Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

January 12, 2012

The Secret of Occupy Wall Street’s Success

Filed under: Occupy Wall Street,Pham Binh — louisproyect @ 6:29 pm
The Secret of Occupy Wall Street’s Success
By Pham Binh
January 5, 2012Occupy Wall Street (OWS) has turned the world upside down and inside out.

Thanks to our efforts, the very meaning of the word occupation has been reversed. As someone who marched against the occupations of Palestine, Iraq, and Afghanistan, this has taken some getting used to.

Dick Cheney’s prediction that occupiers “will be greeted as liberators” turned out to be correct, but not in the way he expected. Where ever students, workers, unemployed people, retirees, or veterans occupy they have been greeted as liberators by the 99% who feel that it is high time this country was liberated from the misrule of the 1%. The “Declaration of the Occupation of New York City” passed by the General Assembly (GA) on September 29 sums up our grievances very well and need not be repeated here.

For those of us who have been fighting for years around issues of social and economic justice, political corruption, police brutality, imperialist wars, civil liberties, and the oppression of racial and religious minorities, LGBTs, and women it seems like the country is finally beginning to catch up to us and listen to what we have been saying all along.

This raises questions: Why now? How and why did OWS succeed in galvanizing a mass movement where our previous efforts did not?

Success Requires Failure
Hardly anyone remembers the thousands of people who protested the bailouts in fall of 2008 at the doors of the New York Stock Exchange. The protests were angry but not militant nor defiant. People came, yelled, waved signs, and went home. By morning, the only sign of what took place was the occasional placard left behind and New York Police Department (NYPD) barricades stacked in neat order at the corners of Wall and Broad Streets. Meanwhile, the greatest theft in world history took place without a hitch as trillions of taxpayer dollars went directly or indirectly to financial institutions deemed “too big to fail.” The protests made no difference.

Hardly anyone remembers the tens of thousands who marched from Wall Street to City Hall on May 12, 2011 against Mayor Bloomberg’s attempt to lay off 6,000 teachers and close 20 firehouses. At the time, the action seemed like a weak echo of the thousands-strong occupation of Wisconsin’s State Capitol building that erupted in February just as general strikes in Egypt brought down dictator Hosni Mubarak. Unlike Wisconsin, the May 12 marches were tame from the start. The union leaders long ago abandoned militant tactics in favor of making sound bite-filled speeches for a couple of hours and providing nice photo ops for their favored Democratic politicians.

Like the 2008 rallies against the bailouts, the May 12 protests were angry but not militant nor defiant. People came, yelled, waved signs, and went home. Again, the protests had no effect.

Something more was needed.

Enter New Yorkers Against Budget Cuts (NYABC), a grassroots coalition of activists from a wide variety of backgrounds: union members, socialist and anarchist groups, and community organizers. NYABC applied the occupy tactic borrowed from Egypt’s Tahrir Square and the indignados in Spain by establishing a permanent encampment called Bloombergville close to City Hall to protest the mayor’s proposed budget cuts. Bloombergville’s name was a reference to Hoovervilles, those Great Depression-era shantytowns that thousands lived in after losing their homes, jobs, and savings as President Herbert Hoover did nothing.

Bloombergville was a dry run for OWS. The police continually harassed the encampment on dubious legal pretexts; drum circles and boisterous musicians helped create spirited, vibrant protests; there was a people’s library and kitchen to provide intelletual and physical sustenance to the occupiers; and Bloombergville organized the first GA in New York City.

Despite these similarities to OWS, Bloombergville did not take off. The protesters numbered in the dozens or hundreds at most. Police harassment was largely successful and did not attract the attention of the average New Yorker. The City Council approved the budget in a 49-to-1 vote at the end of June, eliminating 2,600 teaching positions through attrition, forcing the teachers’ union to make $60 million in concessions, and laying off 1,000 non-uniform city workers.

Bloombergville’s one demand — no budget cuts — was ignored, just as the 2002-2003 anti-war movement’s one demand — no to war — was ignored.

