Reign of the Ninety-nine Percenters?

Christopher Ketcham’s essay “The Reign of the One Percenters,” published on Orion’s website and forthcoming in the November/December 2011 issue of the magazine, calls for a swift kick to Wall Street’s pedestal of profligacy. We’re excited to hear that people are listening and, thanks to the brave citizens behind #OccupyWallStreet, taking action. So what’s next? Christopher Ketcham reflects.

When I wrote the first draft of “The Reign of the One Percenters” in the autumn of 2010, I had little hope that the kids in New York would pull off anything like the growing revolt in Liberty Square and beyond. I am delighted to be proved totally wrong.

Some thoughts, then, for present and future Occupiers everywhere. I’d suggest they take a page from the Populist movement of the 1890s. Like Occupy Wall Street, Populism was a broad, economics-driven revolt that targeted a predatory elite of corporate capitalists—the Robber Barons of the Gilded Age—who had captured government and established monopoly power over the political economy.

The Populists were social visionaries, anticipating and driving the Progressive Era of reform of the early 1900s. They sought to dismantle the centralized power of corporations in the economy and return economic liberty to individuals and small business. Long before anyone else, they envisioned the graduated income tax, the secret ballot, the regulation of banks, the right of workers to set the terms of their labor. They transformed the political discourse of their time.

In the midst of this our Second Gilded Age, the Occupiers need to remember that the Populists also formed a political party—the People’s Party—and they ran candidates who won office, and they formed real-world cooperatives between business and labor to challenge the hegemony of corporate capitalism. Theirs was not a platform of quixotic revolution, but one of radical reform that took decades of hard labor to bear fruit.

In the meantime: the politics of radical protest; the politics of turmoil and disruption; the politics of ridicule and shaming; the politics of the rhetorical rotten egg smashed in the eyes of the criminal banking class—these are the orders of the day. The protest in Liberty Square, the protest of the Ninety-nine Percenters, is currently driven by no mere platform of demands, nor should it be. It is driven by moral outrage, as a challenge to the authority of an immoral economic system.

Christopher Ketcham is working on a book about political rebellion in the United States. He lives in New York and Utah.


  1. We have an elected class of politicians in congress and the presidency charged to listen to the people who elected them and respond to their needs.

    They failed. Massively.

    It turns out that the vast majority of both parties and Barack Obama himself are solidly on the payroll of one Wall Street faction or the other.

    The only solution left to us is to disrupt business of these firms to such an extent that they instruct their lackeys to weigh in with the appeasement. Not with bills active in 2014 or 2016 but with bills that are active when signed. Just like Wall Street got when they went to D.C. hat in hand.

    They got a trillion dollars in a weekend. I think we can ask for reform in a month.

  2. but i did so understand the hopelessness you felt about the youth in your previous essay. in the past, we might have relied on them to stir things up; these days they just want high paying careers and stuff to buy.
    the Occupy Everywhere movement is wonderful. marching on wednesday with thousands of angry, but well behaved people of all ages gave me hope that we might get our country back

  3. Carolyn_ Like many 40+ year old activists over the last ten years I’ve gone to many an event where the grey heads outnumbered anybody under 20 by about ten to one. Frequently at some climate change or other ecological event I was obviously the youngest person present.

    I live in a college town.

    Until the last three of four years when I’ve been seeing some bicycle/ecological activism from the under 30’s it’s been dead. I wondered if they cared at all.

    Now we know that SOME care; but is it going to be enough?

  4. I Patched My Crotch ePie Oct. 15th, 2011

    I patched my crotch for wear and tear
    when teased about my frequent need to piss
    so I became a …………
    am becoming a crosspatch
    anger flare yellow
    andare called to the crosspatch podium to bellow
    as I was told to
    pop down the hatch and take a Valium swallow

    I joined the group that was all bully for change
    while the Bankers’s deck chairs were tilting strange
    steaming through the fire foam and fog

    Van Berg, Uber Van, & oBama Bow
    were the first to man the hand out boats

    while domicile
    is the World afloat

  5. {Pan: We have an elected class of politicians in congress and the presidency charged to listen to the people who elected them and respond to their needs.}

    Let us not forget that Congress is little but the reflection of the popular will.

    If 52% of Americans decided to stay away from the midterms, they have no one but themselves to blame for the TeaParty that has infested the HofR.

