The Occupy movement needs to change its name to The 99%

The Super Committee, a band of caped and masked Congressional types, was meeting to figure out whose dick was biggest, er, I mean, to sort out where the US is going to cut spending and where it’s going to raise funds so we won’t have another thoroughly embarrassing deficit ceiling deadlock, when a woman suddenly started speaking out of turn. She was dressed in a sweatshirt and jeans (there was a video, but CNN took it down before I could get the article up), and clearly not one of our Congressional superheroes. The gist of her speech was: “tax the rich and end the war.” She represented this as what the American people want, and the obvious solution to our troubles. “And all this obfuscation with percentages of GDP,” she said, “this is just trying to confuse the issue.”

She was arrested for her trouble and charged with disrupting Congress. The Super Committee then proceeded to talk a bunch of twaddle about “alternative methods to identify and count savings” for a while before deciding they’d done their bit. Huh? Do you know what happens to a family that has no income, loads of debt, and loads of monthly expenditures, and decides to consider other ways of looking at the big, scary numbers? Chapter 11, if they’re lucky. It’s like what’s happening in Greece, except China’s the only nation big enough to bail us out, and they’re our debtor. We are so screwed.

By and large, I love what the “occupy” movement is doing. I love the consensus decision making, and I think it’s actually crucial that they haven’t outlined a list of demands or a plan to fix things (which would make them just one more competing voice in the election blather rather than a counter-culture movement highlighting the fact that unless we get back to basics and do some common sense stuff, we’re in serious trouble). I also like reports I’m hearing about women and minorities playing significant roles and not being sidelined by the white dudes who have been trained all their lives to assume they’re in charge.

But I don’t think they understand the term “occupy” at all, and they need to ditch it. We’ve already linked to a great article on why the use of “occupy” in the name of the original protests was problematic because of its associations with colonialism, and the US’s complicated colonial history and the fact that, by federal recognition, we are actually occupiers of this land upon which many nations existed before us – and still exist, in a complicated way, on the soil we all now think of as “ours.” The woman who disrupted the Super Committee said, “I speak on behalf of the 99 percent who are occupied.” Occupied by whom? By the rich? By the government? That’s not what occupying means. Ask the existing native nations what occupying means.

What we are really talking about is financial oppression. The government and big business, like many an abusive spouse, are using finances to keep us stuck in place, unable to demand even the share of the pie that we have earned.

The movement needs to change its name to “The 99%.” That serves as a reminder that if there is to be class warfare in the literal sense of bloodshed, it’ll be a very skewed fight. The 1% are surrounded by the 99%. We cook their meals. We tend their children. We do their chores so they have more time to accrue wealth and power. That 99% number is daunting, even frightening. It issues a clear challenge to the 1% who control so much of the US’s resources. And the challenge gets more daunting with every day that the movement doesn’t disintegrate into internal political and ego battles. That’s what the 1% is banking on – that sooner or later, the 99% will start fighting amongst themselves.

“Occupying” doesn’t scare them. As Occupy Oakland made clear, there can be no “occupation” without the consent of city governments and police departments, which are aligned with the 1% at this point whether or not they are individually part of it. But there are still 99%, and there are many other ways for them to protest and disrupt the operations of the 1%. The movement has proved its point with demonstrations – it’s time to move beyond that, at which point even the most confused mind will see “occupy” is no longer the right term.

None of this solves the issue members of native nations have pointed out – that they are financially oppressed in special ways that don’t apply to even the rest of the 99%. And they’re not the only group who can make that argument. The 99% movement needs to acknowledge and include the many smaller forces of financial oppression within the big one as part of the movement. Otherwise the 99% isn’t going to be 99%.


  1. Iberian girl says


    Sorry for my bad english, is not my native language. I need a lot of time to write a post in english, and I’m not sure of I do it with grammaticalness. This is the reason I didn’t have participate in this blog before, although I like a lot read it. My favourite theme in this blog is how media mould not only society values, (what humans “should be”), but also what is considere “normal”, the “human nature” (what people “is”), and how this create conflicts with how humans really are, feel, and want to be.
    But, well, is no time to create a off-topic.

