We are the 99%: Angry Hipsters Occupy Wall Street

Update: Read our preliminary coverage of the Occupy Melbourne Protests here

For the past few weeks New York has been overrun. Large groups of students, activists, the working poor, and other people hurt in the global financial crisis have taken to the streets to voice their outrage. Their initial plan was to occupy Wall Street— the spiritual heart of the global economy. When that failed, they took up residence in Zuccotti Park, and have remained there ever since. Reuters reports:

In 2011 in America, what passes for a revolution is a frightening tangle of wires, power strips, routers and gas generators underneath a canopy in the center of a park.

That fire hazard of a mess is at the center, literally and figuratively, of the Occupy Wall Street movement. The protesters who have disrupted lower Manhattan since mid-September have assembled the means to blast out their message — if they can agree on what they fighting for.

The protesters have clashed several times with the police. On October 1st, 2011, 700 protesters were arrested as they attempted to march across the roadway of the Brooklyn Bridge.

Occupy wallstreet protests, Image courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/shankbone/

Occupy wallstreet protests, Image courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/shankbone/

The protest seems to be gathering momentum. Celebrities such as Roseanne Barr, Susan Sarandon and Michael Moore have voiced their support for the movement. Rapper Lupe Fiasco donated tents and a sound system to the movement. All in all, it is a fairly tech savvy, well equipped protest. Reuters reports:

No matter how ragged or how young, most everyone in the park has some kind of internet access, usually via smartphone (Research in Motion‘s Blackberry for the most part, as Apple seems out of favor somehow with the crowd).

Providing the backbone of the network are portable WiMax hotspots from Clearwire, powerful enough that more than 40,000 people a day can tune in to live streams. If Clearwire and Research in Motion stay in business, and the sun shines long enough to power the soon-to-be-erected solar panels, there is a sense the protests could go on indefinitely.

But who are the protesters and what do they stand for? The official Occupy Wall Street site states:

Occupy Wall Street is leaderless resistance movement with people of many colors, genders and political persuasions. The one thing we all have in common is that We Are The 99% that will no longer tolerate the greed and corruption of the 1%. We are using the revolutionary Arab Spring tactic to achieve our ends and encourage the use of nonviolence to maximize the safety of all participants.

Occupy Wall Street is almost interchangeable with “We are the 99%”– the 99% of honest citizens victimized by the greed and hypocrisy of the 1% that make up the financial elite. We Are the 99% have their own tumblr site, where users are encouraged to post a picture of themselves along with their own story of financial woe. Some of the stories are harrowing, people working two jobs while undergoing chemotherapy to pay off student debt, others forced into the sex trade to pay their bills. However, many of the stories of the 99% point to a much larger problem, and the true source of their current financial woes. There is a whole generation of young people that elected to undertake expensive education in fields that simply aren’t in demand. These people took out exorbitant loans with absolutely zero thought as to how they were going to repay them.

(Note: The images below have been taken directly from the “We are the 99%” tumblr.)

So what do the 99% want, exactly? It’s incredibly difficult to get a coherent answer from a leaderless organization, but the Occupy Wall Street website does have a list of demands. Amongst them, are:

Demand four: Free college education.

Demand five: Begin a fast track process to bring the fossil fuel economy to an end while at the same bringing the alternative energy economy up to energy demand.

Demand six: One trillion dollars in infrastructure (Water, Sewer, Rail, Roads and Bridges and Electrical Grid) spending now.

Demand seven: One trillion dollars in ecological restoration planting forests, reestablishing wetlands and the natural flow of river systems and decommissioning of all of America’s nuclear power plants.

Demand nine: Open borders migration. anyone can travel anywhere to work and live.