Prelude to Revolution
The Canadian group AdBusters’ July 13 call to occupy Wall Street seemed like a great but whimsical idea: “Are you ready for a Tahrir Moment? On September 17, we want to see 20,000 people flood into lower Manhattan, set up tents, kitchens, peaceful barricades and occupy Wall Street for a few months.”

It was Bloombergville and the network of activists around it that gave the dream legs with over a month’s worth of planning meetings. They seized on the call because there was something electric about the idea of occupying Wall Street, taking the fight against austerity, budget cuts, and rampant inequality right into the bull’s lair, the nerve center of world capitalism.

Instead of attacking the symptoms of what was wrong with the status quo, like campaigning against budget cuts or fighting to win a local living wage ordinance, OWS went right to the root of the problem: Wall Street. It was radical, it was bold, and it was a far cry from the single-issue single-event organizing of Bloombergville, the May 15, 2011 union marches, the 2008 bailout protests, the 2004 Republican National Convention, the 2002-2003 anti-war rallies, the 2002 World Economic Forum protest, or any previous action by any section of New York City’s progressive community.As September 17 drew near, anticipation mounted as the hacker group Anonymous endorsed the action. It was unclear what exactly would happen that day. Would 20,000 people show up in Guy Fawkes masks (the Anonymous group’s calling card)? Many local activists, jaded by years of unrewarding and difficult organizing, did not embrace OWS from the outset because their experiences taught them to be skeptical about the prospect of success.

The Uprising Begins
On day one of OWS, over 1,000 marched through the largely empty financial district that fateful Saturday afternoon, their angry chants echoing off the glass and concrete skyscrapers densely packed together by the area’s narrow streets. Originally they planned to camp out at One Chase Manhattan Plaza, but Zuccotti Park was plan B since it had to be kept open 24 hours a day as part of an obscure agreement between the city and private entities that paid for the upkeep of privately owned public spaces.

Week one of OWS was relatively uneventful as working groups were formed and GAs were held to begin the process of issuing formal statements to the world. Somewhere between 100 and 200 people camped out with sleeping bags. The police waded into the park, manhandled and arrested a handful of people, and took tarps used to cover the electronic equipment OWS used to communicate with the world on the first Monday after the occupation began.

What transformed the occupation into a national uprising of the 99% was two things: unwarranted police repression and the determination of the occupiers to continue on no matter what. Not having a permit would not stop them and neither would metal fences, pepper spray, batons, or flex cuffs.

On Saturday September 24, Anthony Bologna pepper sprayed cornered women near Union Square and it was broadcast around the world from every conceivable angle thanks to camera phones and citizen uploads to YouTube. OWS’s numbers swelled. Over 2,000 people marched on NYPD headquarters on Friday October 1 in protest. The next day came the famous Brooklyn Bridge incident in which the NYPD lured 700 protesters into blocking traffic, cornered them, and arrested them. The outrage triggered by the 700 arrests led 30,000 to march at a permitted union-sponsored rally on October 5, and Occupy exploded with actions in 250 towns and cities across the country, including places like Nashville, Tennesee and Mobile, Alabama.

NASCAR versus Wall Street was probably the furthest thing from the minds of the occupiers who camped out in sleeping bags during week one of OWS but it became a reality in less than a month. Occupy earned itself a capital O.

Once Occupy went national, the same two ingredients that propelled the uprising’s explosive growth — unwarranted police repression and militant, determined protesters — led to the first general strike in Oakland, California since 1946. The strike was called in response to police hitting Iraq veteran and former Marine Scott Olsen in the face with a tear gas canister as they cleared out Oakland’s occupation on the orders of Democratic Mayor Jean Quan and in consultation with federal law enforcement agencies. Occupy Oakland is now calling for another general strike up and down the West Coast on December 12 in reply to the nationwide crackdown on local occupations.

Lessons of OWS
OWS succeeded where traditional protests failed for a variety of reasons, one of the most important being the fact it was not conventional; it was not a single-issue, single-event protest, unlike almost all previous efforts by progressives in the U.S. over the last three decades. There was no end date or end game by design.

