A 99% Manifesto in honor or the Anniversary of the Occupy Movement
A 99% Manifesto
A specter is haunting America and the world; the specter of gross inequality. The inequality is economic, to be sure, but also social, political, racial, sexual, educational, medical, occupational, gastronomical, geographical, and otherwise.
Directly inspired by the massive protests in Tunisia, Egypt, Spain, Greece, Israel, India, Chile, Wisconsin, and elsewhere in 2011 as well as the hactivism of Anonymous and the shout out by Adbusters and other activists over that summer, Occupy Wall Street started on September 17th, 2011 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, symbolized by Wall Street.
After being publicly maligned and forcefully suppressed, as well as internally divided and somewhat rudderless, the decentralized Occupy movement, now several years on, catalyzed many different local individuals and groups continuing the struggle in their own quieter and dispersed ways. To occupy is to make a bad situation better by seeking policies, situations, and systems that benefit the 99%, not simply the 1%. Whether or not we physically occupy (a tactic) is much less important than the fact that we are the 99% and try to make our collective condition better (our strategy)!
While the top 1% in the U.S. has trillions of dollars — more wealth than the bottom 90% of the people; worldwide, the 1% controls more than the rest of the world combined — the 99% struggles to get by with massive debt, unemployment and underemployment, low wages, ubiquitous foreclosures, costly and deadly wars, declining social services, threats against Social Security and Medicare, expensive healthcare, relentless bills, regressive taxation, repression of unions, crumbling infrastructure, attacks on education, rising tuition, crowded classrooms, high imprisonment, predatory banks and credit cards, corporate hegemony, an anemic democracy, police brutality, constant disrespect, and chronic anxiety. This level of gross inequality — which itself is the cause of or significant contributor to other serious social problems — is patently unfair and must be remedied. Societies that are more equal have fewer and less severe social problems as well as significantly higher levels of wellbeing, trust, generosity, and environmental stewardship.
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, delicious, vegetarian food, so there is no exploitation and no sense of alienation. There is, however, a lot of solidarity, meaning, joy, and good food. Arizmendi is an anomaly in the business world, but it doesn’t have to be.
While the purchasing power of average wages in the U.S. are down and top marginal tax rates for people and corporations way down since the late 1970s, as are estate taxes, there have been increases in hours worked, worker productivity, corporate profits, CEO salaries, financial speculation, deregulation, privatization, stock market valuations, market volatility, millionaires and billionaires, capital concentration and inequality, international so-called free trade agreements, foreign investment, outsourcing, military spending, U.S. foreign military bases, imprisonment, debt, tuition, gambling losses, health care costs, rent, food prices, personal bankruptcies, foreclosures, homelessness, food insecurity, environmental destruction, surveillance, depression, and anxiety. This is not desirable, inevitable, nor sustainable. But it is capitalism.
So, although the causes and demands of the Occupy movement may have seemed to vary by time and place, sometimes wildly, they all cluster around one core principle: support the need of the 99%, not the greed of the 1%.
If we were guided by a socio-political economic philosophy for the 99%, we wouldn’t simply focus on quantitative economic growth that disproportionately enriches a few, while devaluing workers, reproductive labor, domestic work, parenting and other forms of dependent care, volunteerism, women, people of color, kids, seniors, people with disabilities, community, animals, and the environment, but rather would emphasize and prioritize qualitative social development — increasing standards of living, quality of life, wellbeing, satisfaction, sustainability, meaning, community, and happiness — for the overwhelming majority.
Especially in this richest country in the world:
If we had economic policies for the 99%, we wouldn’t have poverty, deprivation, insecurity, and many of the social problems and indignities associated with poverty and deprivation. A society for the 99% would not have homelessness and hunger and would have a lower incidence of recessions, foreclosures, bankruptcies, sweatshops, unemployment, crime, violence, gangs, vandalism, alcohol and drug abuse, domestic violence, hate crimes, racism, sexism, and homophobia, antisemitism and islamophobia, school dropouts, teen pregnancies, prostitution, anxiety, depression, mental illness, and suicide. We would democratize the economy with participatory budgeting, equal opportunities, inclusiveness, stronger unions, more worker input and control, diversifying Boards of Directors with workers, women, and people of color, and other socially-just mechanisms for fairness, opportunity, and mutual prosperity.
