NYT's Stelter Hails OWS '99%' Slogan, Compares It To 'Give Me Liberty Or Give Me Death'

On Thursday's front page, New York Times media reporter Brian Stelter produced another homage to Occupy Wall Street, this time their slogan: 'Camps Are Cleared, but '99 Percent' Still Occupies the Lexicon.'(Thanks in no small part to fawning reporters like Stelter and others at the Times.)

Most of the biggest Occupy Wall Street camps are gone. But their slogan still stands. Whatever the long-term effects of the Occupy movement, protesters have succeeded in implanting 'We are the 99 percent,' referring to the vast majority of Americans (and its implied opposite, 'You are the one percent' referring to the tiny proportion of Americans with a vastly disproportionate share of wealth), into the cultural and political lexicon.


Perhaps most important for the movement, there was a sevenfold increase in Google searches for the term '99 percent' between September and October and a spike in news stories about income inequality throughout the fall, heaping attention on the issues raised by activists.

'The '99 percent,' and the 'one percent,' too, are part of our vocabulary now,' said Judith Stein, a professor of history at the City University of New York.

Soon there were income calculators ('What Percent Are You?' asked The Wall Street Journal), music playlists (an album of Woody Guthrie covers, promoted as a 'soundtrack for the 99 percent') and cheap lawn signs. And, inevitably, there were ads: a storefront near Union Square peddles 'Gifts for the 99 percent.' A trailer for a Showtime television series about management consultants, 'House of Lies,' describes the lead characters as 'the one percent sticking it to the one percent.' A Craigslist ad for a three-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn has the come-on 'Live Like the One Percent!' (in this case, in Boerum Hill).

Stelter even likened the leftist campers to the American Revolution and the civil rights movement (one difference: people actually faced danger fighting for those causes).

Slogans have emerged from American protest movements, successful and otherwise, throughout history. The American Revolution furnished the world with 'Give me liberty or give me death' and the still-popular 'No taxation without representation.' The equal rights movement in the 1960s used the phrase '59 cents' to point out the income disparities between women and men. The civil rights movement embraced the song 'We Shall Overcome' as a slogan. During the Vietnam War, protesters called on politicians to 'Bring 'em Home' and 'Stop the Draft.' More recently, supporters of Mr. Obama shouted 'Yes, we can.'

Stelter resorted to the last refuge of a reporter eager to confirm 'buzz' – social media anecdotes.

But attempts to mock or subvert the slogan seem not to have stuck; as Ms. Jardin put it, 'How do you make fun of numbers?' A Tumblr blog that was set up to compete with 'We Are the 99 Percent,' called 'We Are the 53%,' (referring to the estimated percentage of Americans who pay federal income taxes) has not been updated for two weeks.

- Clay Waters is editor of the MRC's TimesWatch site.