    We, the sheeple, have on of the worst voter turnout records of democratic nations. So, populism, yes, but it is simply a reaction to the gross excess of a Plutocrat Class.

    How did this happen. It just did. We elected Ronald Reagan to the presidency and he proceeded to make good on his campaign promises to the Plutocrat Class. Namely, he reduced marginal income and capital gains taxes. In fact,the debut of our National Debt problems coincides almost perfectly with Reagan’s reduction of taxes on the upper-class earners. See this infographic here:

    The red and blue lines are maximum and minimum taxation. The green line is National Debt. Note the inflection of the Green Line around 1980. Who was president then?

    If we want better leadership, we should find it by exacting some very evident elements of a reformational program – namely one based upon Progressive Values. For instance, addressing the glaring problem of Income Unfairness in America.

    That is, we should be looking for progressive values in a candidate BEFORE the election and not expect miracles AFTER the election. Of course, that would require that we can RECOGNIZE progressive values.

    Unless this movement coalesces around a Progressive Agenda, then it will flame out and dissipate into a nice memory – an historical anecdote, worth a footnote in the history books.

  6. Maybe the spoof blog “TheOnion sums things up quite well:

    NEW YORK—As the Occupy Wall Street protest expands and grows into a nationwide movement, Americans are eagerly awaiting a list of demands from the group so they can then systematically disregard them and continue going about their business, polls showed this week. “The protesters need to unify around a shared agenda with precise policy goals so I can begin paying no attention to them whatsoever,” said Tulsa, OK poll respondent Kaye Petrachonis, echoing the thoughts of millions across the country. “If they don’t have a clear power structure organized around specific demands first, then I’ll never be able to completely tune them out due to a political conflict of interest or an inability to comprehend complex, detailed economic concepts. These people really need to get their act together.” Once Occupy Wall Street has a concrete set of objectives in place, the majority of Americans said they would go back to waiting for the sluggish economy to recover while blindly accepting things the way they are.

    Or as some more poesy has it:
    Dick Linked Morning ePie October 16th, 2011

    Join up with the We the People not freeking from the Freekinomissists or toxic
    non paying securities standing dormant; the grey water of the grey suits who
    pack proposals with rentier pork while the trough runs red as bankers seek to
    embed new sneakier planks for the windiest policies that don’t stir up the
    underwater debree of lien holders linking dicks for their morning rituals …..

    for morning or mourning,
    …….. moaning for raggedly disguised rituals.
    Nor is it a tuning fork for intellectuals trying to quantify
    left center right
    left center right
    left center right

    with an anarchist march past the freedom train,
    pig blood going down the drain.
    As butchers and plumbers find new hope in the underground economy; while
    hoarding silver tea service from a granny who knew the true joy of slivering
    slicing and dicing canning for the coming cold. … with no time to pilot a two
    ton monster down the freeway to a sewing bee to sell a quilt at an auction
    attended by the who of who’s who never miss a public opening while black
    eyed irises watching from afar save coin to buy a sack of white, white rice

    Meanwhile the crème de crop always on the drop of a new tip, prop each other
    Looking for new ways to bet both ways
    While others with deeper roots
    Collect them
    A bit a fiber, stooped, … watching the flicker of a meager fire
    The other
    That the corpulent pray for

  7. An Alternative to Capitalism (if the people knew about it, they would demand it)

    Several decades ago, Margaret Thatcher claimed: “There is no alternative”. She was referring to capitalism. Today, this negative attitude still persists.

    I would like to offer an alternative to capitalism for the American people to consider. Please click on the following link. It will take you to an essay titled: “Home of the Brave?” which was published by the Athenaeum Library of Philosophy:

    John Steinsvold

    Perhaps in time the so-called dark ages will be thought of as including our own.
    –Georg C. Lichtenberg

  8. You sir, are a very good writer, and I don’t often compliment anyone. Good luck to you. Larry Johnston.

  9. Your original essay on the rule of the one percent in NY and the death of culture related to this – was excellent. While I’ve known that capital is killing real culture, you gave it flesh. So all we have to do is deport 90,000 people and we can be free? Lets go for it.

    My daughter just moved to New York to do cultural work, and lives near Prospect Park. I have sent her this article.

  10. Capitalism created the elites. To unseat them we must disown capitalism, the false ideology that has been used to enslave us, while all the while insisting it was all about freedom. The conditioned and unquestioning mind is our real prison, more effective than stone walls and iron bars. Wake up people! Come together in small groups and awaken from your trance of unconscious compliance to the lies you have been indoctrinated with. Freedom begins in the mind.