If we had tax policies for the 99%, we would have steeply progressive taxation on individuals and corporations, as the U.S. did in the 1950s, to create a fairer, more stable, middle-class society without the extremes of both obscene wealth and obscene poverty. The capital gains tax would have to rise significantly. We would seek a progressive wealth tax and estate tax on the 1%, while closing tax havens and tax loopholes that shield trillions of dollars. Further, we would tax destructive activities — greenhouse gases such as carbon, methane, and nitrous oxide, deforestation, fossil fuels, meat, tobacco, alcohol, junk food, soda, guns and ammunition, single-use items, non-recyclables, high-end luxuries, and speculation the most — while lessening or eliminating taxes on wages, reasonable salaries, healthy food and other necessities, renewable energies, scholarships, and productive goods and services. Single-item sales above $100, perhaps, should be taxed at a much higher and progressive rate, while eliminating sales taxes on single items below $100, which would immediately benefit the 99% about 99% of the time. It is simply unjust that magacorporations like GE, ExxonMobil, Chevron, Boeing, Bank of America, Verizon, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, FedEx, and about two-thirds of corporations paid lower federal taxes — often zero, sometimes negative taxes! — than any individual taxpayer in recent years and that Warren Buffet and other billionaires pay a lower tax rate than their secretaries. Corporations should not be able to deduct from their taxes things like excessive executive salaries and bonuses, lobbying, advertising, corporate jets, debt, parties and other entertainment, and alcohol.
If we had jobs policies for the 99%, we wouldn’t have chronic unemployment, there wouldn’t be involuntary underemployment, and we would have many more meaningful jobs with living wages, safe and healthy working conditions, available training and continuing education, and dignified work. Minimum wages would be living wages, without loopholes, and indexed for inflation, while capping executive pay. We would also facilitate the formation of unions, the only organizations that look out for the interest of workers. There is always much work to be done and many people who want to work, yet jobs are too often scarce (e.g., we could and should modernize all our nation’s crumbling infrastructure, create free nationwide wi-fi, cleanup all Superfund and other toxic waste sites, build affordable housing, repair our schools, mentor, tutor, and coach children, install solar panels and wind turbines, promote the arts, expand affordable daycare and nightcare, care for seniors and people with disabilities, and much more). We would aim for universal employment. The full-time work week hasn’t declined since we achieved the 8-hour day in the late 1800s, leaving the average American to work a month more per year than the average European. A work week for the 99% would be significantly less than 40 hours with longer guaranteed vacation and sick time. We would also have a guaranteed basic income.
If we had housing policies for the 99%, we wouldn’t have homelessness, unaffordable housing, inadequate housing, and substandard housing, especially while the elite have multiple mansions, houses, and condos. As with food, water, clothing, healthcare, and other necessities of life, housing is a human right (UDHR, Art. 25), yet we currently treat it as just another capitalist commodity produced and sold for private profit. We would build much more affordable housing to achieve universal housing, thereby simultaneously creating housing, jobs, a sense of purpose, and demand for materials that would benefit the overall economy.
If we had property policies for the 99%, we wouldn’t have (most) absentee ownership. Additionally, we would break up monopolistic industries, disallow corporations that are too big to fail by capping their size, revoke corporate personhood, disallow cross ownership and interlocking boards of directors, reverse privatization of public utilities, schools, and prisons, and better devise and regulate corporate charters, while encouraging non-profits, employee ownership and control, cooperatives, collectives, communes, social entrepreneurialism, B corporations (for-profit companies that are certified to meet strict standards of social and environmental accountability and transparency), and profit sharing. We would also have various lending libraries based in local community centers, not just for books, but also for tools, toys, games, suits, dresses, sports, recreation, camping, baby supplies, and many other items that are either used temporarily or infrequently.
If there are any corporations that are “too big to fail”, then they are too big and too threatening to exist and therefore should be dismantled, disbanded, or disbursed. Perhaps we would cap corporate existence at $5 billion. The things that are really too big to fail must be protected: hope, imagination, education, the environment, democracy, life, and the 99%.
If we had healthcare policies for the 99%, we wouldn’t have anyone without health insurance, millions who are under-insured, high monthly premiums, high co-payments, overpriced procedures and medicines, overcrowded emergency rooms, and people going bankrupt due to huge medical expenses, which is the number one cause of personal bankruptcy. We would have high-quality, universal, single-payer healthcare, a form of expanded Medicare for all, including mental health, dental, and optometry, as well as universal access to birth control and abortion, with negotiated price controls for surgeries, procedures, office visits, tests, and pharmaceuticals. Preventive care and holistic wellbeing — including education, diet, exercise, rest, stress management, and harm reduction — would be emphasized.
If we had education policies for the 99%, we’d have more funding for free, high-quality, equitably-funded public education from preschool through graduate school for all who qualify and we would pay and train teachers more than stock brokers. Student loans would be much less necessary, but would accrue at much lower interest rates or interest-free and could be repaid with various forms of community and public 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, healthy living, ecological mutuality, environmental sustainability, community enhancement, social entrepreneurship, consumer awareness, social movements, societal improvement, anti-racism, people’s history, human diversity, educational holism, compassion and self-compassion, stress management, communication and advocacy, self-defense, comedy, friendship, and a whole range of relevant people’s education that focuses on the needs and interests of students and the 99%.