Demand eleven: Immediate across the board debt forgiveness for all. Debt forgiveness of sovereign debt, commercial loans, home mortgages, home equity loans, credit card debt, student loans and personal loans now! All debt must be stricken from the “Books.” World Bank Loans to all Nations, Bank to Bank Debt and all Bonds and Margin Call Debt in the stock market including all Derivatives or Credit Default Swaps, all 65 trillion dollars of them must also be stricken from the “Books.” And I don’t mean debt that is in default, I mean all debt on the entire planet period.

Demand twelve: Outlaw all credit reporting agencies.

While we’re forgiving all debt, letting people travel wherever they want and giving everyone a free college education, why not add in free ponies and ice cream for all citizens? When exactly does the Occupy Wall Street movement expect any of these demands to be met and how does it expect the US government to meet them?

The distorted sense of entitlement would be amusing, if it wasn’t for the fact that this very same sense of distorted entitlement has driven an entire nation to the brink of financial collapse.

These people didn’t get into this mess on their own: behind their poor life decisions is the college industry: encouraging impressionable young students to go into debt to obtain essentially worthless degrees. The pursuit of higher education is secondary to enjoying a carefree college lifestyle. These young people essentially pay tens of thousands of dollars to avoid adulthood for a few years. When these students obtain worthless bachelor degrees, they’re encouraged to pursue equally worthless masters degrees, accruing even more debt. The system actually encourages this sort of behaviour: Undertaking an additional degree means that students don’t have to pay current student loans until their course of study is completed.

There are legitimate complaints to be made about the state of global finances, and the Occupy Wall Street movement taps in to a very legitimate feeling amongst the common people that those responsible for plunging the world into crisis have not been called to account. However, without a coherent focus and intelligent leadership to drive the movement, the protests are doomed to blunder on incoherently and eventually fizzle out when the protesters get bored and move on to something else.

At the moment, things are at an impasse in New York, and there’s every indication that similar protests will break out in cities across the world.

What lasting impact these protests have, remain to be seen.


Read More:

To Occupy Wallstreet, occupy the Internet first – Reuters

Occupy Wall Street Protest: Police Arrest 400 on Brooklyn Bridge – The IB times

Occupy Wall Street

We Are the 99%

I’m currently supporting two of the 99% myself. Image Couresy of Reddit


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17 Comments on “We are the 99%: Angry Hipsters Occupy Wall Street”

  1. October 6, 2011 at 7:03 pm #

    “There are legitimate complaints to be made about the state of global finances, and the Occupy Wall Street movement taps in to a very legitimate feeling amongst the common people that those responsible for plunging the world into crisis have not been called to account. However, without a coherent focus and intelligent leadership to drive the movement, the protests are doomed to blunder on incoherently and eventually fizzle out when the protesters get bored and move on to something else.”

    Brilliant. The whole article really, but that paragraph was exceptionally brilliant.

  2. October 7, 2011 at 3:05 am #

    I bet there’s not a single person among that “99%” that has studied finance, civil engineering, politics or accounting. Anyone who has even half been paying attention knows that the current economic situation / debt crisis means all of these demands are literally impossible. Even outside of such an economic crisis, they’re impossible.

    James, you said it so well: “The distorted sense of entitlement would be amusing, if it wasn’t for the fact that this very same sense of distorted entitlement has driven an entire nation to the brink of financial collapse.”

    At least yesterday when David Cameron addressed the UK, he finally told people to wake the fuck up, almost in those exact words, and start living within their means, stop expecting fucking miracles and pay back your debts. This is the kind of brutal speech citizens of the USA need. Citizens of everywhere, in fact.

  3. Anonymous
    October 12, 2011 at 2:28 pm #

    except that its not just living outside our means that causes this kind of crisis. In fact the crisis is caused by our politicians being bought out by corporations and lobbyists. No financial reform can be made and corporations will continue to make money and avoid paying their share in taxes because of a lack of regulation. There are also small fixes, like a capitol gains tax, that would boost the economy. The truth is that the top 1% of the population in this country aren’t paying their fair share, which is why these people protest. Unrealistic demands aside, these people would be happy to just have an economy that allows them to make ends meet. As things stand, this is just not the case because of Wall Street’s strangle hold on our country’s political system. Also I find it hard to believe that universal education, improved infrustructure, universal healthcare, and a serious alternative fuel innitiative are impossible seeing as how other countries with smaller economies and resources are capable of doing so. If you mean in this current climate these things are impossible, I would agree, which is why we protest, to create a situation in which these things are possible. It’s not a sense of entitlement of the 99% that has bankrupt this country, its the greed of the 1%.