  11. In a sense, today’s financial crisis is just a giant business cycle, in which corporations are able to increase productivity and profits by laying off workers and buying better technology. Technology is now advancing so rapidly that it outpaces the economy’s/society’s ability to create new kinds of jobs and train people for them. Capitalism’s problem is that it needs consumers, but people can’t spend if they don’t have wages. So conservatives will have to choose the lesser of two weevils: Massive welfare or acceptance/encouragement of policies to build strong local economies, a la David Korten. (Does this prediction make sense?)

  12. We need a People’s Party. The Democrats and Republicans are both tools of Wall Street. We need a repeal of the Supreme Court’s decision that enabled corporations to pump unlimited dollars into buying politicians.

  13. capitalism is good corporatism is bad. monsanto or monsatan is bad for the country as they have given up on mother nature and try to alter crops via gmo’s. organic is good because it benefits the farmer as well as society. it is basic. banking derivatives are bad as they have caused a collapse of organic or progressive banking, which lends money for growth not for bets.
    crony capitalism must go and we need to get back to small business capitalism.

  14. Capitalism is the worship of competition between individuals and groups of individuals as the highest good for people and their society. Survival of the fittest may be inevitable for lower animals, but humans are capable of cooperation and love as their guiding principles. People today have been brainwashed to think that the competitive model of being together is healthy, necessary and some how dictated by nature. All of this is untrue. Until we can step outside the boxes our conditioning has relegated us to, there will be no real freedom or happiness. We are cooperating with our abusers to believe these false ideas and pass them on to others as if they are self-evident truths.

  15. People are at least THINKING…and talking. If all the movement does is jolt people out of their apathy, it will have succeeded.

  16. It is unfortunate that the high speed society that we have created no longer offers us the time necessary to try to understand our past and how we got HERE.
    Capitalism, and industrialization are movements that have arisen hand in hand with… the increasing democratization of our society. Egalitarianism. The motors for what is going on right now.
    The rags to riches dream that powered so much immigration to the U.S., and continues to power it, is not really compatible with a “sustainable” life.
    Think about it : it is the ANTITHESIS of St. Francis’s life… FROM RICHES TO RAGS. And proud of it, to boot.
    It has taken us more than five hundred years for the Enlightenment “dream” to fully unfold, and gradually get to the point where it appears to be what it always was, in essence : UNSUSTAINABLE.
    Until we can ALSO find SOME value in being “poor”, until we can ALL learn to make do with less, and change our habits, we will continue to EXPLOIT THIS PLANET.
    Even the so called ecologists…
    Ten years ago, we were cheering on the Wall Street traders, and admiring them for being “ruthless”, and NOW we are at 180°, going on about cooperation, and claiming that competition is evil ?
    The social body does NOT think. It… reacts.
    Hopefully, there are still some of us who can do more than react at this time..
    I HOPE…

  17. While I was wrestling with noxious weeds in my brother’s garden, his twenty-four year old twins dropped by. They had attended a Halloween Party as ‘Poor White Trash’ and were trying to remove all their fake tatoos.
    I took them to task, reminding them that three generations back our grandparents ran taverns and owned pig farms. This urge to forget where we all came from fuels this economic crisis.
    Since I am still white. poor and female-does that make me fodder for rich kids to ridicule? One twins’ girlfriend went as pregnant white trash.
    There is a big disconnect between their sheltered upbringing and WalMart employees’ depressed wages.
    This is why I harbor little hope for real change from the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ movement. Christopher’s article still resonates for me on every level, including the scathing critique of the kids my generation raised.

  18. “To venture is to risk defeat; but not to venture is to lose one’s soul.” Kierkegaard. Or: “What profits it a man to gain the whole world, and lose his soul.” This is where we stand now. This is where we have always stood, without noticing it. Now we must either become aware, or suffer the dire consequences of our sleep. Small groups are coming together to help each other wake up, so that we may take the desperately needed actions necessary to save ourselves. Join one or start one.

