When considering the statement, “We are the 99%” it’s important to distinguish between the message as “symbol” and the literal meaning. While to some this distinction is clear, to many others it isn’t. That is, obviously the occupy movement doesn’t “represent” in any real way the 99%: 1% is approximately three million people in the US. Adding to that the much larger percent of people hired to defend the interests of that 1%, like the private security (see this article for more on the subject: http://www.counterpunch.org/2011/10/10/financial-giants-put-new-york-city-cops-on-their-payroll/ ), public police forces (the massive federal, state, county, municipal), intelligence services, military-industrial complex, the bureaucrats at every level of the government all have their personal economic interests, and in most cases, their ideological allegiance to, the 1%. Arguably, those representing the interests of the 1% are even a majority.
We need to clarify in our minds our symbolic representations (both visual and verbal symbols, the latter including slogans such as “we are the 99%”) from actual realities. In other words, we need to make sure we don’t misunderstand the meaning of our slogans and allow our slogans to blur and confuse our understanding of objective reality. This is all-too-human of a problem as a simple example from today’s headlines will illustrate.
When city officials send police in to break up peaceful assemblies of citizens (as they’re doing now to the Boston Occupation) in the name of “maintaining public order” they’re violating the actual public order in the name of the “public order.” The citizens who are in the occupation, as we know, are trying to restore public order in a real sense (the order of justice that is sustainable over the long term) but the city officials are responding to a symbolic representation of “public order” which has nothing to do with either the “public” (Latin,“publicus,” the people), “order” (Latin, “ordo,” rank). In a democracy the “order” has at the pinnacle of its rank the “publicus” or people and democracy is, in other words, the order of the public. Sending police in to brutalize, arrest, harass, intimidate, threaten, besiege the public as it orders itself and its society, is the very definition of a violation of the “public order.”
Now let’s look at ourselves. What does “We are the 99%” actually mean? I’ve heard it said that “police” are part of the 99%. “Travis Dizzasster” from the Occupy SF wrote, for instance, “The police are not the enemy. There is no enemy. We need to wake up! The goal is to raise awareness, not fight with police. We are the revolution, we are the police, the power, the journalists, the teachers, the poor and the rich…” If we’re talking about individual workers in a public workforce, we could say we represent what we consider to be their ultimate interests. But to say that they, in their official capacity as police, “are the 99%” would be a statement most of them would probably bristle at. Moreover, Travis’s well-meaning advocacy for inclusion also clouds what might be the most important contribution the Occupation movement has to offer: the idea that there are two classes of people with distinct interests: the class of the 1% and the class of the 99%. To include the “rich” into our movement as a category would be to make nonsense of the whole meaning of the 1% vs the 99%. Obviously we won’t exclude wealthy people from our assemblies and occupations. But what should we do when Bill Gates offers a grant? Even a no-strings “gift”? What about when the CEO of JP Morgan offers to send pizzas? Or when they send gifts through their employees, who are not part of the 1%, but whose interests and loyalty are tied to JP Morgan? What should we tell the police or the FBI agents, who are theoretically part of the 99%, when they want to come into our meetings? On what basis can we exclude them?
These are real issues that we need to resolve in our own minds as we begin to build on the occupations being carried out across the country and the world. But we also need to build a common platform as we refine our ideas and do a more rigorous analysis of our reality.