Occupy: The Left or The 99%?


We may not like what sometimes even more than half (or approaching half in other cases) of our fellow citizens believe on some particular issue, and we don’t have to support their views, but we can’t pretend they don’t really believe it; nor that we understand that issue better, and they would take our position if only we could educate them. That is, unless we don’t mind taking an implicitly arrogant posture towards our fellow citizens. And we should mind, if we’re to be worthy caretakers of the public square and the “99%”.

The 99%, as a slogan, confers a responsibility that we haven’t all been ready to accept, and we should reconsider using it if we ultimately can not accept that responsibility. The 99% slogan is a short-hand for positions where a strong majority of Americans are frustrated by the policies of both Democrats and Republicans. For example, regarding the policy of the United States towards major banks and other financial firms during and after the 2008 financial collapse. Another is the foreign policy of the United States as it relates to war and forward deployment. But it is not true that “the 99%” are in agreement regarding other issues important to the political left generally: institutional racism, patriarchy, homophobia, xenophobia, or narcissistic, self-destructive patriotism, workers rights, education as a right, etc.

I support both a movement to create a real political left in the United States (as opposed to the faux-left of the Democratic party) AND a 99% percent movement that exposes the gulf on issues where the bipartisan Washington consensus trumps a majority, or even a super-majority of Americans. But they are not the same movement. They are also not mutually exclusive. An ascendancy of the left is not the same as a movement of the 99%, and yet there are left issues that enjoy super-majorities in public opinion polls. The necessity of creating a hyper-popular movement to oppose those components of the bipartisan consensus that frustrate the political will of a majority of Americans is not the same as a movement to reinvigorate and re-empower the political left.

And so we are left with the question of how do we properly house these two not-identical, but not mutually exclusive movements: an ascendancy of a real left and an ascendancy of a real democracy (i.e., the ascendancy of the 99%)? We need a third movement. The Tea Party or something else for the real right (not the cynical imitation of the Republicans), Occupy for the new left (not the cruel charade of the Democrats), and a third configuration for the 99%.

Consider that in a country that still celebrates Christopher Columbus Day in 2012, and where Arizona’s SB 1070 law enjoys 58% support among Americans*, that perhaps “the 99%” is not representative of all of our declared principles. We have to be honest with ourselves about this distinction if we’re to grow into a potent and irresistible political force.

*page 14 of linked The Economist/You Gov poll: 10. Support for Arizona’s new immigration law, Strongly approve 40.5% + Somewhat approve 18.3%.

6 thoughts on “Occupy: The Left or The 99%?”

  1. Well stated! Since the early days of Occupy, I have been in solidarity with the progressive/ new left principles and actions of Occupy. However, I questioned how we could create the future we envision while being inclusive of so many Americans who are definitely in the 99% but very right-wing or status-quo oriented. A third movement specifically for the 99% makes sense since “Occupy” has mostly been standing for the New Left agenda.

  2. I really liked you article and I do support SB 1070. I think you made good points on what we need to do with the direction we all want to take , that would at identify where we are going as a group and where we dont want to go . Excellent article and food for thought.

  3. In the words of Arthur Silber:

    “It is not necessary, and usually it is not even possible, to restrict one’s compatriots to those with whom one agrees about all issues, or even a significant subset of issues. One need not and should not expect or demand that those with whom one joins in a particular cause agree with or endorse one’s general views. In this case, Clarkson and Wilberforce disagreed on every other then-current issue of importance and controversy.

    But they agreed about slavery, and they agreed that it must be ended. That is all one should require and, I stress, that is all that is necessary. As in this case, the goal must be very clearly defined, and the members of the coalition must be fully committed to it. I would go still further: provided the goal is defined in a way that is not subject to compromise and equivocation, even the reasons which inform the participants’ commitment to that goal need not be the same. Provided they agree on the goal itself — as here, that slavery be ended — that is all that is needed.”

    • It seems to me that this piece reflects on the question of how to avoid being put in the position of supporting either a single issue or a set of bourgois reforms. I think it matters less who “we, the 99%” consists of than gathering our disperate strands of consciousness into a fist. If we confront Capitalism on its own terms, we must deal with the social construction of property, and the body of law and violent state power that protect it. If we agree on this much we will have less chance of confusing ourselves with a tea party, which we know we are not.
      If we are waging a revolution we will have to consider making terrible sacrifices and facing impossible odds, not only with our identities but with our lives. Some of us are there already and some of us are not. I try to keep in mind that unless we win we are in so many ways already dead anyway. We simply must not surrender the street because every other medium can be reduced to a choke point controlled by the forces of order. We can publicly contest the street because the street is now as it was at the time of the Russian revolution, literally the fourth dimension. I do not believe everyone who realizes this has read Marx or needs to.

  4. One configuration of a more “real right” conservative movement was reflected in the presidential campaigns of Ross Perot in 1992 and 1996. Because he was able to finance his own campaigns, he was able to run without needing to turn to the traditional corporate interests or a need to get fundamentalist backing to win the Republican primary; as a result, he arguably better reflected a conservative mainstream than many a Republican candidate does, e.g. he was more genuinely libertarian than they are without actually being libertarian (e.g., he didn’t oppose abortion), was against NAFTA, etc. Mind you, he was a pretty weird dude, but his politics seemed more genuinely “conservative” than whatever this typical pro-imperial, pro-multinational corporation, social reactionary, Republican politician of today is.

  5. Keep wondering why ” Occupy for the new left” and “a third configuration for the 99%.” This has been an ongoing concern I have harbored about the movement itself and I keep tripping over those words every time I read this important piece.


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