  19. The mouthpieces of the plutocrats have been quick to label this truly grassroots movement (as oppposed to the corporately invented grassroots movement that the Tea Party is) as “class warfare” in an effort to use fear-mongering in much the same way that continous orange alerts of the last decade and the threat of Communism in the decades before that coaxed Americans into relinquishing more and more of their individual rights. The goal was to maneuver the populace into taking their eyes off the real ball – the political shell game that allowed corporate shills to move into the halls (and seats) of government on a permanent basis. (Can you say “campaign finance reform”?) There, in fact, is the real genesis of class warfare in this country and it goes back to well before World War II. The only thing that has changed is that now the gloves are off and the masks have slipped down.

    Minorities in this country have been trying, to one degree or another, for generations to make it clear that disenfranchisement occurs at the whim of those in power. Many ordinary people nevertheless chose to relegate their complaints to a function of the dissatisfactions of “race” that are to be more or less expected from minority populations (as if none of their complaints constituted a legitimate set of grievances).

    Just as occurred with the rigged election of Bush Junior in 2004 the majority population is now getting a taste of what it means to continually ignore the obvious – those in financial/political control of this country will do anything necessary to remain in control. That means witnessing those in power legislating and adjudicating away the address of societal inequities and the legitimization of the corporate entity as person.

    But just how interesting is it now that the majority has begun to be treated as if they are minorities? To have it rendered perfectly obvious that their usefulness as a group exists only to the extent that they can continue making the lives of a small group of people and their offspring comfortable?

    As has been said before – if you’re not angry now you’re just not paying attention.

  20. Well said Lynne D. How to awaken large numbers of folks to these truths is our clallenge now. Ignorance leads to becoming slaves to the few.

  21. Hamilton was a onepercenter all the way. He was right for his kind, and wrong for the 99percent.

  22. Now it’s time to occupy K St in Washington D.C.; especially the offices of Grover Norquist. Next fall it’s time to occupy the ballot box. Don’t vote for any canidate who signed Mr. Norquist’s no-tax pledge.

  23. Wonder if you could post online version of this month’s column by Jay Griffiths, “The Great Undwelling, Foreclosing on our children’s futures with a lethal dose of debt.” #Occupy!

  24. GOOD GOD!
    If you haven’t read The Great Undwelling” yet, stop reading this comment and do so right now.

    It is as trenchant and true an analysis on the state of ‘being’ as I have ever read anywhere, including during graduate school – for which I am indebted in the tens of thousands of dollars, and undergraduate school – for which I owe twice as much.

    Because I was educated in architecture Heidegger’s concepts regarding dwelling were already quite familiar to me. They were part and parcel of the theoretical arcana considered essential in becoming a degreed member of the “useful art”, but Jay Griffiths supplied the missing beating heart of Heidegger’s essay for me (and in doing so shone a light on the antipathy I felt while studying architectural theory in school) as to why it should matter to anyone who has anything to do with the creation of any element of human habitatation: why do we participate as a profession, on almost a wholescale basis, in creating products – in the form of houses – that will ultimately cause the huge numbers of the country’s population (the majority of families in America own their own houses) to literally enslave themselves for decades in order to be able to call themselves “homeowners”?

    Granted, architects (to our eternal frustration) are only responsible for the design of 10% of the residences that are constructed, nevertheless we never question our clients budgeting themselves into lives that will be constrained by immense amounts of personal debt. Yes that is, after all, their personal choice but we are still part of a system that concocts the glamour – in the sorcery sense – that makes spending hundreds of thousands of dollars that most of us don’t have on hand seem not only reasonable but necessary. And then there are the hundreds, if not thousands of other industries which are tied into that particular choice. The chains of capitalism are indeed as lengthy as they are weighty and now, instead of mortgages existing for thirty years, the proposal has been vetted that they last for sixty years!

    Why not a hundred years loan? Why not a Millenium Loan that ensnares your progeny in perpetua?

    When you hear the chains of economic enslavement clanking, don’t only think of Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, Chase, or Wells Fargo; think also of which individual link you personally forged by neither examining your own contribution to an insanely unbalanced view of dwelling and habitation nor demanding meaningful oversight of the usury giants which underwrite the entire system.

  25. As I see it the home equity loans have been a way some artists and craftsmen have parlayed to good effect. It’s important to see debt in the round.
    With freedom comes responsibility.

  26. I’m 56 years old, and stood all Winter, three days a week, eight to ten hours per day, holding a sign for Occupy in a small town (22K popn, “bedroom communities” all around) in Northeastern Kentucky.

    And we didn’t see one flippin’ college-student over the Christmas break. Not one.

    It was very depressing.

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