If we had energy policies for the 99%, we wouldn’t have oil, gas, and coal companies making hundreds of billions in profits, while polluting the world and increasing climate chaos, or tax-subsidized, uninsurable, and dangerous nuclear power plants that threaten the health and safety of millions, but would instead support a wide array of decentralized safe and renewable energies, including solar, wind, wave, tidal, geothermal, hydrogen, algae, biomass, hydroelectric, and others. Solar panels and wind turbines would be placed on all government-owned or supported buildings, warehouses, offices, and schools, as well as all new public and private buildings. We would also focus much more on conservation and efficiency, rewarding sustainability instead of waste.
If we had environmental policies for the 99%, we would clean up the plethora of toxic Superfund sites, get dangerous chemicals out of foods, drinks, cookware, containers, cosmetics, clothes, bedding, toys, etc., minimize chemicals in our society, eliminate carcinogenic products, actively discourage carbon, methane, and nitrous oxide emissions that increase climate change, continually raise efficiency standards for vehicles, appliances, and electronics, vigorously protect our air, water, and soil, restore forests and wetlands, encourage local, organic, and veg eating (LOVE), reduce the immensely destructive production and consumption of meat and tobacco, expand reuse, recycling, and composting programs, promote permaculture, protect local, state, national, and international parks, create more green spaces and plant more trees, reverse deforestation nationally and globally, discourage single-use products and mandate that all products be produced for recycling, expand environmental protections, eliminate environmental classism and racism, institute the Precautionary Principle, and ensure environmental justice and sustainability.
If we had transportation policies for the 99%, we would support, expand, and subsidize many forms of free or inexpensive intracity and intercity public transportation, including national high speed rail and electric buses, as well as facilitating bicycle use with dedicated and safe bike lanes, electric car sharing and public charging stations, and walkability, shifting away from fossil-fuel based transportation, while increasing efficiency and safety.
If we had trade policies for the 99%, we wouldn’t have so-called free trade agreements that facilitate the investments and capital transfers of multi-billion dollar transnational corporations, but instead would have fair trade policies and agreements that mutually benefit workers, farmers, producers, consumers, and the environment. We would also substantially reform the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank, and World Trade Organization (WTO) in the interests of the 99% of the world.
If we had legal policies for the 99%, we wouldn’t imprison people for non-violent offenses, would abolish money bail that punishes the poor, would expand local and specialized courts, mediation, collaborative and restorative justice, alternative sentencing, restitution, counseling, and community service, and would seek social policies to prevent crime more than punish it, reversing police abuse, the militarization of police, mass incarceration, and the racism that contributes to it. We would seek to ratify an Equal Rights Amendment for women and sexual minorities and work to eliminate the classism, racism, sexism, and homophobia woven through our criminal (in)justice system and we would honor Native American treaties. Legalizing, or at least decriminalizing, marijuana and hemp would be an important step (as well as other drugs in recreational quantities), as too many casual users fill our jails and prisons. Likewise with prostitution, so sex workers would not be punished. We would reinstate Glass-Steagall, the Fairness Doctrine, restrict guns and ammunition to well-regulated militias, and expand and enforce laws against governmental, corporate, and environmental crimes. We would abolish the barbaric death penalty, which is expensive, ineffective, cruel, flawed, racist, and otherwise problematic, as well as all forms of torture and most solitary confinement.
If we had retirement and entitlement programs for the 99%, we would be preserving, strengthening, and expanding the very successful, very efficient, and very popular Social Security and Medicare programs, removing payroll tax caps for high-income earners, with the 1% finally paying their fair share, so that the elderly, those with disabilities, widows, orphans, and others could live with more security, health, comfort, and dignity. We would reform these and other systems to eliminate institutional discriminations against the poor, women, and people of color.
If we had investment policies for the 99%, there would be a sales tax on speculative investments, especially with high-speed or short-term speculation (perhaps 1% on the 1%), as the U.S. once had and the UK has had since 1986, and further disincentives for speculating on food, water, housing, healthcare, education, energy, currencies, and other necessities of life. Unearned income, such as capital gains, dividends, interest, rents, and inheritance — the major forms of income for the rich — would not be taxed at a lower rate than the earned income of wages and salaries. We would strengthen Dodd-Frank protections.
If we had banking policies for the 99%, there would be high capital reserve requirements to reduce speculation and increase stability, disincentives for banks to speculate, incentives to lend money in local communities for local needs, a cap on fees, and an end to “odious debts” and usurious interest fees. States and other jurisdictions could each have their own public banks, like the successful Bank of North Dakota. There would be preferential treatment for non-profit credit unions, local banks, and micro-lending. The Federal Reserve Bank would be reformed to serve people more than big banks and the wealthy. We would also phase out high-denomination currency that mostly benefits wealthy people and criminals, while making it easier for them to evade taxes.