Because OWS was designed as an open-ended, ongoing event, refusing to adopt a formal set of demands was extremely wise. It allowed every person, organization, and cause to bring their own demands and shape OWS’s message and avoided the pitfalls that come with making demands, namely having them ignored, ridiculed, picked apart, or co-opted by the 1% or failing to include demands important to some specific section of the 99%. People and the corporate media were both drawn to this seemingly new phenomenon of a protest without demands, an action without goals.

Many people in Occupy feel deeply and instinctively that making a formal list of demands is the first step to defeat because such a list will be used as a yardstick to judge our success or failure. All the 1% has to do is point out the fact that our demands have not been met and people will feel defeated, that marching is pointless, just as we did in 2003 when the government invaded Iraq despite our best efforts. The invasion of Iraq was a fatal blow to the anti-war movement because our central demand meant zero in the big scheme of things.

Back then, people felt defeated, demoralized, and stayed home, but they also began to learn something important: showing up, yelling, waving signs, and going home is not going to cut it. It took years of organizing around other issues and other events for that lesson to really sink in and become the strategic, tactical, and practical basis for organizing.

The important thing is not how long it took to learn this but the fact that it happened.

A second important lesson of OWS is that determined, bold, and peaceful action is more important than lists of demands, formal politics, or theoretically consistent ideas about strategy and tactics. Much of the skepticism from existing progressive organizations during the first month of OWS centered around the fact that OWS had no discernible demands, no clear strategy to win change (lobbying, strikes, boycotts, elections), and no formal leadership. All of these alleged weaknesses were actually strengths, making it all but impossible for politicians and other established or

OWS succeeded above all else because of the willingness of first hundreds, now hundreds of thousands, to act, to stand up, to fight, to protest, to speak, to Occupy. French military genius Napolean Bonaparte described his method as “first engage, and then see,” and this is exactly what Occupy did.

In this respect and unknowingly OWS followed in the footsteps of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense. The comparison seems implausible but some of the underlying, methodological similarities are undeniable.

The Panthers developed a mass following in the 1960s not because millions of blacks read the party’s 10-Point Program and clamored to sign up but because the Panthers took bold action to meet the pressing needs of their community. One of their first initiatives was to follow police patrols in California with a rifle slung over one shoulder and a law hand to police the police, to make sure the cops were following the law when they dealt with blacks. Similarly, the Panthers marched with arms on the California legislature when it began to consider repealing the law that allowed them to carry rifles in public.

“Practice is the criteria for truth,” as the Panthers used to say. Their militant actions and the spirit of defiance underpinning them earned the Panthers the respect of the Black community and legions of eager followers who were literally willing to put their lives on the line to win their people freedom, justice, and equality. They were the vanguard.

Both OWS and the Panthers took bold, peaceful action and exploited legal loopholes so that when the police moved against them, the cops did so unlawfully.

The last element that led to OWS’s success was changing the target from Bloomberg to Wall Street. Bloombergville did not ignite a mass movement because there was no simmering anger among New Yorkers at the mayor, who until recently enjoyed high approval ratings despite his budget cuts, his fortune, and his union-busting. On the other hand, Wall Street is about as popular as Casey Anthony, and the aftermath of the 2008 bailouts has seen more budget cuts, more layoffs, more tuition increases, more foreclosures, more unemployment for the 99% and bigger bonuses and fatter paychecks regulation for the 1%.

Targeting Wall Street instead of Bloomberg completely altered the strategic calculus of the occupy tactic, providing it with the possibility of connecting with the anger of New Yorkers and the country at large that built up for years on end with no outlet until now.

Bold action against the right target using flexible, unconventional tactics is the secret of OWS’s success, but this recipe is not really a secret. Any close look at the history of movements in this country, from the underground railroad in the 1800s to the occupations of segregated in lunch counters in the 1960s, will reveal the same constituent elements.

