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How global occupations can play to mainstream ‘99%’ values


7:01 pm - October 15th 2011

by Adam Ramsay    


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It is the classic question of American marketing – will it play in Peoria? Of the many occupations today, one will indeed be in the Illinois city famous as the litmus test for American popularity.

The success or failure of the tactic of mass occupation of public space has been widely discussed elsewhere. And I suspect it is fair to say that on its own, it is unlikely to succeed in securing significant lasting change.

So let’s look at a simple question – how successful have these movements so far been in securing public support.

Nate Silver’s blog fivethirtyeight has done a basic assessement of the number of news hits Occupy Wall Street has received – and points out that whilst it got off to a slower start, the Occupy movement is beginning to rival the early days of the Tea Party. He also points to something with which many British activists have become familiar – coverage usually comes with clashes with the police.

A poll for Time magazine this week showed that 54% of Americans have a favourable attitude towards Occupy Wall Street – making the movement significantly more popular than the Tea Party, than President Obama, or the Republicans, or the Democrats.

So, what lessons for activists in the UK?

First, part of their success seems to me to come from one of the aspects of their occupation which I must confess I have found most annoying – their incistence on repeating and repeating the chant “we are the 99%”. Whilst this repetition can be maddening, it is of course necessary if the message is to be re-inforced.

The protests do not have a complex list of demands. But they do have a simple slogan that they repeat so much that even their detractors come to repeat it – even if it is to criticise or mock them. And that means the simple message – “we are the 99%” and “we are pissed off with the banks” carries far and wide.

The second thing about this slogan of course is that it directly confronts on of the primary criticisms levied at all such movements – that they are full of well-off middle class troublemaker smelly hippies. ‘No’, they say, we are just like you. And if all politics is identity politics, then this is key.

Finally, it is a useful reminder that people aren’t nearly as right wing as the media would have us believe. The latest Rasmussen poll on the subject tells us that only 53% of Americans prefer capitalism to socialism, 20% prefering socialism, and the rest unsure. And of course this 53% includes both Republicans and Democrats.

The media always like to portray left wing protests as representing crazy minority views – as being out of touch and irrelevant. Well, in fact, they don’t like to portray left wing protests at all, but if they will, than this is how they do it. The American Occupy movement won’t lead to revoltion.

And it is unlikely to secure significant short term change without unions using their industrial power to back them up. But it has already secured significant public support. From rubbish collectors in LA returning to the protesters the property that the police had stolen and thrown out, saying ‘we are the 99% too’ to occupied Peoria, civil disobedience is playing in Middle America. And that, surely, means something.


A longer version is at Bright Green Scotland

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About the author
Adam is a regular contributor. He also writes more frequently at: Bright Green Scotland.
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Economy ,Media

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Reader comments


I have joined the anti-bank protests today by not having any money in my bank account.

2. Here and Now

It’s not a left wing right wing thing, its a fractional reserve banking thing.

There are people on both the left and right who can see that things stink.

Remember, 99% isn’t left wing – it’s people!

I think it’s great that the ‘99%’ thing has caught on; it suggests that people are waking up to the fact that the world isn’t fundamentally divided into ‘hard-working taxpayers’ and ‘scroungers/the underclass’, but into ‘people who rely fundamentally on public spending for their security and quality of life’ and ‘people who never have to see the inside of a state school, hospital or job centre if they don’t want to, but who do very nicely for themselves when taxes are low, labour is cheap, and nobody is interested in regulating what they do with their money and ours’.

4. So Much For Subtlety

A poll for Time magazine this week showed that 54% of Americans have a favourable attitude towards Occupy Wall Street – making the movement significantly more popular than the Tea Party, than President Obama, or the Republicans, or the Democrats.

That may be true, but of course we are talking about the Deadwood Media here and its obvious, strong and irrational bias towards the Hard Left. What question did they ask people about the Tea Party?

http://swampland.time.com/full-results-of-oct-9-10-2011-time-poll/

Q8. ON ANOTHER ISSUE, IS YOUR OPINION OF THE TEA PARTY MOVEMENT VERY FAVORABLE, SOMEWHAT FAVORABLE, SOMEWHAT UNFAVORABLE, VERY UNFAVORABLE, OR DON’T YOU KNOW ENOUGH ABOUT THE TEA PARTY TO HAVE AN OPINION?