  4. Anonymous
    October 12, 2011 at 2:37 pm #

    also I would argue there is no such thing as a useless college degree. College is for higher learning, to expand one’s mind and understanding of the world. If you go to college just because you want to get a job that will make you money, that is a sad existance. You should go to college to learn about what your interested in and try and make a career out of it. College is supposed to be about a middle period in one’s life where you can mature into an adult by being a full time student with complete independance to make your own decisions. You’re not supposed to go into it as an adult, that defeats the purpose, you become one in the process. Student loans are a serious thing, and those who complain about how they incurred too much in debt should not be chastised for wanting to persue higher learning. The truth is that the college system in this country is far too expensive in this country and there needs to be some kind of reform to help those who want to persue higher learning do so without incurring a huge amount of debt. Perhaps a tax levied similar to social security that goes into a fund for students that is accessible upon applying to college? is that so revolutionary? I’d pay that tax, but then again I am in the 99%, and I understand the plight of people who struggle to afford college. I imagine the 1% will have a problem with that tax, but then again isn’t that why we live in a democracy? I’m pretty sure 99 is a majority over 1…

  5. James Hill
    October 12, 2011 at 2:52 pm #

    Make no mistake: this financial crisis is 100% about people living outside their means. The crimes of the financial elite are in creating a system that encouraged people to go into debt beyond their means, and using political connections to escape the consequences of their own excess. The truth of the matter is though, everyone with 100k+ in student debt or a mortgage they can’t pay had a hand in their own downfall.

    I agree that the upper echelons of the financial elite do not pay their fair share, but these protests won’t change that, they won’t do anything. In fact, they’ll do less than nothing: they will siphon time and energy from well meaning people and make them believe they’re actually helping when all they’re doing is wasting time. Also, it is beyond irresponsible to demand things like free education and one trillion in infrastructure spending if you know it is impossible for that to be provided without crippling the nation.

    And yes, there are such things as useless degrees: especially from the point of view of the common tax payer, who you suggest should be taxed to fund college education. The pursuit of higher education is a lofty ideal, and I encourage every human being to learn as much as possible, but I question the value provided in obtaining a college education in obtaining skills in something like gender studies, or art history– society needs very few people skilled in these areas. Do you need to spend 100k at an ivy league school to learn about art history? Certainly not. If you choose to do so, I would encourage you to think long and hard about how you’re going to pay for your education when you finish.

    The following comment is very telling: “I’d pay that tax, but then again I am in the 99%, and I understand the plight of people who struggle to afford college. I imagine the 1% will have a problem with that tax, but then again isn’t that why we live in a democracy? I’m pretty sure 99 is a majority over 1…”

    You may feel you’re the 99%, but you’re not, at least not in the demands you’re making. Too many of the protesters are out there demanding debt forgiveness for their ill advised student loans or mortgages. Why should someone who has worked hard and lived within their means (who is also struggling in this economy) be forced to pay for your bad decisions as well as the bad decisions of wall street? Almost everyone in the Western world agrees that the financial elite have steered us into this disaster with zero consequences and need to be held to account, but if you think that means you’re entitled to have everyone else bail you out of your own problems, you’re very wrong.

