A Declaration of the 99%
by Dan Brook
The current wave of non-violent protests across the U.S. and around the world is growing everyday in numbers, locations, and passion. Inspired by the massive protests in Tunisia, Egypt, Wisconsin, Spain, Greece, Israel, India, and elsewhere in 2011, and the shout-out by Adbusters over the summer, Occupy Wall Street started on September 17th as a reaction to the corpocracy, the big, powerful, wealthy corporations and their financial system with its limitless greed and disproportionate influence on our government and in our society. Whether or not we physically occupy, we are the 99%!
Though the 1% has trillions of dollars — more wealth than the bottom 90%! — the 99% struggles to get by with massive debt, high unemployment, mounting foreclosures, costly and deadly wars, declining social services, threats against Social Security, relentless bills, regressive taxation, crumbling infrastructure, rising tuition, crowded classrooms, predatory banks, an anemic democracy, and chronic anxiety. This level of gross inequality is patently unfair and must be remedied.
Occupy Wall Street is everywhere. Where are you?
In San Francisco, there is a bakery called Arizmendi, named after the founder of the Mondragón cooperative movement in the Basque region of Spain. It is a worker-owned collective, so instead of the profit being sucked out by someone of the 1% who doesn’t work there, the workers are paid well, have good benefits, treat themselves kindly, money is reinvested in the business, food is donated to shelters, and the workers make their own collective decisions, while producing high-quality vegetarian food, so there is no exploitation and no sense of alienation. Arizmendi is an anomaly — there are hundreds, perhaps even thousands like it, though not millions — but it doesn’t have to be this way. Another world is possible — and it smells great!
While average real wages are essentially flat and top marginal tax rates for people and corporations way down over the past couple of generations, there have been increases in hours worked, worker productivity, corporate profits, CEO salaries, energy consumption, financial speculation, the stock market, millionaires and billionaires, international free trade agreements, foreign investment, outsourcing, military spending, U.S. foreign military bases, imprisonment, debt, tuition, health care costs, rent, homelessness, depression, and anxiety.
So, although the causes and demands of the Occupy Movement seem to vary, they all cluster around a core principle: support the need of the 99%, not the greed of the 1%.
Especially in this richest country in the world:
If we had economic policies for the 99%, we wouldn’t have poverty, deprivation, and many of the social problems associated with poverty and deprivation.
If we had tax policies for the 99%, the Bush tax cuts for the rich would be reversed and we would have steeply progressive taxation, as we did in the 1950s, to create a fairer, more stable, middle-class society without the extremes of obscene wealth and obscene poverty. Further, we would tax destructive activities the most, while lessening or eliminating taxes on necessities and productive goods and services. It is simply unjust that in certain years, GE, ExxonMobil, Chevron, Boeing, Bank of America, Verizon, Citibank, Goldman Sachs, FedEx, and many other corporations paid less federal taxes — zero! — than me and any other individual taxpayer.
If we had jobs policies for the 99%, we wouldn’t have unemployment, there wouldn’t be involuntary underemployment, and we’d have many more meaningful jobs with living wages and safe working conditions. There is always much work to be done and many people who want to work, yet jobs are too often scarce. Unions would be encouraged instead of suppressed. Work days and work weeks would be shorter, while still maintaining full pay, and parental care for newborns and adoptees would be universal.
If we had housing policies for the 99%, we wouldn’t have homelessness, unaffordable housing, and inadequate housing, while the elite have mansions and multiple houses. As with food, water, clothing, and other necessities of life, housing is a human right (UDHR, Article 25), yet we treat it as just another commodity sold for profit.
If we had property policies for the 99%, we wouldn’t have absentee ownership. Additionally, we would break up monopolies and oligopolies, disallow corporations that are too big to fail, revoke corporate personhood, and better devise and regulate corporate charters, while encouraging social entrepreneurship, employee ownership, cooperatives, collectives, and communes. We would also have various lending libraries, not just for books, but also for tools, toys, and many other items that are either used temporarily or infrequently.
If we had healthcare policies for the 99%, we wouldn’t have 50 million Americans without health insurance, millions more underinsured, high monthly premiums, high co-payments, overpriced procedures and medicines, overcrowded emergency rooms, people going bankrupt due to huge medical expenses, and profits being made on the suffering of others. We would have high-quality, universal, single-payer healthcare.
If we had education policies for the 99%, we’d have free public education from preschool through graduate school for all who qualify and we would pay teachers more than stock brokers. Student loans would be much less necessary, but would accrue at lower interest rates and could be repaid with various forms of community service. Further, education wouldn’t simply be geared toward tests, but would be oriented toward basic skills as well as critical thinking, problem solving, creative expression, sustainability, social movements and societal improvement, people’s history, educational holism, and a whole range of relevant people’s education that focuses on the needs and interests of the 99%.
If we had energy policies for the 99%, we wouldn’t have oil and coal companies making hundreds of billions in profits, while polluting the world and increasing global warming, or tax-subsidized, uninsurable nuclear plants that threaten health and safety, but would instead support a wide array of decentralized safe and renewable energies, including solar, wind, wave, tidal, geothermal, hydrogen, fuel cell, biomass, hydroelectric, and others. We would also focus much more on conservation and efficiency.