    At respect at the term “occupy”: Well, I know this can sound weird, because I’m not from USA and don’t live there, but I think I can explain what is the origin of the term “occupy”, and the reason a lot of people seems to not understand the term. How can I? Well, may be strange; but I really find the reason sad, more than strange.

    Some precedents are needed:
    I’m from Spain and the fact that the protests become international makes my happy.
    But I’m disapointed of how the english speaking media talk about the movement. They pretend that this begun spontaneosly at september in New York, and, magically, the rest of the world joined at the United States, becaming the intenational “Occupy movement”.

    But this is not what happened.
    The international movement didn’t begun in New York in September. It’s only one branch of a international movement of pacific protests against the financial abuses what was arround the world since… well, its dificult to say, because the icelands had his own revolution against banks in 2008-2009, and later come the Arab Spring. Then come the 15 of May (15-M) in Spain, what make the calling to the 15 of October international protests, and then come protests in other countries. But there are independent protest in diferents countries before the 15-M that late joined to the international movement (Greece, for example).

    The movement “Occupy Wall Street” was inspired in the protesters in Tahir Square in Egipt and in Puerta del Sol square in Spain (and in Barcelona and another cities). What happened there? Well, people “occupied” the squares. They went to the squares all the day, and at night too. They camped, slept there. If the police tried to expulse people (and they tried, and used violence against pacific manifestants), people come back. And being more! And that made that the media could’t ignore the protests; and made the movement strong.

    The “occupy” of this squares was the reason that the movement got power and was observed in other countries. Such as the Icelandic protests and the Tahir Square influenced the protest in Spain, the protest in Spain impulsed this form of protest and the international movement in europe (France, Greece, Portugal, Germany, etc) and later in America (I mean: Canada, USA, etc). And later, the protests in USA, impulsed the international movement in the rest of the globe.
    The canadian organization Adbusters saw the “occupy” tecnic, and decided to impulse the protest with this name, because the tecnic was working.
    So this is the reason for the “occupy” name: urge people to instale them in this important public places to make protests strong, like people did in Egipt and Spain.
    So it’s no true that this don’t work. It works, a lot. But, of course, its no the only thing to do, and the movement evolves. And now in Spain we don’t have squares constantly “occuped” and we have assemblies.

    I know,of course, that the name for the concrete movement in USA must be what their citizens want. But I think that the international movement needs be called by another name and no “Occupy”; not only because it sounds “colonialistic”, but because its create the false idea that the international protests against the abuse from the financial groups had born in New York and is a usian thing.

    Because, you know, everything begins in America, right? This is what Hollywood teach us, right? This is the mensage than great mass-media groupes disperse:
    Usians, don’t look to other countries, nothing interesting hapens there; don’t see films for another countries, don’t learn history or geography for other countries, don’t see news for another countries. The rest of the world do nothing interesant, and everything important surge in the USA.

    And they want you don’t look to the other countries… because if you do, you can learn what happens to others, and this experience could make you more wise and less manipulable. This knowledge could help you to see what’s wrong in the politics of your contry, what will be the next step for the governs and mass-media, how some things you think are “inherents” of society are not. How some thinks can be diferent, and actually are better being diferent. And you could stop to think that you live in the best sistem posible.
    (Well, media do this here too. The protests in Iceland was not covered by the tv and the big media groups. But Internet exists!)

    Coming back to te theme:
    I like “the 99% movement” name. “We are the 99%” is a good motto that the “Occupy Wall Street” has created, and I think is the best and internacionalizable I have read. Can I sugest to give this name to the international movement?
    I prefer “the 99%” term to “indignados” (indignants), a name create for the spanish media based on the title of the 2010 french book “Indignez-vous”(“Lets angry”) by Stéphane Hessel.!

