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The Self-Righteous, the Ideologically Confused… "the 53%”

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Cross-posted from Tikkun Daily.by Claire Snyder-Hall
Although I shouldn't be surprised, I have to say that I do find myself angered and appalled by a reaction that has recently emerged in opposition to the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement, a reaction by working people who claim to speak for "the 53%."

According to Slate, the 53% figure refers to the number of households that actually pay federal income tax. The other 47% do not have to pay either because they have so many deductions or they are simply too poor.

The 53% Tumblr site I discovered this week has the following ridiculous tagline: "We are the 53%: Those of us who pay for those of you who whine about all of that ... or that ... or whatever." Apparently, each person posting on the site feels like he or she is personally supporting a bunch of free-loaders and that somehow all the protestors are living on hand-outs. Talk about self-aggrandizing and ignorant!

I don't know if the reactionary outburst of those claiming to speak for the 53% will grow into an actual counter-movement or not, but every time I check the site, there are more postings. Nor do I know how widely shared their mentality is, but the attitudes being expressed by contributors to the 53% page are quite familiar to me. I hear similar things from my students all the time - and from right-wing ideologues.

The Tumblr page shows a series of hard working people, many of whom are economically marginal by their own account. These people should be the base for progressive politics, but they clearly reject any attempt to enact policies that help regular people, like themselves, have a better life. Instead, they would rather self-righteously defend the economic interests of those who exploit the labor of working people, who pad their own pockets by systematically trashing the commons. Some of the 53%-ers even seem offended to be considered part of the 99% that isn't benefitting from the current system of distribution - as if recognizing their objective place in the current economic system is some kind of insult.

Here are some samples:

3 years ago I started my own business with nothing. Finally after 3 years I'm starting to see a profit. I work a second job over 40 hours a week, and I go to college full time! I do all this while raising and providing for my two toddler sons. I don't have a babysitter, and can't afford daycare, so instead of complaining and being lazy, I found a second job where I could work from home... I fight and struggle every day! Yes, it's hard, but it's not supposed to be easy! ... I'm a good role model for my kids so they will never be one of the 99%.

It's great that this woman's hard work has paid off. But wouldn't it have been better, if she had access to safe, affordable childcare and a grant to pay for college? Why is it "not supposed to be easy"? And does she not understand that the 99% refers to ordinary working and middle class people like herself and probably her kids? Does she really think they'll end up being billionaires someday?

Here's another:

I am a single woman raising a daughter on her own, working a full time job and maintaining a household. I pinch pennies, go without and work overtime to keep my little girl in a good school and buy us a home of our own. I put myself through college while working and parenting and clearing up debt. ... I am the first one in the office and the last one to bed ...and raise my daughter to never be one of the 99%.

Again, why is her hard-scrabble life some sort of ideal? Wouldn't it be great if the public schools were once again good enough so that she didn't have to pay for private education out of her own pocket? Wouldn't her daughter be better off if she didn't have to work such long hours? Does she really think her daughter is going to be a billionaire?

Yet while some seem to think the 99% represents the dregs of society that they want no part of, other contributors see the 99% as some sort of elite:

I am the 53% and do not appreciate the lazy, liberal children of Hard Working Americans including me in their socialist 99% movement.

There were lots of posts supporting both views, even though the two views are contradictory.

As a college professor, I was particularly rankled by this post:

I am a 19 year old student in MN who has to work 40 hours a week to finance my engineering degree and I'm sick of seeing 25% of each paycheck being stolen by the gov't to support bums sitting on the street whining because they wasted money on a worthless liberal arts degree.

Obviously, this first or second year college student doesn't understand the purpose of a Bachelor's degree. It is not supposed to be vocational training - which is not to disparage an engineering degree. I don't know how many of the OWS protestors have liberal arts degrees, but I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of them do, since it is precisely the liberal arts education that allows a person to be able to thematize the whole, to think systematically, and to understand large processes like globalization, instead of remaining mired in the minutia of his own personal experiences.

Here's another post:

I worked 40 hours/week to put myself through college. I paid off all my student loans myself. ... I'm self-employed. I don't get vacations, sick leave, or comp time. ... If you want it, get off your ass and work for it.

Again, what is the investment of this guy in maintaining a system that made it so hard for him? Maybe young people shouldn't have to work 40 hours a week to put themselves through school. Maybe they should be able to enjoy college and all the extracurricular experiences available to those who don't have to work full-time during college. Maybe his experience should not be held up as the ideal.

I am a full-time student working 2 jobs to pay the bills and get an education. After the economic downturn my parents had to declare bankruptcy and couldn't help me with school or loans.... Wall St. doesn't owe me anything!

So she is OK with a system that rewards a tiny elite with more than they could enjoy in a series of lifetimes, while her parents go bankrupt, leaving her to fend for herself while still a teen. And she does not think she is even owed a fair shake - like a job that she can actually live on?

I had to put myself through college. I have to work 50+ hours a week to pay my bills. I do this because it is the right thing to do, not the easy thing to do. I find a way to live on LESS disposable income because it is the right thing to do. I don't blame Wall St. I blame all those 99% protestors. I am the 53% working 50+ hours to support you 99% protestors.

Again, it's the same mantra. But why does this guy think it is "right" for a regular person to have to work over 50 hours a week, just to get by? And how can he possibly have things so twisted around in his mind that the Occupy Wall St. protestors are somehow to blame for his sorry life? And why in the world does he think all the OWS protestors are on the dole and that somehow he is personally footing the bill?

Not against helping folks get back on their feet, but I usually require that they get off their butt first.

Not to be snide, but perhaps if this woman didn't have to work so many hours just to scrape by, she would have time to read the newspaper and would know about 9% unemployment and the global economic crisis or the consistent pleas of the American people for jobs. I guess it's easier to think that all of a sudden a whole bunch of people decided they didn't want to work anymore because it's easier to sit around.

My family lived off food stamps. I suffer from chronic illness that leaves me in pain most of the time.... I worked my ass off in high school. I earned a scholarship at a state university.... EFFORT can overcome circumstance. What is the 99% doing wrong?

So this guy actually benefitted from programs funded by tax dollars, such as food stamps, so he didn't die of hunger; public high school, so he could become literate; and a tax-payer subsidized state university, so he could get a decent job. Yet now he opposes the OWS movement that seeks to preserve those public goods for the future. And he implies that the 99% are doing something wrong, as if they could all be part of the 1% if they tried hard enough.

I just don't get it. Why do these people favor a system that systematically exploits ordinary people to enrich and aggrandize the extremely wealthy? Is the feeling of self-righteousness really that central to their sense of self? Why do they want to make sure everyone has it as hard as they did? Does that give them a sense of superiority or satisfaction? And who do they imagine when fantasize about masses of lazy people looking for a hand-out? Where is their sense of compassion towards others? And why do they feel diminished to recognize that they actually are part of the 99%?

Personally, I could tell the same type of story myself because I too worked extremely hard to get where I am, and I too live within my means, pay my bills, and pay my taxes. Yet I still think that our society should not be organized to aggrandize the wealthiest elite and systematically grind down the rest of us, to varying degrees, and I just don't get why they think that is OK, especially when most of them seem to have much more difficult circumstances than I do.

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