Friday Talking Points -- I Am A 99 Percenter

Friday Talking Points -- I Am A 99 Percenter
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The Occupy Wall Street protest continues. So far, its staying power has surprised and enthused a large swath of America, and surprised and bemused much of the media. Solidarity "Occupy" protests have sprung up all across the land, for those without the means to travel to the main one in New York. This is all very encouraging, to say the least.

Lest I be misinterpreted, allow me to state up front that I have not participated in Occupy Wall Street, and therefore have no real right to make any sort of suggestion to the protesters. They have already been inundated with suggestions about what they should focus their protest on, by people who (like me) haven't been to Zuccotti Park. And I can certainly understand why the people camping out would get a little resentful at such outside interference in their protest aims. Also, allow me to state that I am not trying to co-opt their energy in any way at all (there have been plenty of others trying to do so, I realize).

But, having said all of that, I'm going to make a suggestion anyway, on one particular facet of the movement: its name. Because I truly think that if the protest wants to grow and expand into a forceful movement for change, it should consider a bit of rebranding.

My suggestion is actually a mild and unoriginal one: start calling yourselves "99 Percenters." Use this term constantly when addressing the media, and they will soon catch on and start using it as well. This will help facilitate exponential growth of the movement, and the continuation of the cause beyond one demonstration in lower Manhattan.

Allow me to explain my reasoning. In the first place, it is currently hard to easily personify the protesters themselves. Are they "Occupy Wall Streeters"? Or the more generic "Occupiers"? The most technically-correct would be "the Occupy Wall Street protesters," but that is quite a mouthful for the media to use in every sentence. The only real alternative is to use the acronym, but "OWS-ers" doesn't exactly have any kind of ring to it, either.

From a sheer branding perspective alone, "Occupy Wall Street" has two problems. The first is geographic in nature. For the sister protests springing up organically in other cities, they have a choice of something like: "Occupy Wall Street Albuquerque," or perhaps the more concise: "Occupy Topeka" (both of these were mere random geographic examples, I should mention, as I have no idea if such groups exist in these towns, and don't wish to cause any offense one way or the other). Either way, the brand gets diluted. You are left with one thread tying them together -- the word "Occupy" -- which is the second problem. Occupy is a pretty negative word, when you get right down to it. It is vaguely threatening, and might explain why the media has bought into the "hostage" scenario, by asking for "your list of demands" from the protesters. Remember the Bush administration vehemently denying America was "occupying" Iraq? There's a reason they fought back against this term -- because of its negative connotations.

"But Chris," you say, "the protesters want to have this negative connotation -- that's why they chose the term in the first place!" Which is a good and valid point, I have to admit. But that's when you have to examine closely what the overall goal of the protest is. If it is merely an attempt at street theater, to get America to think hard about the role of Wall Street in all of our lives, then this works just fine. But where does it end? What is such a protest's ultimate goal? This is where the lack of focus comes into play. Think about it -- the protesters are saying, in essence, "We are going to stay here until you change the way things are," but they are also saying at the same time, "We are not going to tell you exactly what has to change in order to convince us to stop protesting." But this seems to cross the border into protesting-for-protesting's-sake. If the goal remains completely undefined, then you can never claim any sort of victory whatsoever, in other words -- because there will always be something about Wall Street which will continue to annoy. No matter how successful the protests ultimately are in getting anything tangible changed, there will always be a further reason to continue the protest. Call it a "perpetual motion" protest, if you will -- because it will always regenerate the energy to continue, even if large changes are actually made as a result of the protest.

Which is why I'm suggesting slightly altering the brand itself. Feel free to call it crass capitalistic media manipulation if you will -- but that's kind of what we do here at this column, so you'll just have to excuse the overtones of terms like "branding."

I've said before (and I will continue to say) that the slogan "We are the 99 percent" is one of the most brilliant political slogans I have ever heard. It truly is a masterpiece. Who, after all, is going to self-identify with the other side in that debate? Politicians -- even Republican ones -- have already realized that "Well, I'm going to stand with the one percent" is not exactly a winning position to take. As a standalone bit of sloganeering, it is both brilliant and beautiful at the same time.

This is where the protest-versus-movement question can be solved, at least in my humble opinion. Because by self-identifying as a "99 Percenter" it widens the perspective to the point where anyone can join in support, whether they've been to an "Occupy" protest or not. It allows for instant expansion to every American who agrees with the purpose of the demonstrations. And it allows for a movement that can have larger goals than just occupying one piece of ground for as long as humanly possible.