Perfectly reasonable. What question did they ask about the Hippies?

Q11. IN THE PAST FEW DAYS, A GROUP OF PROTESTORS HAS BEEN GATHERING ON WALL STREET IN NEW YORK CITY AND SOME OTHER CITIES TO PROTEST POLICIES WHICH THEY SAY FAVOR THE RICH, THE GOVERNMENT’S BANK BAILOUT, AND THE INFLUENCE OF MONEY IN OUR POLITICAL SYSTEM. IS YOUR OPINION OF THESE PROTESTS VERY FAVORABLE, SOMEWHAT FAVORABLE, SOMEWHAT UNFAVORABLE, VERY UNFAVORABLE, OR DON’T YOU KNOW ENOUGH ABOUT THE PROTESTS TO HAVE AN OPINION?

They provide more, and more favourable, context. They question beg. They assert what the protesters are actually protesting about. It is a classic case of a leading question to get the result they want. And they do.

This figure says nothing about what most Americans think. It is just dishonest polling.

The second thing about this slogan of course is that it directly confronts on of the primary criticisms levied at all such movements – that they are full of well-off middle class troublemaker smelly hippies. ‘No’, they say, we are just like you. And if all politics is identity politics, then this is key.

Except the slogan is meaningless unless the reality matches it. And they are full of well-off middle class trouble-making smelly hippies. You can simply compare their complaints – which usually revolve around having to pay tens of thousands for Fine Arts degrees at Ivy League colleges – with those of the so-called 53% Movement. Found here:

http://the53.tumblr.com/page/8

Much more blue collar and working class. People who did not go to college at all

maybe the 99% are still brainwashed by rupert “hacker” murdock, conrad “ponzi” black, the hinduja tax dodgers and a nazi lover’s grandson to accept they have the power, though for all our sakes, not for long…

@ SMFS

“the so-called 53% Movement. Found here:

http://the53.tumblr.com/page/8

I assume these are the 53% of Americans who pay federal income tax, yes?

They seem to have jumped to the conclusion that because they pay some federal income tax, they’re net contributors to the public purse – which is obviously not the case. (No more than it’s the case that people lower down the income scale are ‘net contributors’ because they nonetheless pay “payroll taxes,” sales taxes etc.). Amusingly, in fact, many of them seem to be members or ex-members of the Armed Forces, who have relied on taxpayers’ money for their livelihood for long periods.

On another thread the other day, I was trying to persuade George Potter that far from promoting solidarity among those who benefit from it, a higher personal allowance that ‘lifts people out of tax’ might just serve to raise the dividing line that exists in many people’s minds between ‘us’ – hard-working taxpayers who make a contribution – and ‘them’ – spongers who get a lot out but put nothing in. Here’s the proof.

‘They seem to have jumped to the conclusion that because they pay some federal income tax, they’re net contributors to the public purse – which is obviously not the case. (No more than it’s the case that people lower down the income scale are ‘net contributors’ because they nonetheless pay “payroll taxes,” sales taxes etc.). Amusingly, in fact, many of them seem to be members or ex-members of the Armed Forces, who have relied on taxpayers’ money for their livelihood for long periods.’

Unfortunately, for pig-ignorant right-wingers, ‘common-sense facts’ are never allowed to get in the way of getting on that hypocritical high-horse.

@ 3, G.O.

Exactly!

Read the comments in the Daily Mail under the articles about these protests, see which ones are getting rated up by other readers.

There’s an old gag about the banker, the Mail reader and the claiment sitting around the table sharing out a packet of biscuits… the banker takes 11, then, whilst nodding toward the claimant, says to Mail reader “he’s looking at your biscuit”.

If the readers of this, and other similar blogs (yeah, I know Sunny, there are no similar blogs eh 😉 ?) go out and find out how other people see things, rather than clinging to old party lines, then the 99% might, just might get somewhere.

