even transit services. The discourse is so skewed in the direction of economic realism, where the will of the financially elite is represented as some sort of immutable force – that we do not even have the capacity to discuss these issues, let alone resolve them. OWS is about changing that discourse – ‘we are the 99 percent’ is, at its heart, an exercise in reframing.

I’ve spent some of my time at OWS camps, but mostly my support has been from afar. I get no sense that anyone expects anything otherwise. What’s more important is that I become a part of the dialogue. That I participate in the raising of these issues.

Because – as I see it – OWS is only one small part of a much larger movement. It is the movement made up of community groups and NGOs, trade associations, special interest groups, community co-ops, environmental groups, rights groups, online activists, artists’ collectives, and more. The metasociety. The community of communities. If you’ve signed a petition to stop a dam, contributed some cans to a food bank, received a flyer from Amnesty, helped at a Medicins Sans Frontiers dinner, or any such activity, you’ve been touched by one of these groups.

When we say ‘we are the 99 percent’ we are also saying something about how we would like to be governed. Today, we have an elaborate architecture of government that exists mostly to transfer wealth from the 99 percent – that’s us – and to the 1 percent. What we want is a form of government that doesn’t do this – a form of government that is not only directly constituted of the people, but one that also works in direct support of the people. What that government will look like is undefined – trying to articulate it more clearly right now is premature.

But what what we do know – again – is that a simplistic measure will be insufficient. A program along the lines of ‘tax the rich’ will not succeed, and is not desirable, simply because it leaves in place the mechanisms of government designed to enrich the rich. And even if government itself were redesigned, it will be insufficient, because the rich have the means to supply purchase for themselves access to whatever levers of power remain. If we want our money and resources to help ourselves, we need a comprehensive rethinking of government. Not empty platitudes and slogans.

Again, though – this is not a matter of whether you believe OWS or support the cause. It is a matter of empirical fact as to whether or not your resources are flowing away from you and toward those who are already better off, or not. The most anyone can do is make you aware that your currently involvement in society is enriching the rich while leaving you further and further behind. What you do about that, if anything, will no doubt be a matter of personal decision.

And that’s probably the most important point. Though it is typically depicted as such, OWS is the opposite of a mass movement. There are no leaders who can be co-opted, no manifestos or doctrines that can be corrupted. It is a network of awareness coupled with the creation of an environment for personal engagement. The OWS camp in New York was a perfect example; if you saw my photos you’d see the meditating ciircle, the people banging on the drums, the people ‘knitting for the 99 percent’, the people contributing food and distributing resources, the people taking pictures, the people engaged in discussions and education sessions, and myriad other activities.

OWS is, at its heart, a change in the way we view social change and political action. It’s a recognition that the placement of too much of anything – power, money, influence – into the hands of a few is ultimately damaging to society. It’s an attempt to create enough social friction to make the accumulation of so much unbearable to the few who possess it. And its an attempt to understand how we govern ourselves in the coming era after we have rejected the attempts of the rich and powerful to do our governing for us.

4 Robb714 November 4, 2011 at 9:49 pm

You wasted a lot of words and made no sense whatsoever so I will try to be brief. Why are OWS even occupying Wall St, why not the White House, Capital buildings more importantly K Street where the power is, where the crux of our problems evolve. Hell, 99% of corporations are in Delaware, why aren’t they occupying Delaware. There is nothing on Wall Street. There are no corporations, no money, nothing. All there is at Wall St is paper, paper can’t do shit, it’s not even worth shit. If they want change of some sort shouldn’t they go where change happens, where they could make a change? If they were serious or had a clue, they would not be at Wall Street. They don’t represent themselves much less any % of anyone else. They are just a bunch of misguided sheep being herded by troublemakers that have never made a difference and will never make a difference because they don’t have a viable solution. They will be gone soon and all that will be left is some video, countless jokes and crap in the park.

5 Doodlbug November 4, 2011 at 10:21 pm

to echo what the poster below says, OWS isn’t claiming 99% of americans are at the protests. they are claiming membership in an economin group, the bottom 99%, who have less combined wealth than the top 1%.

6 Profchandler November 5, 2011 at 1:31 pm

Sir, I mean this with all the kindness I can muster: you are really out of touch with reality if you think that people in America need to have someone go door to door explaining the need for outrage at the BANKING SYSTEM! We have twitter and we have common sense. Since you like to play numbers games, why not analyze the foreclosures in this country or the bad credit card debt or the bankruptcies or the suicides by folks who could not face losing EVERYTHING. Get a grip, dude, again, with all the kindness I can muster.

7 Larocque89 November 7, 2011 at 7:44 am

okay, so just because 99% are not in the streets does not mean there are not that many to support it, people have stuff to do such as school and work, me and several other people that have discussed this issue all agree but yet none of us have gone yet because of were so busy… just because we 99% arent there doesnt mean that we dont support it!

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