  6. Anonymous
    October 12, 2011 at 4:51 pm #

    The asking for the elimination of all debts is impossible, agreed, but that does not mean that people are living outside of their means. The reason people spend so much to get a college is because the best schools cost the most. If you want a good job you need a good degree, which is more about the school where you got the degree than what you got the degree in. If you can get into these schools you have to pay, and more often than not, you can’t, so you take out a loan. Then you go into a hostile job enviornment created by the 1% and can’t find a job, regardless of your degree. So then you go on to incur more debt, and the cycle spins out of control, and even though you were trying to live within your means, in the end you can’t. In a healthy economy a Gender Studies major could get a job as a professor or researcher, and an Art History major could get a job at a museum as a curator or restoration worker, or even start a travel agency by putting their knowlage of art into a commercial application. Unfortunately, we are not in a healthy economy and these kinds of jobs are scarse. Why should these people trade in their ambitions for practicality? Is that the American Dream? Do whatever it takes to scrape by and give up on what you really want out of life? No, I don’t believe it is. So no degree is worthless, simply prioritized, and in this economy you’re right, there is no need for these people, and that is exactly what needs to change. The just by putting a greater tax on the top 1% of the population (a capitol gains tax to start) would provide enough revenue to create more jobs for all the people who don’t have “useless” degrees, or even people with no degrees. Then they can pay off their debts, putting more money into the system. Eventually we can work our way back to economic prosperity, maybe even a surplus, where the people with “useless” degrees can finally persue the goals they set out for when they entered college. I agree that forgiving all debt is foolish, and I’m not saying that the protesters’ demand to do so isn’t, but the principle behind it, the fact that many people got expensive degrees, regardless of your definition of utility, and still can’t find jobs to pay them off is what prompts these kinds of lofty demands. People are living within the means they were accustomed to living in before the economic crash, and they shouldn’t have to change when the cause of the crash is not the fault of the consumer, but rather the corporation and banks that did risky deals with their money due to a lack of regulation, pay no taxes (GE paid no taxes sinse Jeff Immelt took control of the company), and misuse bailouts. Instead the corportation should be held accountable and the top 1% should be taxed at a higher rate.

    In the end the corruption of the government by corporations and lobbyists is the root of the problem, and the protests are trying to send a message to politicians that the people are tired of it and will look to other options when voting season comes about if their voice is not heard. All the protesters can do is hope that politicians feel enough pressure to stop taking money from corporations and start regulating and taxing them which will fix the economic situation, plain and simple. The problem is that this message is getting lost or is overlooked in articles like this one and all over the media. By diminishing the movement you reduce its impact, and if there is no impact the movement dies. How else can you make politicians sit up and take notice? Occupy Wall Street is the best answer to that question as of yet, if you or anyone else can come up with a better answer than a unified and strong protest then I’m all ears, because nothing else has worked.

    • James Hill
      October 12, 2011 at 6:46 pm #

      “Why should these people trade in their ambitions for practicality? ”

      “People are living within the means they were accustomed to living in before the economic crash, and they shouldn’t have to change”

      These two quotes are perfect examples of that distorted sense of entitlement I was talking about. You feel that your protected class of citizens (students) should not have to bear the consequences of their impractical decisions, nor should they have to alter their lifestyle one iota despite the fallout of a catastrophic event that has affected all walks of life, regardless of who is to blame.How are you any different from the 1% you blame for causing the world’s problems? You want the government (or rich people) to bail you out when your risky gambles go bad. You expect people that had no say or stake in your decisions to come to your rescue when they don’t go as planned. If you want to put an end to greed, start in your own backyard first.

      “The problem is that this message is getting lost or is overlooked in articles like this one and all over the media. By diminishing the movement you reduce its impact, and if there is no impact the movement dies. How else can you make politicians sit up and take notice?”

      The problem with the Occupy Wall Street movement is that it has no coherent message.It’s a mob of angry students, hipsters and malcontents that flocked to NYC on the rumor of a Radiohead concert and stuck around to dress up like zombies and post the pictures to flickr. If you want to make politicians sit up and take notice draft a set of coherent, rational demands and start engaging with political leaders. As horribly misguided as the Tea Party are, they at least had a set of demands and an agenda. Their message (for good or ill) influences US politics, no Republican candidate can run for office without addressing the Tea Party agenda. Like I said, without coherent focus and determined leadership, the Occupy Wall Street movement is doomed to fail.

