Deconstructing the 99%

Opinion | Margaret Childs | November 2011

As protests erupt all over the world echoing the Occupy Wall Street movement, the democratic sentiment – the desire for more agency – is clear. The arguments and the passions behind them, however, are multi-layered and diverse.

When the March on Wall Street began, it seemed like the long-awaited outcry that has been suppressed since 2008. As it coalesced, it became more disciplined. Accused of being unhygienic, for example, the protesters got mops and trash bags and cleaned their squatting site. When Americans want something, they can get organized.

The original "Wall Street Manifesto" reads: "We are the 99%. We are getting kicked out of our homes. We are forced to choose between groceries and rent. We are denied quality medical care. We are suffering from environmental pollution. We are working long hours for little pay and no rights, if we’re working at all. We are getting nothing while the other 1% is getting everything. We are the 99%."

The situation is dire in the United States; the inequalities, which capitalism produces by design, are causing more pain in the "land of the free" than in most social democracies in Europe. Thus the movements seem in part out of solidarity with America, where tax legislation and bank bailouts have left the rich richer and the middle-class poorer, not to mention the 46.2 million living below the poverty line.

It’s not as easy to find the concrete arguments in Austria. At the protest on 15 Oct. (see  "Occupy Vienna" ) the general sentiment seemed to be that banks and the wealthy control policy makers.

"Asking banks (European and American) to help devise government monetary policy," one protester from explained, "is like asking a pyromaniac to head the fire department."


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