What the Occupy people need to realise is that the “mainstream 99%”, however positive they are to your agenda, don’t approve of being represented in the media exclusively by a bunch of Student Grants on a gap yah pulling stunts or squatting on the steps of St Paul’s. It’s like the Yes to AV campaign writ hideously large.

10. So Much For Subtlety

6. G.O.

I assume these are the 53% of Americans who pay federal income tax, yes?

I assume so. I also assume it is figurative. Just like the 99% is, to be kind that is. Otherwise you might say that one was a lie.

They seem to have jumped to the conclusion that because they pay some federal income tax, they’re net contributors to the public purse – which is obviously not the case. (No more than it’s the case that people lower down the income scale are ‘net contributors’ because they nonetheless pay “payroll taxes,” sales taxes etc.).

Perhaps. The point is they are contributing. They are not parasites sitting around demanding something, usually their tuition, for nothing. They are not demanding the rest of us carry them completely. They may not be as pure as you would like, but they are preferable.

Amusingly, in fact, many of them seem to be members or ex-members of the Armed Forces, who have relied on taxpayers’ money for their livelihood for long periods.

Only a culture in an advanced state of decay could even think to compare soldiers who sacrifice for the rest of us with welfare dead beats who live off society. Even though I have seen few 99-ers who could not work if they wanted.

On another thread the other day, I was trying to persuade George Potter that far from promoting solidarity among those who benefit from it, a higher personal allowance that ‘lifts people out of tax’ might just serve to raise the dividing line that exists in many people’s minds between ‘us’ – hard-working taxpayers who make a contribution – and ‘them’ – spongers who get a lot out but put nothing in. Here’s the proof.

That is interesting but it depends if you’re end goal is helping people make it on their own or encouraging them in dependence and institutionalisation at the hands of the State. Nice to see which side you have picked.

8. Here and Now

There’s an old gag about the banker, the Mail reader and the claiment sitting around the table sharing out a packet of biscuits… the banker takes 11, then, whilst nodding toward the claimant, says to Mail reader “he’s looking at your biscuit”.

Even if every single bank guarantee turns to crap and all that money is lost, which is unlikely, it still would not come close to the spending we waste on welfare each and every year. Well two years perhaps.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    How global occupations can play to mainstream '99%' values http://t.co/0r0O5UHq

  2. Jack Donaghy

    How global occupations can play to mainstream '99%' values http://t.co/0r0O5UHq

  3. Billy Dagger

    How global occupations can play to mainstream ’99%’ values | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/6nhytPGj via @libcon

  4. sunny hundal

    @anthonypainter difficult to have this discussion on twitter anyway. also see this piece I just published http://t.co/7NKfbv7l

  5. sunny hundal

    How global occupations can play to mainstream ’99%’ values http://t.co/7NKfbv7l says @adamramsay #occupyLSX #occupyLondon

  6. Barbara Bohr

    How global occupations can play to mainstream ’99%’ values http://t.co/7NKfbv7l says @adamramsay #occupyLSX #occupyLondon

  7. Liza Harding

    How global occupations can play to mainstream ’99%’ values http://t.co/7NKfbv7l says @adamramsay #occupyLSX #occupyLondon

  8. Debbie Jolly

    RT @libcon How global occupations can play to mainstream '99%' values http://t.co/wQ53cbGA

  9. DPWF

    @anthonypainter difficult to have this discussion on twitter anyway. also see this piece I just published http://t.co/7NKfbv7l

  10. David Davies

    Occupy Wall Street significantly more popular than the Tea Party, President Obama, the Republicans and the Democrats ~ http://t.co/tU9KVVLV

  11. James Daniel Fisher

    How occupations can gain majority support is precisely the right question – we need more answers http://t.co/2AivCQ27 #occupylsx

  12. Progressive Push

    How global occupations can play to mainstream ’99%’ values | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/jdsn0nrk via @libcon

  13. Mary, Citizens 1st

    How global occupations can play to mainstream ’99%’ values | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/jdsn0nrk via @libcon

  14. Alex Braithwaite

    How global occupations can play to mainstream ’99%’ values | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/OAwfL3Lz via @libcon





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