Pham Binh’s articles have been published by Occupied Wall Street Journal, The Indypendent, Asia Times Online, Znet, and Counterpunch. His other writings can be found at www.planetanarchy.net and soon thenorthstar.info, a collaborative blog by and for occupiers.


  1. Bihn,

    The BPP were conceived of a revolutionary party, whereas Occupy movements to greater or lesser degrees are reformist. Furthermore, the BPP represented the African American Community whereas, the Occupy movement claims (inaccurately) to represent the 99%. And the BPP were clearly open to tactics beyond non-violence, yet many in the Occupy movement have stated that non-violence is the only sanctioned method of protest. I’m not commenting on the validity of the non-violent position, merely stating that the approaches are very different. Yes, they both used “unconventional tactics” but they seem so far apart I’m not sure how this comparison helps.

    Nonetheless, I agree that failure is a prelude to success so attempts to organize and forge ahead should not be contained by narratives that measure progress. Without the protests against budget cuts in education here in California in 2008 that largely failed, many in the OccupyCal and other campuses would not have the historical context of the struggle, that has driven much of the anger on California campuses.

    I’m seems now since the Occupy movement has shifted to colleges campuses to some extent, we can begin by acknowledging the fact that this is a primarily white, middle class protest. By doing that, it allows a greater recognition of communities, NOT represented by OWS and others, to have their voices heard. OccupytheHood is a prime example-building left coalitions among Occupies and is as important as reaching out to those not yet involved. Here, I firmly support any calls to organize and communicate among the various factions of Occupy and any other political or labor groups.

    Comment by jeffrey — January 12, 2012 @ 7:05 pm

  2. Jeffrey, I don’t think it’s fair to say the Occupy movement is reformist. It’s not Marxist, and doesn’t hold to a unified theory, but elements of it are quite revolutionary. Heck the headline across occupywallstreet.org is “The revolution continues worldwide!”

    Here’s a really interesting interview with an OWS guy who’s a bit of a theoretician in the movement. Is he a reformist or a revolutionary? In the way that absolutely gives OWS much of its power, the answer is both.


    Also, in my experience in a local Brooklyn neighborhood Occupy (Occupy/Ocupemos Sunset Park), it’s not even slightly about students and campuses. In NYC Occupy is trying very hard to get involved in local neighborhood issues, which may or may not ultimately raise revolutionary issues in a way that leftists recognize, but absolutely raises the opportunity of having a discussion that was not possible before.

    And the violence/nonviolence discussion seems so out of right field when Occupy has been involved in hundreds of confrontations with state power, many of which it has not lost.

    Those of us with years behind us in a stale and sterile left need to set aside our preconceptions of what this movement is about and what it is doing. And don’t believe what you read; get involved with it.

    Comment by ish — January 12, 2012 @ 8:38 pm

  3. The “Occupy” notion has a rather big reach because there are so many places which need our occupation. I have a question, though: even though “Occupy___” has shown itself to catch on with lots of people, somehow the lingo of the 99% vs the 1% has an even broader reach, just judging by comments in the media, including the Internet. What was the first appearance of the 99% vs the 1%? Was it with the OWS or does it go back earlier to movements long forgotten? Just asking.

    Comment by uh...clem — January 12, 2012 @ 9:03 pm

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  7. ish said:

    “Jeffrey, I don’t think it’s fair to say the Occupy movement is reformist. It’s not Marxist, and doesn’t hold to a unified theory, but elements of it are quite revolutionary.”


    Comment by Todd — January 12, 2012 @ 10:43 pm

  8. Mayor Bloomberg has his head in the sand. He has put controls on sugar, salt, smoking and now he’s embarked on a new war on alcohol sales with proposed heavy restrictions on where it can be sold and limiting advertising. Never mind high unemployment or record numbers of homeless in the city, he’s focused on legislating personal behavior. On another site called restricting alcohol communism. I said wait a minute the very same capitalist legislators from yesteryear enacted and enforced Prohibition, were the same ones who went to speakeasies when the workday was over. Bloomberg doesn’t like Occupy because they call attention to the social issues that he refuses to acknowledge exist. So as I sit here drinking my rum and coke and smoking my cigarette, I call on Bloomberg and other lawmakers nationwide to focus on issues of importance.

