By Sarah Hidey, JVA Consulting
“We are the 99 percent. We are getting kicked out of our homes. We are forced to choose between groceries and rent. We are denied quality medical care. We are suffering from environmental pollution. We are working long hours for little pay and no rights, if we are working at all. We are getting nothing while the other 1 percent is getting everything. We are the 99 percent.”
This is the rallying cry for the current Occupy Wall Street movement. If you’ve gotten on Facebook or Twitter or even just been to CNN in the last few weeks, you’ve likely been bombarded with images and media about what started as Occupy Wall Street. Now the movement has morphed into Occupy Denver or Occupy (insert your city here), and has become a global movement called Occupy Together. This movement, entirely mobilized through social media, has been criticized for lack of clarity and the hodgepodge of causes, centered on the inequalities experienced by “the 99%,” it represents. But there is no doubt that there are very valid frustrations being voiced.
The Occupy movement has been kept alive by all forms of social media: calls to action via Twitter, Facebook groups and Meetup.com have spurred protests in hundreds of cities around the world. Additionally, the use of social media has allowed for “cyber protests” and participation from the comfort of one’s living room through the posting of banners and signs on sites like Facebook and Tumblr, such as the We are the 99 percent site. This viral movement is spreading through images and pictures posted online.
Participants of Occupy Wall Street and Occupy Denver demonstrate the diversity of our cities: nurses, small business owners, church volunteers, elderly, college students, homeless, nonprofit workers, clergy, public servants, and the unemployed. But it’s not just the unemployed; it’s the underemployed too—those who work 40+ hours a week for less than a living wage, those with no health benefits, those who are highly educated and were laid off, and those who made all the “right” life choices but who still feel left behind. Even people who label themselves as the wealthiest 1% have taken up the cause. In fact, one of the most powerful examples of nonprofit involvement is by Resource Generation, a nonprofit that organizes young, wealthy individuals (the 1%) for social change. In a symbolic show of solidarity, Resource Generation created its own Tumblr site to stand with the 99 percent: We Stand With the 99 Percent.
Although the Occupy Denver/Occupy Wall Street is not organized or led by any particular nonprofit organization (NPO), the frustrations expressed within this movement are the same issues that hundreds or thousands of NPO workers have been quietly addressing behind the scenes— without media attention— for decades: unemployment, inequality, injustice, lack of living wages, a thirst for a just society where hard work gets you the American Dream. Nonprofits represent the 99%. “Human need over corporate greed.” –one of the popular Occupy Together slogans is something nonprofits like Sojourners and many grassroots community organizations have been saying for decades.
Whether you support the Occupy Denver/Wall Street movement or not, it’s hard to argue with the fact that many people in Denver are dealing with many of the same issues. In order to get the perspective of a local elected official, I contacted Councilman Albus Brooks. As the son of a former Black Panther and with a history of fighting for social and economic justice, Councilman Brooks (Denver District 8), says he is quite sympathetic to the Occupy movement and the frustrations of the protestors; many people in his district are struggling economically because of a lack of employment and underemployment. However, like many people, he is concerned about the lack of cohesive talking points or proposed legislative action. Having a history of fighting for social change, he has learned that it is not enough to say, “We are upset. Change Things.” Instead, Councilman Brooks says, “All successful protests must be focused and practical and have desired outcomes. The Civil Rights Movement would never have succeeded if there wasn’t leadership that demanded for specific change.”
Although there does not seem to be one coherent message or demand for a specific legislative action, it is entirely evident that there is one overarching emotion: anger, or as a recent CNN article puts it, “populist anger over an out-of-touch corporate, financial and political elite.” This is a frustration those of us working with the poor and vulnerable have experienced for years. When it comes down to it, my colleagues and I ARE the 99%. Many of us have spent our entire adult lives working for NPOs around the world whose purpose is to serve the poorest of the poor—those who are in the bottom quadrant of the 99%. Despite the lack of consistent messaging by the Occupy movement, this movement is personal for me because it is largely about social justice, and creating change where it is desperately needed. I agree with Councilman Brooks’ question for the Occupy movement, “Ok, you have our attention. Now what?” I am eager to see what comes of this historic movement.
We’ll continue blogging about Occupy Denver/Wall Street from the perspective of different local nonprofits and city officials, and about the use of social media, over the next couple weeks. Stay tuned!