The 99% Movement Has Something for Everyone -- But Is it Occupy?
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Ruben continues, “And then Occupy Wall Street happened and crystallized a lot of the frustration. It engaged millions more people and captured the imagination of the whole world. It had this 99% frame that did something that nobody else had managed to do yet, which was to tell this whole story through characters and unify these twin problems of political and economic inequality. It was just an amazingly powerful frame. We said, okay, this is the name for it because people were walking around with signs saying ‘I am the 99%.’” Ruben says the goal was to name a movement that included Occupy but was bigger than it. “The 99% Movement is the broad wave of folks who’ve been coming together over the last 14 or 15 months in increasing numbers to fight for economic justice and against inequality. … Within that Occupy is one powerful, amazing and important part of that movement, but it is not limited to Occupy.”
Despite Ruben’s denial of the 99% Movement being a rebranding of the American Dream movement, he says, “We didn’t have the right name for it.” This statement reveals that the renaming is a branding strategy decided from on high. Another inside source with the 99% Spring who wished to remain anonymous says, “My hunch is they are branding the Rebuild the Dream candidates as 99% candidates and are leveraging the language used by Occupy.”
While MoveOn and other organizations praise Occupy Wall Street for shifting the political terrain to the left, they are forging ahead with creating a movement that presents itself as Occupy’s successor. Writing in the Nation, Ilyse Hogue, who serves on the board of Rebuild the Dream and is the former director of political advocacy and communications for MoveOn, describes occupying public space as nothing more than a “tactic” that is now “dead.” Hogue wants to “make way for the new,” namely the 99% Spring and the 99% brand. Also writing in the Nation around the same time, Van Jones, the former Obama administration official who co-founded the Democratic Party-allied Rebuild the Dream, said, “This spring 2012 will mark the long-awaited re-emergence of the 99 percent movement.”
I told Ruben that I have visited nearly 40 occupations in 25 states in the last six months and have talked to hundreds of occupiers, but no one ever told me, “I am part of the 99% Movement.” Ruben responded, “Occupy is the most visible at the ground level piece of it, but I’m going to push back at you saying [the 99% Movement] doesn’t exist. I talk to those folks all the time. They are in our membership. Those are the people who organized nonviolence training, a thousand of them.”
Yet, this appears to be a ploy to confuse cause and effect. Ruben says MoveOn has 7 million members, with a “couple million” having joined since 2011. If MoveOn is relentlessly flogging the meme it helped create – “the 99% Movement” – then is it really a bottom-up movement like Ruben claims?
With the 99% Spring kicking into full gear, with the help of MoveOn’s PR firm, BerlinRosen, the 99% Movement brand is suddenly appearing everywhere. MoveOn is promoting weeks of protests at upcoming corporate shareholder meetings. Two of the biggest protests were at Wells Fargo in San Francisco on April 24 and General Electric in Detroit on April 25. A search on Google News for the two protests turned up dozens of references to “the 99 percent movement” in outlets including CNBC, Reuters, the Chicago Tribune and the Detroit News, overshadowing mentions of the Occupy movement. (One report labeled the 99% movement the “Ghost of Occupy Wall Street.”)