    Comment by Deborah Jeffries — January 12, 2012 @ 11:38 pm

  9. @Ish,
    I stick by my contention that the movement is largely reformist; there is huge number of people involved who state that they and the movement (as they see it) is not anti-capitalist, simply anti-corruption. This website
    http://www.wearethedemocracy.com/forum/index.php?sid=2e9b7cfed7033ccee17b832b68baf479 is chock full of ideas and opinions on how to reform government and capitalism. This is typical Occupy rhetoric; I don’t think this is necessarily bad, but it needs to be clearly identified as such before going forward.

    I agree a lot of locals are doing more than campus work; here in the bay area we are on the forefront of working with labor and community groups, but we are nowhere near having the diversity of the community reflected in the various occupies here. I know they are doing great things for the community in Detroit and Atlanta for instance, but this aside, it is clear that the groups and their organizers are centered around the university system, either physically or as their source of ideological positioning. Bridging this divide is crucial and I applaud all efforts, but we are now there yet.

    The issue of non-violent tactics versus so-called violent tactics is very much part of the fabric of the discussion of confronting state power, especially when the OSF and other Occupies threaten to turn in vandals to the police. I don’t condone all the actions of all the occupy members, but cooperating with the police to enforce non-violent tactics is an action I cannot condone.

    I appreciate your comments and reply out of a desire to find the best way to proceed with our efforts, not to try to fit the events into any ideological template.

    Binh, please excuse the misspelling of your name.

    Comment by jeffrey — January 13, 2012 @ 6:03 am

  10. jeffrey wrote:

    “I stick by my contention that the movement is largely reformist; there is huge number of people involved who state that they and the movement (as they see it) is not anti-capitalist, simply anti-corruption.”

    Of course you can point to these people in the movement: it’s that encompassing. But there are also plenty of people in it who aren’t going to be satisfied with mere reform. Whether or not one side or the other prevails, the movement splits or it simply becomes a new brand for leftism in general remains to be seen.

    Comment by Todd — January 13, 2012 @ 1:58 pm

  11. Jeffrey: I don’t see anything in the 10 Point Program about revolution. Do you? I wonder how you would characterize Occupy the Hood? Reformist? Malik often speaks about the importance of people in the ghetto growing their own food, independent of the corporations who control the food supply, for example.

    The notions of “reformism” versus “revolutionism” need to be thoroughly re-examined. You object to cooperating with the police, and yet that refusal to cooperate was a big problem in the early stages of OWS (as I stated in my Tasks piece).

    Comment by Binh — January 13, 2012 @ 3:07 pm

  12. Jeffrey: Another thing is that the resistance to making demands at OWS was partially grounded in the desire not to “legitimize” or “limit” ourselves to the existing system. It was often said by many across the OWS political spectrum that what we want is far more than what the system can provide, and sometimes this was expressed in terms of “we want a system based on love, not greed” but to say that Occupy is reformist is highly problematic at best, as others have noted here.

    To answer someone else’s question, I found a reference by the late Zinn to “the 1%” in the last chapter of his People’s History. It made for interesting reading. He may have also mentioned 99% but he did not create the 99%-1% dichotomy as expressed by OWS. I believe that actually grew as the logical conclusion of the “we are the 99%” meme that took off on a tumblr page in mid-to-late August 2011.