The two terms are not at all incompatible, it bears pointing out. One can be a "99 Percenter" and an "Occupier" at the same time, because on the level of the people at the protests, they can truly be interchangeable. But for all the people who can't "Occupy Wall Street" with you, it shows inclusiveness to a much wider audience -- a base of support that can run into the millions. By giving the long-distance supporters a proud title as well, you open up the movement to massive growth from everyone. Well, at least 99 percent of everyone, I should say. "I am a 99 Percenter" can be proudly said by anyone, anywhere. To a pollster on the telephone, for instance. It resonates because the "I am" part of that statement isn't open to question (in the way that "I am an Occupy Wall Street protester" would come down to whether you actually were in Zuccotti Park or not). Whether you've been to a rally or not, to put it another way, you can still honestly proclaim: "I am a 99 Percenter!" It also makes for a much easier logo. Wearing a button with a simple "99%" on it can easily become shorthand for "I am a 99 Percenter." The collective term can even be later shortened to the much-snappier "99-er" -- which dovetails nicely with another group, the folks who have exhausted their 99 weeks of unemployment benefits.

Being a 99 Percenter means the movement can have just as long a future as it needs. There is no closure on the situation of being a 99 Percenter, because no matter what the politicians do in support or against the movement's goals, there will still remain a 99 Percent at the end of the day. It is just as self-perpetuating -- but it is not dependent upon that one piece of ground at the same time.

Since the movement itself is as decentralized as possible, what this means is that it is free to interpretation by anyone. The protesters have so far been all-inclusive and open to ideas from all and sundry. So, all by myself, I am going to start calling the protesters the "99 Percenters" in the hopes that it catches on. I would love to see the spokespersons for the demonstrators start using this term themselves, as I truly think the media would latch onto it in a big way, given half a chance. They're already having problems with the correctness of "Occupy Wall Streeters" versus "Occupiers" so with a small nudge from the protesters themselves, they will quickly adopt the "99 Percenter" label. Doing so would do a number of things at the same time: it would give the media a snappier term to use, it would differentiate between one protest in New York and the movement at large, it would allow for inclusiveness on the millions who sympathize with the movement but can't make it to a protest, and it would allow the movement to continue in a much wider fashion if-and-when the very rich folks who own the park decide they've had enough, and that it's time to kick the protesters out. It would make the movement more mobile, and give it room to grow in the future and expand on the central theme of the Occupy Wall Street protest, without being tied to one spot of land.

I am not currently occupying Wall Street. But I am a 99 Percenter. See how easy this works?

Every so often here, we are impressed by an entity which is not exactly a person. Sometimes, they're not exactly Democrats, either. Since we arbitrarily make these rules, however, we always reserve the right to ignore them at will, and just hand an award out to whomever we feel like. This is one of those times.

For the first time ever, we are have created a Most Impressive Progressive Corporation Of The Week award, for a corporate entity (we refuse to say "corporate person," for what should be obvious reasons). While we have handed out a disappointing MDPCOTW award previously, in [FTP 119], this is the first time we've had to create one on the "impressive" side.

Our very first MIPCOTW award goes to none other than the Ben & Jerry's ice cream company. This week, Ben & Jerry's released a statement of support for Occupy Wall Street, and today they reportedly handed out some free ice cream to the 99 Percenters in New York. The Ben & Jerry's board of directors posted a message of support on their company website which clearly shows that they "get it" about the protests:

We know the media will either ignore you or frame the issue as to who may be getting pepper sprayed rather than addressing the despair and hardships borne by so many, or accurately conveying what this movement is about. All this goes on while corporate profits continue to soar and millionaires whine about paying a bit more in taxes. And we have not even mentioned the environment.

We know that words are relatively easy but we wanted to act quickly to demonstrate our support. As a board and as a company we have actively been involved with these issues for years but your efforts have put them out front in a way we have not been able to do. We have provided support to citizens' efforts to rein in corporate money in politics, we pay a livable wage to our employees, we directly support family farms and we are working to source fairly traded ingredients for all our products. But we realize that Occupy Wall Street is calling for systemic change. We support this call to action and are honored to join you in this call to take back our nation and democracy.

They even include a list of the protesters' goals which is as succinct and far-reaching as any I've seen yet. The whole statement is worth reading, for an example of how a corporate entity should act in this day and age.

Stepping up to the plate in such an admirable fashion (not to mention the free ice cream), we salute Ben & Jerry's this week, with our first-ever Most Impressive Progressive Corporation Of The Week award. Keep up the good work, guys!

[Congratulate the Ben & Jerry's corporation on their official company contact page, to let them know you appreciate their efforts.]

We have two Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week awards to hand out this week. Senators Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Jon Tester of Montana both voted with every single Republican in the Senate this week not to proceed on debate on President Obama's American Jobs Act.

This was not a final vote on the bill itself, it was merely a show of strength against Republicans. It was destined to fail anyway, because no Republican was going to vote for it. Even if it had been a final vote, and even if it was going to somehow succeed, the bill would never have even gotten a vote in the Republican House at all. Meaning the entire issue was one of politics.

And, even on a party-line political vote, two Democrats broke ranks. That, in a 53-47 Senate, is highly disappointing.

The final vote was actually only 50-49, because Harry Reid had to switch his vote to "Nay" to keep the bill alive for future tinkering. If Reid hadn't extended the floor voting and held it open longer than usual, one errant Democratic senator wouldn't have gotten the chance to vote (as she was busy accepting an award, instead of doing her job). In other words, it was always going to be close. But two Democrats voted to continue debate even though they didn't fully support the bill -- to show party unity.

