What Does “We are the 99%” Mean?

cropped-fist.png“We are the 99%” is the popular slogan that arose alongside the Occupy Wall Street movement. It is meant to show unity among all but the richest of people in the fight against what is commonly viewed as an unfair, corrupt system that favors the quality of life for a very small percentage of people above the quality of life for the general population.

The slogan was a unifying force in the Occupy Wall Street movement. It helped spread the message of inequality that the movement was attempting to shine a light upon. Specifically, between the late 1970’s and the beginning of the Occupy Wall Street movement in 2011, the wages for the top one percent of earners multiplied nearly three times, while the average lower and middle class American’s wages increased by only sixty percent.

The slogan dates back to 1765, and is featured in a letter to the editor in the New York Gazette, “”Is it equitable that 99, or rather 999 should suffer for the Extravagance or Grandeur of one?”

More recently the same idea was written by Aldous Huxley in a letter to his brother regarding the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. “…think of what ninety nine percent of the human race want – food, shelter, a secure family life and to be left alone by bosses and busybodies. Unfortunately the one percent who are interested in power and ideals and ideologies are the ones who call the tune.”

The original use of the slogan in the context of the Occupy Wall Street movement was a simple inclusion on a poster posted on the official Occupy website. The rise and popularity, though, is due to the We Are the 99 Percent Tumblr that was started in August, 2011. The creator had put out a call for submissions, asking people to take a picture of themselves holding a sign detailing their struggles as a member of the American working class.

The Tumblr blog brought the slogan to the public’s eye. After only a month in operation the submissions had been shared through a number of prominent social media channels and through mainstream websites. Not long after, the Tumblr was spread through more mainstream media channels, including the television news. The mainstream media’s support spread the message, and the slogan, among all participants of Occupy Wall Street and helped associate the phrase as an “official” slogan of the movement.

With regards to the Occupy movement, the slogan is not meant to be taken completely literally, despite the simplicity of the phrase. While roughly half of the wealth of the United States is controlled by about one percent of the population, the slogan originated as a way to shine light on the shared struggles of the majority of the population. It gave a centralized message of shared obstacles that helped keep the movement growing and helped participants sympathize with each other’s financial struggles.