If we had environmental policies for the 99%, we would clean up the plethora of Superfund sites, get dangerous chemicals out of foods and toys, minimize chemicals in our society, eliminate carcinogenic products, discourage carbon and methane emissions that increase global warming, minimize single-use products, raise efficiency standards for vehicles, appliances, and electronics, protect our air and water, restore forests and wetlands, encourage local, organic, and vegetarian eating (LOVE), institute the Precautionary Principle, prosecute environmental criminals, and ensure environmental justice.
If we had transportation policies for the 99%, we would support and subsidize many forms of public transportation and expand it, including high speed rail, as well as facilitating and expanding bicycle use, electric car sharing, and walkability.
If we had trade policies for the 99%, we wouldn’t have so-called free trade agreements that ease the investments and capital transfers of multi-billion dollar transnational corporations, but instead would have fair trade agreements that mutually benefit workers, producers, consumers, and the environment. Products made by slave labor would be banned. We would also substantially reform the IMF, World Bank, and WTO in the interests of the 99% instead of the transnational corporations.
If we had legal policies for the 99%, we wouldn’t imprison people for non-violent offenses, would expand local and specialized courts, mediation, collaborative justice, alternative sentencing, restitution, community service, and would seek social policies, including all of the above, to prevent crime more than punish it. We would reverse the privatization of prisons and reintroduce rehabilitation. Legalizing, or at least decriminalizing, marijuana and hemp would be an important step as would strengthening and enforcing laws against corporate, governmental, and environmental crimes. We would also expand protections for civil rights and civil liberties, not undermine them. Torture, enhanced interrogation, extraordinary rendition, secret prisons, and detention without charges would be abolished.
If we had entitlement programs for the 99%, we would be preserving, strengthening, and expanding the very successful Social Security and Medicare, removing contribution caps for high income earners, with the 1% paying their fair share.
If we had investment policies for the 99%, there would be a tax on speculative investments, as the U.S. once had (perhaps 1%), and further disincentives for speculating in food, water, housing, healthcare, education, energy, and other necessities of life.
If we had banking policies for the 99%, there would be high capital reserve requirements, disincentives for banks to speculate, and incentives to lend money in local communities for local needs. States and other jurisdictions would have their own banks. There would be preferential treatment for credit unions and other non-profit organizations.
If we had agricultural policies for the 99%, we would support small farmers, farmers’ markets, organic agriculture, and industrial hemp, instead of giant agri-business, the chemical industry, the livestock industry, the sugar industry, the corn ethanol industry, the cotton industry, and the tobacco industry.
If we had food policies for the 99%, we wouldn’t have hunger, crappy school lunches, and genetically engineered food. We also wouldn’t have fast food and processed food products that are cheaper than real foods and chemicalized produce that is cheaper than organic fruits and vegetables. Dangerous chemicals shouldn’t be sprayed on our farms and animals shouldn’t be tortured and killed to produce unhealthy food for profit. Healthy, compassionate, environmentally-sustainable food should be the norm, but it’s apparently not as profitable for the 1%. We would change that.
If we had electoral policies for the 99%, we would have one-person-one-vote instead of one-dollar-one-vote with the hundreds of millions of people’s voices much more influential than the thousands of highly-paid corporate lobbyists. Further, we would reduce barriers to voting and for third parties, while incorporating democratizing schemes, such as referenda, politician accountability, publicly-funded elections, automatic registration, mail-in ballots, cumulative voting, ranked choice, instant run off, none of the above, and proportional representation.
If we had foreign policies for the 99%, we wouldn’t be fighting oil wars costing trillions of dollars and way too many lives, maintaining a thousand foreign military bases, supporting foreign militaries and dictatorships, exporting weapons of mass destruction, torture devices, and toxic chemicals, but instead would be supporting democracies, democratic movements, and sustainable development around the world. Helping to clean up the world’s water, for example, would cost a fraction of the bloated U.S. military budget, yet would provide much more hope to hundreds of millions of people around the world, while providing substantially better national security for all. Likewise with building schools, hospitals, and clinics, iodizing salt, and promoting education, especially for girls.
We support free speech, peaceable assembly, and all those who seek justice. We oppose violence, regardless of who commits it, on both moral and tactical grounds. While this declaration of the 99% is not “all-inclusive”, like OWS stated in their declaration, it is a good start, but it needs you.
Like modern day Marie Antoinettes, the 1% tell us to go shopping and eat cake, while they continue to privatize massive profits and socialize exorbitant costs. We the 99% no longer want their bread and cake crumbs; now we have our sights set on the bakery. Our society can be modeled after Arizmendi Bakery with its democratic and participatory structure, which is a microcosm of how the 99% can become the 100%, how we can control our destiny and live more secure, fair, and meaningful lives.
If we had social policies for the 99%, we would support need not greed, people before profits and corporations, life before things, and we would get money out of politics, reclaim our democracy, reduce racism, sexism, and homophobia, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, as well as other oppressive social divisions, and promote social justice with every policy and program from the local to the global and from the personal to the political.
I support the need of the 99%, not the greed of the 1%. Which side are you on?
Dan Brook, Ph.D., is the author of Modern Revolution, Che Forever, An Alef-Bet Kabalah, and dozens of articles. He also maintains Eco-Eating, The Vegetarian Mitzvah, Food for Thought—and Action, and No Smoking?. A version of this essay appeared at Dissident.org. He welcomes comments at: brook AT brook DOT com.