More Than a Number

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People are beginning to recommend that the Occupy Movement rebrand itself as The 99 Percent. Clearly a shift in tactics is warranted. No movement, and certainly no army, has ever sought victory through occupation of its own territory. But I'm not sure that the 99 percent label will prove any better.

When you look at issues through the lens of the 1 percent and the 99 percent, the results tend to be explanatory at best, and often just rhetorical. For example, with less than 1 percent of our population in the military, the costs of war remain invisible to many Americans and so a war of choice in Iraq became politically feasible. Census data classifies just over 1 percent of our population as Native American, yet this statistic only reinforces that we are a nation of immigrants. It provides no guidance on how to address immigration reform.

This sort of framework measures an outcome, but offers no remedy. It is statistical, not tactical; a snapshot, not a roadmap. What precision it gains by isolating a mere 1 percent, it loses in the vast cohort of everybody else. After all, our current level of economic inequality is, in large part, the result of policies enacted by politicians who were elected by a substantial portion of that 99 percent.

Almost by definition those of us in the 99 percent have only one thing in common: we are not members of the wealthiest sliver of the population. Aside from that, we are divided into the conflicting camps that make up today's political landscape. Lumping us all together certainly implies a numeric advantage, but it also identifies us by what we don't have. If we call ourselves the 99 percent we are, in a sense, allowing the wealth of the 1 percent to define us.

Better yet to turn the paradigm on its head and start with what we do have. What are the individual skills and talents that are being wasted in the current economy? What would it take to allow them to flourish? This is our strength, and this is how we move forward. We are so much more than a number.


With a Perspective, this is Paul Staley.