    • October 13, 2011 at 10:17 am #

      The better answer is to give these protesters a fucking wake-up call. They are asking for 2 trillion dollars “immediately” which is 1/7th of your entire country’s GDP. Even if you weren’t in debt at all, who honestly believes that you can fork out that kind of money immediately for anything? These protesters are obviously slaves to credit cards, they have never known the concept of saving before you buy that new flatscreen TV or latest iPad. These people need financial education, I too agree that there are such things as useless college degrees. Look at Belfast, Northern Ireland for example. Almost 1 in 4 people study to be teachers, yet there are only jobs for 5% of graduates. That is a SERIOUS problem with the education system for not capping courses that the industry and education system know leads to no jobs. The same thing happens in USA and everywhere else: the universities need money too, so they lower entry criteria for bullshit courses such as “Bachelor of Arts” or pressure/spam graduates into doing masters and effectively educating themselves out of a job that can afford them unless it is in highly-paid research, of which a very small percentage actually make it. People need to be realistic.

  7. Anonymous
    October 13, 2011 at 5:37 am #

    I’m not asking for a bailout, I’m asking for the economy to become stable and health again so that students can get jobs after they exit college which will allow them to pay their debts. How is that entitlement? Is it so wrong to expect a bad situation be fixed by a government that is supposed to take care of its citizens? If not, what is the purpose of government? The government has the ability to fix this economy, but chooses not to because of their corporate buddies. The truth is that the problem can be fixed through regulation and taxation. If people start “living within their means” their quality of life will only continue to decrease as corporations and the top 1% and corportations steal more, that is the real problem.

    The reason republicans listen to the Tea Party is not because their message is coherent, its because they too are supported by corporations. In fact, the Koch brothers funded the vast majority of the Tea Party protests. Why shouldn’t the republicans listen to the Tea Party when they want the exact same thing? The difference is that the Occupy movement is attacking the source of the problem, while the Tea Party fights to bolster that source.

    “We don’t just want bread, we want roses too”- textile works, Laurence Mass. 1912: the 99%’s message in one sentence. This means that its not enough to grind out a living, especially in a country that prides itself on social justice and parity. People want a high standard of living, and if achieving that standard is possible, they are entitled to it. As it stands though, the greed of the 1% is keeping that parity from happening, and we the people suffer. The Occupy Wall Street message is loud and clear, they want and end to economy injustice, this case has been made time and time again, but no one listens.

    By the way personal attacks get us no where, I am fortunate enough to have a job and not worry about my debt problems, I live within my means without having had to change my lifestyle, but I am lucky and I have the good sense to acknowledge others who can’t do the same thing, not because they made bad decisions in their life, but because this economy and their government is letting them down. If this movement continues to grow, politicians will have to take notice, that is how civil disobedience works. These people are not the “malcontents” you make them out to be, unless of course you think this countries nurses, teachers, engineers, social workers, and firemen are malcontents (I’m refering to the unions in NYC joining the protests of course, all the above unions were present)… This idea that the common man is at fault for this crisis is wrong, and while the comman man of course had a hand in the issue, the real fault lies with the banks, corporations, and top 1% of this country that refuse to pay their fair share and rob the American people, I can’t stress that enough, and until those issues are corrected, then no amount of “living within our means” will ever get this country out of the crisis we are in, and I can only invision a bleak future for the common man in the USA…

    • October 13, 2011 at 10:22 am #

      Anonymous, “I’m asking for the economy to become stable and health again so that students can get jobs after they exit college which will allow them to pay their debts” – don’t you think that squeezing the pockets of the nation, the nations businesses, tightening regulations, cutting back spending, etc, is exactly the way your economy will become stable? Throwing more money around certainly won’t do it. These 99% of people who feel they are entitled to a “high standard of living” don’t realise that they already fucking have one. They all have smartphones, media attention, places to live, the ability to read and write, the ability to get a job, and they all fucking live in the inner suburbs, at least close enough to occupy wallstreet without having to travel halfway across the state to do it. These ungrateful hipsters need to get a head check. Move somewhere affordable if you can’t afford the high-rise lifestyle. Compare your entitlements to countries like Slovakia and Bavaria and see how high your standard of living already is. #Firstworldproblems is the attitude that it’s never enough, always want more, more more.