    In my opinion, the international movement (like the specific usian movement) need a name, something that sound global and explains why we protest, and “the 99%” is a good one. We protest against the abuse from the great fortunes, against the dictatorship of the markets. If we live in democracies, why the corporations do the laws? Why the banks need to be rescued, but people who lose their homes not?

    And about how the govern and the mass-media act… prepare to see a lot of manipulation and lies, and the intent from the governs to create violence in order to justify represion. Here in Spain we have months of experience (if you are interesed in more information, I can give you links)

    I give you a couple of good slogans we used in Spain: “No somos mercancía en manos de políticos y banqueros” (“We are not merchandise in politic’s and banker’s hands”), the “Democracia Real Ya” motto.
    And my favorite, but not easy to traslate: “No hay pan para tanto chorizo” (There is not bread to so much sausage/for so many thiefs)

    Note: I use the term “usians” because “americans” can’t stop to sound me wrong. To me, the name of the continent is America, son americans include canadians, mexicans, brasilians, peruvians, argentinians, etc.
    When I speak spanish I say “estadounidense” (“unitedstatean”?), and I think that the tern “usian” is the more aproximate equivalent. I never has see this term used in a derogatory maner; but if I’m wrong, I’m prone to use another term.

    Tranks to read me!

  2. says

    Iberian girl,

    You’re entirely right about the media making it seem as if Occupy Wall Street were the first to come up with this; sadly, I think OWS themselves are encouraging this perception to make themselves look good. Compare the call to action:

    A worldwide shift in revolutionary tactics is underway right now that bodes well for the future. The spirit of this fresh tactic, a fusion of Tahrir with the acampadas of Spain

    With the Manifesto ten weeks later:

    To the people of the world, We, the New York City General Assembly occupying Wall Street in Liberty Square, urge you to assert your power. […] Join us and make your voices heard!

    This co-opting by OWS is something I’ve seen discussed a lot on social networks, hardly at all in the mainstream media. :(

  3. Iberian girl says

    Sylvia Sybil,
    Thank you for the links! :-)

    I supose media are using the “divide and you will win” strategy; but in OWS’s case, I don’t understand. I think they made a bad decision with the apropiation of the movement’s leadership, not only because is not fair, but because this creates divisions.

    It’s encouraging the myth of usians like special people, the “natural leaders” in front of the rest of the world “secondary characters” (exactly like the idea of the white anglo-saxon heterosexual male as the leader and hero for default ). And you can guess how people from other countries,who had put a lot of effort in this, will feel. :-/

  4. says

    Iberian girl,

    No kidding. I cried when I heard about the Iran election protests in 2009, and then Arab Spring this year. I thought, “Why don’t WE have that kind of spirit? What will it take to get us motivated to do anything like that?” I just kept working on this site – because that’s one thing I CAN do – and wondering.

    I certainly did NOT see OWS as a continuation of that kind of rebellion, but that’s because the Arab Spring protests resulted in actual changes and to date, OWS has not. With all due respect to OWS, I remain far more impressed by the global events.

    But I listen to a lot of news sources, not all mainstream. The American mainstream media is VERY insular, and very much DOES encourage the view that the US is special, and a natural leader of the world. It’s propaganda, whether people admit it or not.

  5. The Other Anne says

    Iberian girl,

    Thank you for that comment! I enjoyed reading your perspective, since mostly I only get USian points of view on this. I agree pretty much fully with you. I’ve been paying attention to the international protests for a long while now, and the appropriation of this global protest movement to make it seem as though the US somehow initiated any of it has been infuriating. The solidarity march in Tahrir square to the US embassy made me cry, and it’s so awesome to see how much of the world is starting to act on all this widespread inequality and general crappiness.

    OWS has a lot of issues, only one of them being the name, but it’s got to start somewhere to change the way it’s handling things. Otherwise it’ll be just a “change in management, not a revolution”, as they said today over at Shakesville.

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