I Am the 99% What Now?

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I Am The 99% Now What

Me, circa 1976. Kidding! It's Mrs. Pankhurst Getting Arrested

I’ve been watching the Occupy movement and, for an old-timey protestor like me, it’s got some pretty strong flashback elements. It makes me ask myself: I Am the 99%. What now?

In my youth I did some sitting in on several issues that mattered to me, like nuclear weapons research in public universities and the investment of public and corporate money in the then-Apartheid state of South Africa.

My sitting in was brief for two main reasons.

One, I had stuff to do, and I couldn’t be sitting in when I had three essays to write, two jobs to get to, no clean clothes to wear, and midterms coming up. Two, I always had this doubt floating around in my head: okay, we’re all sitting in, and we’re being noticed.

But is this changing anything?

Is there something else we should be doing besides sitting in?

Usually that doubt came to a head when I noticed that sitting in was beginning to attract participants who really knew nothing at all about the issue at hand, but who wanted the attention of sitting in and being uncooperative. By and large, it was the anarchists who showed up at that point.  It happens in any and all protests. The original protest gains a certain amount of momentum and then you start to get an element that wants to co-opt the movement for their own agenda.

Co-opt is a word I have not used since about 1978. It makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

But anyway, we in Northern California witnessed this in action the other day, when the anarchists got the upper hand in the Occupy Oakland movement and decided to start destroying property. It got ugly, and now the legitimate 99 percenters are having to work double time to disassociate themselves from the destructive anarchists.

It would have been so much easier if the 99 percenters had noticed the anarchists were circling. Anarchists showing up  is the universal signal that whatever you have been doing in protest has reached its peak and is about to enter a brief, intense, downward spiral, fragmenting and losing power.

When you spot the anarchists, don’t wait! Move on and figure out what to do next.

Back in the day, we used our sitting-in time to strategize what concrete actions we could take to move the great wheels of the University and corporate America in our direction. This way, when the anarchists showed up, we had a next step to take, and we’d be long gone by the time the campus police started nosing around. (“Nosing around” is a polite euphemism.  This was the tail end of the protest era. “Nosing around” was done with helmets on, plastic eye protection in place, and pop cans of tear gas).

In our strategizing, we started not by focusing on the power we didn’t have, but rather by focusing on the power we did have.

Take South Africa investments, for example.

One of the largest corporate offenders was (drum roll) Bank of America. You know what they say…the more things change, the more things stay the same. Back in the day, most university students had their meager cash in Bank of America accounts, because Bank of America targeted university students as the perfect customer. It wasn’t for our $50 checking accounts; it was for our future white collar salaries, mortgages, car loans, and credit card debt. Our $50 checking accounts was the power we didn’t have.

Our future consumer behavior was the power we did have.

So we decided to take our future consumer behavior and give it a new home in a credit union or small local bank with responsible investment policies. It was a major pain for us, because this was before ATMs and debit cards and Saturday branch hours. If you needed money, you wrote a check for $10 over your grocery bill, or you went to the actual bank branch (rushing to get there before 3 pm, the traditional witching hour for banks). You had to do some real thinking and plotting to figure out how to get cash from a credit union that was across town, or maybe even out of town.

But we decided to do it anyway. And it worked. It took awhile, but eventually enough of us moved that Bank of America finally realized they were trading their future profitability for a current profit-making expedient. They stopped investing in South African Apartheid.

And after that, they fell like dominoes: all the other corporate investors in South Africa came out and announced divestment.  And you know what happened next? Apartheid, choked of its source of financial stability and shamed by the eyes of the world, fell.

It was great. We changed the world. It started with sitting in, but we used our sitting in time wisely, and then we actually did something meaningful.

So, I am the 99%. What now?

I propose that we, the 99%,  become mindful of how and where we are spending our money. Because in fact, we created the 1%, one dollar at a time. There were so many of us that the dollars added up really, really fast. Many corporations who gladly took our money $1 at a time did stuff with it that now we wish they hadn’t done.

Like, ship jobs to India instead of hiring people here. Like, buying stuff from China instead of manufacturing it here. Like, accumulating big pools of cash and hoarding it offshore instead of (a) paying taxes on it so we could get some damn potholes filled around here, or (b)re-investing it toward the health of the economy.