    Comment by Binh — January 13, 2012 @ 3:15 pm

  13. “We will do what ever we can to stop injustice.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zcVkEfZPe3Y

    Comment by Binh — January 13, 2012 @ 3:55 pm

  14. While I don’t believe that Occupy is reformist, this has as much to do with the inflexibility of the current socioeconomic system as it does with Occupy. Jeffrey makes a good point about the emphasis by some in Occupy upon trying to recuperate an idealized Keynesian social order that never really existed. This is probably the result of the education that some of the college educated kids that can’t find jobs received, where they had more exposure to Schumpeter and Keynes than Marx and Gramsci. As I stated in my post about Occupy on Wednesday, there is a possibility that Occupy will devolve into a predominately middle class movement because of the intersection of exclusionary practices like the GA and direct action with mid-20 Century liberal socioeconomic theory. It is the intrasigence of the state, the inability of the neoliberal state to make even the most minimal of concessions, that constitutes the greatest impediment to it. In places like Oakland, where there is a strong presence of anarchists and people of color, this is much less likely, which explains the peculiar mix of ‘ultra-leftism’, like the recent “Fuck the Police” march with support for unionized workers, as with the port shutdown and the picket line support for American Licorice workers. This is why Binh’s message is so important, there is a need for a strong working class and Marxist presence to ensure that Occupy does not become yet another social movement that leaves the poor and the working class behind. Marx’s observation that a social order does not disappear before it nurtures a higher relation of production may be pertinent here. Precisely what relation of production might that be, and how does it relate to those engaged by Occupy? Do those involved in Occupy have a place in this relation, or are they most at risk of being left behind?

    Comment by Richard Estes — January 13, 2012 @ 6:35 pm

  15. Thanks for the comments; you made some great points Binh. I’ll try to respond to them and to some points by Richards I think this opening up profitable avenues to explore.

    I’m not sure, but are you saying the BPP were not revolutionary, or that they did not explicitly state that in their 10 point plan? I did a quick search to see if the revision of 1970 (?) had more explicit anti-capitalist language, but couldn’t find it. Nonetheless, I don’t see the BPP as anyway reformist. They may have used reformist policies (Free lunches), but I’ll get to that in a moment.

    Occupy the Hood is something I wholly support and is what I meant by doing community work. Whether it’s reformist, I don’t know I have had no contact with them yet. With the upcoming semester at the City College of SF, I plan on reaching out, as the bay area has no chapter yet. The ability to transcend differences between workers, students and faculty are keen at community colleges with their diverse campus demographics and we are committed to building alliances wherever possible.

    As far as cooperating with police, perhaps I was unclear: I meant that I would not turn a comrade for vandalism. This is a pronounced edict of sorts in non-violent occupy circles. For the record, I cooperate with police regularly in my work with students who are transitioning from incarceration to the city college. Alliances are for me to be built and maintained on much more than ideological basis, although this must also be considered. In this way, I work with the court and probation offices of SF along side former law enforcement officers who are now in education; none that I know share my Marxist viewpoints, yet we all are working towards reforming the prison industrial system.

    That bring up the point of revising the notions of reform and revolution; I agree totally. First, though I’d like to say as you can see from above, I am not opposed to reformism. There seems to be the assumption that I support an either or proposition. I don’t, but I think it should be noted what is actually occurring opposed to what we are working towards. It is not yet a working class movement or one that is racially diverse; note on the Occupy the Hood page the following item:
    http://www.officialoccupythehood.org/2011/11/25/why-african-americans-aren%E2%80%99t-embracing-occupy-wall-street/ I believe that rather than devolving, the movement has always been “a predominately middle class movement because of the intersection of exclusionary practices like the GA and direct action with mid-20 Century liberal socioeconomic theory” and this is what must be overcome to extend the movement into areas were it is not currently being embraced. As Richard noted, rooted in Schumpeter and Keynes (if that!) many involved do not have the vocabulary to look outside of reformist policies. The self interest of middle class college graduates who now face an uncertain future grates against the grinding and increasing poverty of the working and underclass’s, under fire for forty years. When neoliberalism began its on attack workers and unions in the early seventies, the middle class looked away until 2008. Now that they are raising Cain, they expect the workers and poor to follow; I don’t think it will be that easy. The movement has to prove itself; it has begun this process and we can help keep it going. When the conditions for workers in neoliberalism allow for a class-consciousness (as is occurring), we can be there to support the development of a true working class formation.