If we had agricultural policies for the 99%, we would support small farmers, farmworkers, farmers’ markets, community supported agriculture (CSAs), organic agriculture, community gardens, and industrial hemp, instead of giant agri-business, especially the chemical, livestock, sugar, corn, cotton, and tobacco industries, and we would encourage water efficiency and soil conservation. Factory farms would be banned.
If we had food policies for the 99%, we wouldn’t have hunger, food insecurity, crappy school meals, genetically engineered food, nanoparticle ingredients, or dangerous chemicals and other fillers or additives in our food supply. We also wouldn’t have fast food products and processed food products laden with saturated fat, cholesterol, sugar, salt, chemicals, and additives that are cheaper than real whole foods as well as chemicalized produce that is cheaper than organic fruits, vegetables, grains, beans, nuts, and seeds. Dangerous chemicals shouldn’t be sprayed on our farms and animals shouldn’t be tortured and killed to produce unhealthy and unsustainable 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 this dynamic.
If we had electoral policies for the 99%, we would have one-person-one-vote instead of one-dollar-one-vote and the millions and millions of people’s voices would be much more influential than the thousands of highly-paid corporate lobbyists who subvert democracy. Further, we would reduce barriers to voting and for third parties, while incorporating other democratizing schemes, such as publicly-funded campaigns, free and equal media time for candidates, ranked choice voting, instant run-off, a none-of-the-above option, proportional representation, a breakup of the two-party duopoly, and elimination of the Electoral College. We would also have universal suffrage for citizens (including prisoners and ex-felons), automatic registration, mail-in ballots, and possibly internet voting to both reduce costs and increase participation yet possibly all-paper ballots for maximum electoral integrity, as well as stronger voter rights protections to protect this fundamental right. SuperPACs and other similar mechanisms for unlimited and secret-moneyed influence on our political process would be defanged by, at a minimum, overturning the Citizens United and McCutcheon Supreme Court cases by passing a Constitutional amendment stating what should be obvious: that corporations are not people.
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 several hundred to a thousand foreign military bases, and supporting foreign militaries and brutal dictatorships around the world, but instead would be supporting democracies, democratic movements, unions, and sustainable development around the world. U.S. foreign military bases, and many domestic ones too, should either be closed or re-purposed as community centers. Helping to clean up the world’s water, for example, would cost a tiny fraction of the overbloated U.S. military budget, yet would provide much more health and hope to hundreds of millions of people around the world, while providing substantially better national and international security. Likewise with building schools, hospitals, and clinics. We would also reduce the funding, power, and scope of the CIA, NSA, and the like. The military and the rest of the coercive apparatus should primarily be for defensive purposes, as well as truly humanitarian interventions and peacekeeping, not imperialist and capitalist offense. Military funding should be drastically reduced and re-channeled into productive civilian purposes. Nuclear weapons, which could completely annihilate humanity and much of life on Earth, should be dramatically scaled down with the promise of no first strike and the goal of world-wide elimination.
If we had social policies for the 99%, we would support need not greed, people before profits and corporations, and we would get big money out of politics, reclaim our democracy, institute participatory budgeting, reduce racism, sexism, homophobia, antisemitism, islamophobia, and other forms of rankism, as well as other discriminatory and oppressive social divisions, increase worker, health, safety, and environmental protections, welcome refugees and create reasonable paths toward citizenship for immigrants, and promote social justice with every policy and program from the local to the global and from the personal to the political.
Echoing the original Occupy Wall Street declaration, this 99% Manifesto is likewise “not all-inclusive”. With your participation, we need to modify and update it, as time, place, culture, and conditions demand.
Like modern day Marie Antoinettes, the 1% tell us to “go shopping” and eat cake, while they continue to privatize massive profits and socialize crushing costs. We the 99% no longer want their bread and cake crumbs; now we have our sights set on the bakery itself. Our society can be modeled after Arizmendi Bakery with its democratic, horizontal, and participatory structure, which is a microcosm of how the 99% can become the 100%, and how we can control our destiny and live more secure, fair, safe, healthy, happy, compassionate, sustainable, generous, dignified, and meaningful lives.
A better world is possible, but it is neither automatic nor inevitable. We need to make it happen. As we struggle for systemic, societal, governmental, and corporate transformation, we also need, in parallel, to strive for personal, spiritual, and community transformation. I support the comprehensive needs of the 99%, not the sociopathic greed of the 1%. Which side are you on?
Dan Brook, Ph.D. is the author of many publications for the non-corporate media. Dan teaches, writes, and protests in the San Francisco Bay Area and welcomes contact via firstname.lastname@example.org.His ebooks can be found at smashwords.com/profile/view/brook. More info at about.me/danbrook.