I’m not saying it’s our fault. But it is our accountability. We created the 1%. What are we going to do to un-create it?

Here are three steps I’m going to take to accept my accountability:

  • Move my banking to a credit union, which doesn’t make a profit and at least makes a show of serving its members
  • Buy my groceries seasonally and locally. Not always the cheapest or most convenient solution, but one that is worth the effort.
  • Remain conscious at all times that where I put my dollars is what I de facto support, and ask myself what I am supporting.

These are tiny steps, and if I do them all by myself no big corporation is likely to notice me. But I have to do something, and the only behavior I can control is my own. So here’s where I plant my stake.

How about you, World of Dreamers? Check my math, but I’m pretty sure there’s something like a 99% chance that you are 99 percenters too.

What are you planning to do about it? Leave us a comment below.


  • Heather Montgomery, Product Launch Dreams

    I love that there was change instigated by groups of people gathering and creating strategies for positives outcomes in the past.

    There are so many stories of positive change through leaderless group focus.

    I’m just not sure this is one of them.

    – Heather

  • My second career was in banking. I started at a larger banking institution at the time (Great Western Bank, which would be eaten by Washington Mutual) but I couldn’t get anyone to pay attention to the fact that I wanted to move into the real estate side of the bank, even though I was studying real estate at college.

    I had a supervisor who hated attractive young girls and wouldn’t move me out of the pigeon-hole the bank had dropped me in. The first day on the job they showed me a video of a gun pointed at my head. (I was thinking they weren’t pay me enough.) To get the job was this nightmarish process of tests and interviews and was my first experience with understanding that if you have to jump through hoops to get a job that you are more than qualified for — you will find the environment toxic and lacking any sign of creative fun.

    One day I noticed an ad in the newspaper for a teller and new accounts job for a small savings and loan in Sonoma, Ca. It was called Continental Savings and Loan.

    The branch manager stayed late at work one night to interview me — to fit MY schedule. She hired me on the spot because she liked me. No tests. No multiple interviews. It turned out to be the best job. We were a small branch and I learned how to do everything. After 4 months the manager told me that I needed to go to work in the SF Financial district at the corporate office and she called and arranged and interview with the Vice President.

    I ended up working in the financial district for almost 5 years with the most amazing people who continue to reach out to me today — over 20 years later. This smaller institution hired people based on their gut impressions and I was able to follow my dream of working in the real estate side of banking.

    Don’t ask me what happened when the federal government stepped in to run the bank in the 80’s — they were THE WORST at running a financial institution and the supposedly happily married CEO they put in place to take over the bank liked to spend more time in gay bars chasing men than actually running the bank.

    I have since also worked for large corporate banks like North American Mortgage and The Royal Bank of Canada. Both of these companies were wonderful to me. Incredible places to work.

    The problem right now is that there are no Savings and Loan-type institutions (who were created to loan money to people no one will loan money to — at a decent rate without a ton of fees) to lend money. Mortgage Banks stepped in to do this after Savings and Loans disappeared. Large commercial banks have never been good at loaning money to the little man — the start-up small business — the college student — the first time home-buyer — the single mother.

    I knew we were headed in this direction when the Glass–Steagall Act of 1933 was repealed in 1999, thus removing the separation that previously existed between Wall Street investment banks and depository banks. This created the environment where investment banks and hedge funds became credit providers without regulatory oversight. (Wall Street investment banks offered the newer sub-prime loans to mortgage institutions and sold these loans to other countries.)

    The problem for many of us is that we now (like 8 Women Dream) participate in a global market. A significant portion of our readers and subscribers are from outside the U.S. Any financial transactions on the site need to be handled by an institution able to support this function.

    I guess what I am saying here is that I am torn, having had different sets of experiences with so many financial institutions — both large and small. It all depends on who the bank president is and the environment he or she creates.

    Like you, I am unsure about the occupy movement, although I am actually glad that people are expressing their right to assembly. It has been such a long time since we’ve seen young people get out on the street and make their voices heard.

    I am just not sure of their message.