    Back to the question of reform/revolution; while it needs further interrogation to make them functional (much like the term ‘working class’ is now almost meaningless with further qualification), we have general sense that U.S. citizen (and everyday supporter of Occupy) would prefer to reform capitalism rather than have a hard or soft revolution that overturns it for the evil of socialism/communism. This goes back in part to Richard observation of the poverty of intellectual horizons among many in the U.S.

    I strongly support “the need for a strong working class and Marxist presence to ensure that Occupy” not because it will leave the poor and working class behind, but precisely to draw in the poor and working class. I remain committed to the goal of supporting the working classes and resist any attempts to speak for them. The dictum of “nothing about us, without us” holds great wisdom here.

    In Solidarity,


    Comment by Jeffrey Masko — January 13, 2012 @ 9:27 pm

  16. I think the problem with the “reform or revolution” discussion is that leftists assume if you start shouting about the socialist revolution and the dictatorship of the proletariat that makes you a revolutionary and if you don’t, that makes you a reformist.

    The reality is that most of the time all that shouting actually means is that you are ineffective.

    The 1% vs. 99% idea conceptualizes the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie in a crystal clear way that is finding mass acceptance and understanding. It doesn’t exactly conceptualize the inverse of this, but it certainly puts it on the table. The language of revolution and how to make one is absolutely degraded, and while that might not make the idea of revolution itself conceptually degraded, it does mean that finding new ways to have the discussion is a creative challenge for those who think they have a good suggestion to make to the movement. And if you’re in the movement you realize the discussion of revolution is already happening.

    Perhaps those socialists who have successfully made a revolution in our current circumstances can chime in with their recipe for success. Oh, wait.

    Comment by ish — January 13, 2012 @ 9:45 pm

  17. #3: “What was the first appearance of ‘the 99% vs the 1%?’ Was it with the OWS or does it go back earlier to movements long forgotten? Just asking.”

    I don’t know, but here is an item from 25 October 2007:

    All the fancy blather of all the talking heads is pure distraction from this simple fact: 99% of the American people (and of the world) are simply being robbed lock, stock and barrel. Their money, savings, pensions, livelihoods, homes, lands, jobs and career prospects, security, even their very food, water and air are being taken from them as quickly as the wheels of government, finance and industry can be turned to this task. We are taken to be crash-test dummies who can be hypnotized by televised images of Britney Spears underpants, and who won’t move our butts off the couch to keep our own homes and lives from being ripped off their financial foundations by the tornado-force suction of a rapaciously manipulated economy.

    That excerpt is from: “Homes Of The Crash Test Dummies,”

    A few reminders of the times during which this was written:

    June 2006 — U.S. housing prices peak

    February-August 2007 — subprime industry collapses (ongoing)

    August 2007 — worldwide “credit crunch” as subprime mortgage backed securities are discovered in portfolios of banks

    September 2007 — Federal economists meet to address “housing recession that jeopardizes U.S. growth”

    October 2007
    — U.S. backed bank consortium creates “superfund” to buy back, for detoxification and resale, the now junk subprime-backed securities (this effort is abandoned in December, there are no customers for 2nd hand junk);
    — Fed. Res. Chr. Bernancke alarmed about bursting housing bubble;
    — Treas. Sec. Paulson says: “the housing decline is still unfolding and I view it as the most significant risk to our economy. … The longer housing prices remain stagnant or fall, the greater the penalty to our future economic growth.”

    The housing decline continued, the percentage of all households in some stage of foreclosure was more than:

    1.03% in 2007 year-end
    1.84% in 2008 year-end
    2.21% in 2009 year-end
    1.28% by mid-year 2010
    2.23% in 2010 year-end
    0.90% by mid-year 2011

    The global financial crisis (crash) occurred during September-October 2008.

    Today, 1 in 5 U.S. mortgages is underwater (more owed than the market value of the home).

    So, perhaps the 2007 CP article was one of numerous sources that eventually coalesced into the OWS “the 99% vs the 1%.” From the mail I got at the time, I know the paragraph quoted was the most popular one in the article.

