On Friday, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) was scheduled to make a speech on income inequality at the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. Yet after learning that the event would be taking place in a forum open to the public and that hundreds of protesters from Occupy Philly and other allied groups planned to protest his presence, Cantor canceled his appearance. Cantor’s retreat from his speech in Philadelphia was a watershed moment for the 99 Percent Movement — which takes its name from the slogan “We Are The 99 Percent,” referring to the economic struggle between 99 percent of Americans and the richest 1 percent who hold the economic and political systems of the country hostage. It proved that even one of the country’s most powerful public officials was afraid to face off with the increasingly broad movement calling for economic justice and a more equitable distribution of national income and wealth. Indeed, since Occupy Wall Street began on Sept. 17, the 99 Percent Movement has rapidly expanded, changing the media narrative and winning establishment support. It is a movement that shows no signs of slowing down, and as Ahmed Maher, one of the leading Egyptian student revolutionaries, told ThinkProgress, if it continues to persist it will win in achieving a more equitable and just America.
RAPIDLY EXPANDING: Since the original occupation began in Zuccotti Park in New York City, the 99 Percent Movement has spread across the country and globally. There are large occupations in New York City, Washington, DC, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Denver, Chicago, Seattle, Boston, and other major cities. On Oct. 15, the movement earned global solidarity as hundreds of thousands of people rallied for social justice worldwide, with “99 Percent” signs showing up in countries as far apart as Canada and South Korea. By last week, the number of Facebook “Likes” on the more than 500 Occupy Facebook groups reach upwards of 1,233,000. The occupations across the country are persisting despite very aggressive action by city officials and police to try to restrict overnight protests in public parks. Well over a thousand Americans have been arrested for misdemeanors related to sleeping overnight in parks or obstructing traffic — a number that is in stark contrast to the almost zero senior executives at major banks who have been arrested for fraud related to the global recession. The movement’s greatest victory in resisting impending arrests happened on Oct. 14, when police and Brookfield Properties, the owners of Zuccotti Park, backed down on their original intent to clear the area and set up new rules that would’ve effectively ended the occupation.
SHAKING UP THE POLITICAL SYSTEM: Although the protesters in the 99 Percent Movement have mostly strayed away from endorsing political candidates or parties, American politicians seem eager to endorse them. As progressive blogger Digby notes, this recalls the old Ronald Reagan phrase, “I don’t endorse anyone, they endorse me.” Among those who have voiced at least some support for the movement are President Obama, Vice President Biden, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). Republican public officials, too, have shown some sympathy for the movement. A long list of GOP presidential hopefuls, ranging from Mitt Romney to Herman Cain, at first attacked the movement but then later backtracked to say they have some sympathy for their frustrations. Polling from Time Magazine and United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection found that the majority of the American public sympathizes with the movement, including a majority of blue collar whites.
CHANGING THE NARRATIVE: Many of the movement’s early critics complained that it lacked a clear focus or set of goals or that it wasn’t accomplishing anything. Yet the movement has already scored one major victory: completely changing the mainstream corporate media narrative. In the last week of July, the three major cable networks — CNN, MSNBC, and Fox — mentioned the word “debt” 7,583 times and the word “unemployed” only 75 times. Yet with the debt ceiling debates behind us and the protests gearing up across the country, news coverage between Oct. 10 and Oct. 16 was completely different. The word “debt” was only mentioned 398 times on those networks, while the word “jobs” got 2,738 mentions with the words “Occupy” and “Wall Street” trailing slightly behind. Meanwhile, the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism released an analysis of 52 different major media outlets and found that coverage of Occupy Wall Street dominated news coverage the week of Oct. 10, as stories related to the 99 Percent Movement filled 10 percent of the total “newshole.”
HOW YOU CAN GET INVOLVED: There are a number of ways that Americans can get involved with the 99 Percent Movement. One way is to donate to the various occupations to help them continue to provide food, shelter, and other necessary equipment. See Occupy Wall Street’s donation page here. Another way is to join the occupations and protest yourself. Occupation groups are using Meetup.com to map out protests and there are currently 2,262 groups on the sub-site, which is being dubbed “Occupy Together.” Lastly, you can simply tell your story of how the economy has failed to work for you or your family. The “We Are The 99 Percent” Tumblr already has more than 2,000 submissions, and welcomes new additions.
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