  8. Anonymous
    October 13, 2011 at 5:47 am #

    And by the way, when I say people are entitled to a higher standard of living, the implication is that the means to achieve that standard exists. What each individual does with that opportunity is up to them, and if they can’t achieve the standard which they set out for that is too bad for them. As it stands those opportunities don’t exist anymore in this country, and everyone is entitled to the opportunity to make a good life for themselves. Becoming successful should not be about luck or social standing, it should be about hard work, but now no amount of hard work will bring success, and even being given an opportunity to work hard isn’t available to most people. That is the reality of this economy, and that is exactly what needs to change. Regulating and taxing the 1% of corporations, banks, and top 1% of people will provide enough capitol to allow small businesses to flurish, create jobs, and in general stimulate the economy. This will create the opportunity to make a high standard of living, and that opportunity is what every person in this country is entitled to, so yes I suppose I do have a sense of entitlement. I believe all people are entitled to the opportunity to make a good life for themselves, which I believe is exactly what the American dream has always been. So either we recognize this as a people and work to that end, or we redefine what the American dream is and change this country’s identity and principles.

    • James Hill
      October 13, 2011 at 8:23 am #

      Even during the height of economic prosperity, there were never enough positions going for the many, many liberal arts graduates leaving school with six figure debt. The simple fact of the matter is that there are way more people that want to be writers, artists, musicians and activists than society needs. No amount of government regulation and taxation will create these jobs, and certainly not at the wage levels required to pay off 100k debt.

      You seem to believe that taxing the rich and reigning in their risk taking and spending will return us to our previous standard of living. What you fail to understand though is that very same standard of living we’re all used to was a symptom of the risk taking and wasteful spending of the elite. Our economy and lifestyles were funded by debt: they were funded by extravagant student loans, they were funded by sub prime mortgages, they were funded by credit cards. The crimes of the financial elite are much more insidious and far reaching than you realise. The mess we’re in today has its roots in the erosion of the manufacturing sector, the offshoring of blue collar jobs. The financial elite shifted us to an economy based on savings to one based on debt.

      That rollercoaster ride is over now, unfortunately. And you and I will now be asked to pay for generations of excess. Taxing and regulating the top 1% is a good first step in rebuilding our economy, but it will not be anywhere near enough money to begin servicing our debt, let alone returning us to a living wage. A return to a living wage will require us to face up to the failures of free trade, globalism and lax immigration laws. The systemic changes required to bring the working classes back to anything close to prosperity will take decades. In the meantime, everyone’s standard of living will decline. In fact, the poor have experienced an erosion of their standard of living for decades, despite the fact that they have had nothing to do with the decisions that have precipitated this decline. Is it fair? Certainly not. But it’s simply the reality the world is facing.

    • October 13, 2011 at 10:26 am #

      The means to achieve a standard certainly exists. They aren’t happy with this achievable standard, they want to raise the bar to be able to live *beyond* their means, the highlife of success where everyone has a modern inner-suburban bachelor pad, awesome car and the latest gadgets, which is unreasonable and unsustainable for 99% of the country to achieve! Can you imagine the expense, the drastic stresses on environmental and infrastructural factors? Two trillion dollars won’t even nearly cut it. You’re talking about 300 million people all wanting this entitlement? Dream on. Never going to happen.

  9. December 25, 2011 at 7:08 am #

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