    Comment by manuelgarciajr — January 14, 2012 @ 8:33 am

  18. […] “What was the first appearance of ‘the 99% vs the 1%?’ Was it with the OWS or does… […]

    Pingback by Where Did “the 99% vs. the 1%” Come From? | manuelgarciajr — January 14, 2012 @ 9:03 am

  19. I recently saw a reference to the 1% in Michael Moore’s 1997 movie The Big One, shot during his book tour for “Downsize This” (the finger). He mentions the two candidates for the 1996 presidential race, Bill Clinton and Bob Dole, as being “owned by the 1%”. That predates the Counterpunch article but, as Pham Binh has found, is much later than Howard Zinn’s apparent reference to the 1% in his People’s History of the US. It’s populist, to be sure, but it’s still “catchy”!

    Comment by uh...clem — January 14, 2012 @ 6:36 pm

  20. […] The Secret of Occupy Wall Street's Success « Louis Proyect: The … Posted in Occupy Wall Street | Tags: occupy wall street, our-efforts, ows, secret, street, the-word, the-world, turned-the-world, upside-down-, world /* […]

    Pingback by The Secret of Occupy Wall Street's Success « Louis Proyect: The … | PAULitics.US – Wake Up America — January 15, 2012 @ 4:05 pm

  21. One percent of the nation owns a third of the wealth. The rest of the wealth is distributed in such a way as to turn those in the 99 percent against one another: small property owners against the propertyless, black against white, native-born against foreign-born, intellectuals and professionals against the uneducated and unskilled. These groups have resented one another and warred against one another with such vehemence and violence as to obscure their common position as sharers of leftovers in a very wealthy country.

    Against the reality of that desperate, bitter battle for resources made scarce by elite control, I am taking the liberty of uniting those 99 percent as “the people.” I have been writing a history that attempts to represent their submerged, deflected, common interest. To emphasize the commonality of the 99 percent, to declare deep enmity of interest with the 1 percent, is to do exactly what the governments of the United States, and the wealthy elite allied to them-from the Founding Fathers to now-have tried their best to prevent. Madison feared a “majority faction” and hoped the new Constitution would control it. He and his colleagues began the Preamble to the Constitution with the words “We the people …,” pretending that the new government stood for everyone, and hoping that this myth, accepted as fact, would ensure “domestic tranquility.”

    The prospect is for times of turmoil, struggle, but also inspiration. There is a chance that such a movement could succeed in doing what the system itself has never done-bring about great change with little violence. This is possible because the more of the 99 percent that begin to see themselves as sharing needs, the more the guards and the prisoners see their common interest, the more the Establishment becomes isolated, ineffectual. The elite’s weapons, money, control of information would be useless in the face of a determined population. The servants of the system would refuse to work to continue the old, deadly order, and would begin using their time, their space-the very things given them by the system to keep them quiet-to dismantle that system while creating a new one.

    ^- Howard Zinn, “The Coming Revolt of the Guards,” taken from “A People’s HIstory of the United States”
    Taken from: http://www.historyisaweapon.com/defcon1/zinncomrev24.html

    Comment by Binh — January 15, 2012 @ 10:31 pm

  22. “Because OWS was designed as an open-ended, ongoing event, refusing to adopt a formal set of demands was extremely wise. It allowed every person, organization, and cause to bring their own demands and shape OWS’s message and avoided the pitfalls that come with making demands, namely having them ignored, ridiculed, picked apart, or co-opted by the 1% or failing to include demands important to some specific section of the 99%”.

    This is specifically Homeric wisdom: you tried your best and you failed miserably. The lesson is: never try.

    Comment by Roobin — January 16, 2012 @ 11:33 am

  23. The movement did Occupy and change the way Wall Street works, but they are still stealing our money…. corruption will never be completely gone, no matter the amount of will reflected on the people

    Comment by JGH0STB0Y — August 1, 2012 @ 1:00 pm

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