Unfortunately, two didn't. Which means we'll be sending out two MDDOTW awards this week, to Senators Nelson and Tester. Thanks for nothing, guys.

[Contact Senator Ben Nelson on his Senate contact page, and Senator Jon Tester on his Senate contact page, to let them know what you think of their actions.]

Volume 185 (10/14/11)

This week, we're going to turn our talking points over to Bob Cesca, because the column he wrote yesterday had seven beautiful points to make on the failure of the American Jobs Act. But we'll get to that in a moment.

Before we get there, I'd just like to take this time to point out to the 99 Percenters that there are no shortage of current and specific political issues which could use some active support. Democratic politicians are notoriously bad at pushing this sort of thing, which is why they could use your help. If Democratic politicians were better at this stuff, we wouldn't have to write one of these columns every week, after all.

The issue that dovetails perfectly with the 99 Percent movement at the current moment would have to be breaking the logjam over getting President Obama's choice to head the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau confirmed by the Senate. The Republicans are on record stating that they won't vote for anyone for this job, because they hate the fact that the job -- and the bureau -- even exist. This is tailor-made for the theme of Occupy Wall Street. It is crystal-clear: how can anyone be against protecting consumers from Wall Street? Pick up the ball and run with it! Demand an up-or-down vote!

Or perhaps the news that the Republicans in the House just passed a bill which the Environmental Protection Agency estimates will cause 20,000 deaths -- all so corporations can pollute the air without the "onerous government regulations on their backs." This is a 99 Percenter issue if ever there was one -- either you're on the side of the corporations, or you're for saving 20,000 lives. That's a pretty stark difference, and one that's easy for everyone to understand. So where is the specific outrage over H.R. 2550?

And, finally, the American Jobs Act. While not perfect (no bill is), as you can see from Bob Cesca's points below, you are either on the side of the 99 Percent, or you are for filibustering the idea of trying to make things better. Which side are you on?

I'm not trying to limit the scope of the 99 Percent movement, mind you. I'm trying to expand it, by addition. But I realize this is touchy ground to tread within the movement, so I'll just shut up about it, and continue on with Cesca's talking points.

[I should note, before we begin, that I have not contacted Bob Cesca about this homage to his column (which sounds so much better than "ripping his column off," don't you think?), and sincerely hope he won't take offense. I thought his column was brilliant and forceful -- the whole thing is well worth reading -- and he came up with much snappier talking points that I usually manage here. Also, his have links embedded in the talking points, with more information for those interested. Bob, if you have any problem with this in any way, contact me via my website and let me know. All the introductory comments below are mine, and all the text of the talking points are Cesca's.]

GOP filibusters deficit reduction

Cesca leads into his list of talking points with the question: "What would the American Jobs Act have accomplished?" The answers are things Republicans are usually on the record as supporting -- when Obama doesn't suggest them, that is. The first of these is the current Holy Grail in RepublicanLand, deficit reduction.

The bill would have reduced the deficit by $6 billion over ten years, according to the Congressional Budget Office. The Republicans filibustered deficit reduction.

GOP filibusters two million new jobs

This figure needs to be repeated over and over again: "nearly two million jobs." This defines the debate more than even the name of the bill itself. Which side are you on, in the jobs debate?

The bill would have created nearly two million new jobs. The Republicans filibustered the creation of two million new jobs.

GOP filibusters America's economic growth

Another supposedly-holy Republican goal: growth. You're either for growth, or you're for a double-dip recession.

The bill would have increased the gross domestic product (GDP) by two points. The Republicans filibustered increasing the GDP.

GOP filibusters a business tax cut

Yet again, an idea Republicans usually support in knee-jerk fashion: lowering taxes (especially business taxes).

The bill would have cut taxes for 98 percent of businesses. The Republicans filibustered a tax cut for businesses.

GOP filibusters helping the troops

This one is just odious. You either support the troops, or you don't. Republicans like to loudly proclaim such support, but when it comes to voting for it, they are often absent-without-leave. Democrats need to make this a bigger deal than they normally do.

The bill would have offered a tax credit for military veterans returning from war. The Republicans filibustered a tax credit for the troops.

GOP filibusters reducing unemployment

This one is an easy answer every time the unemployment rate comes up for discussion, from this point on.

The bill would have reduced unemployment by a full percentage point. The Republicans filibustered a reduction in unemployment.

GOP filibusters fiscal responsibility

This one is a harder case to make, because Republicans haven't supported such a concept since the days of Ronald Reagan (a fact which would cause most Republicans' heads to explode today, were they forced to confront it). But the effort should be made nonetheless -- Republicans are against fiscal responsibility.

The bill would have been paid for by a 5.6 percent surtax on millionaires -- a surtax that, again, a majority of Republican voters support. The Republicans filibustered paying for the bill.

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