Wednesday, January 11, 2012

There Must Be More than 100% of Us

by Miki Kashtan

At first, the numbers were clear to me. There was the 1% of the population, and there were the 99%. The division was based on income and on assets. The 1% made 20.3% of the income in 2006, averaging $1,243,516. They owned 34.6% of total assets in 2007 and 42.7% of total financial assets. The 99% was everyone else. This picture, upsetting as it is, made some sense to me.
Then it got muddied.
Because the bottom salary of the 1% starts at $382,593. So, doesn’t that mean that some of the 99% actually make an extremely comfortable income. Then are they still part of the 99%? Hmmm… Something in that picture doesn’t quite capture the depth of an experience of injustice and powerlessness that I read into the expression “We are the 99%.” So what to do? Is it really 99%, or is it only 90%?
I looked at the numbers again, that still didn’t make sense. Within the 90%, some people are still making up to $104,696, and they are not generally the people who suffer the more acute forms of indignities and structural violence. That’s when I started realizing that about 20% are sort-of-part-of-the-99%-and-sort-of-not.
That wasn’t the end of it, either, even though we are already at about 120%.
Because just as much as I don’t believe that people who make $382,593 are part of the injustice being spoken about, I also don’t believe that they are the ones with the true power to make or break policy decisions. Maybe it’s only the 0.01% that are really the 1%? This small group of people makes an income that’s 389 times their percentage of the population. The 1%, on the other hand, make “only” 20.3 times of their percentage. I am convinced there is even a smaller group of people who make an even higher proportion of the income, and I don’t even know how to find those numbers. How small is the “true” 1%, then?
So far, I am at least at 123%. And this is still not the end.

Because we also have the police. Considering their salaries, almost all of the police are clearly part of the 99%. Considering how some people in the Occupy movement are responding to the police, they are not. If they are not, then, once again, we have a group that doesn’t neatly fit the sharp division of 99% and 1%, increasing our total numbers beyond 123%. And what about city workers? Where do they fit? How many of us will there be in the end?
I think of this issue as a profound tragedy. One of the ways that nonviolent movements have traditionally worked is by undermining the sources of support of existing regimes, including by encouraging and nurturing defections. When the police or army can no longer be counted on by a regime, its final legitimacy is finished. This is the kind of situation that leads dictators to abdicate their power. In the structure of how the Occupy movement has been working, such a path is not available. With the police being demonized and, in some locales, physically challenged, how would police officers find their way out of where they are? What alternatives are being offered them to the grueling and difficult situation in which they find themselves? Precisely because they are part of the symbolic meaning of 99%, they are tethered to their jobs, and that means following orders that could be out of integrity for them. Could we generate enough love and an invitation to look at our shared struggles instead of animosity?
Ultimately, I am aiming for a world that works for all of us, all 100% (or more) of us, wherever we are. I don’t have any willingness to create throw-away people, either physically or morally. The biggest transformation I aim for is to transcend either/or categories of any kind, any shred of any idea that some of us have to lose in order for things to work for some others, whether it’s 1%, 99%, or even 0.01% who lose. It’s entirely possible for 100% of us to work together for the benefit of 100% of us. It is only together that we can partake of and steward the bounty of life and our precious planet. I believe it’s still possible.


  1. Dear Miki, if what you are saying is that pointing to and dwelling upon these self-created divisions will not foster the harmony and cooperation we need, I wholeheartedly agree. Each of us when properly motivated can start thinking, speaking, and acting with equal consideration for the interests of all concerned.
    Once people come together with this common aim, conflicts of the heart will disappear. We will be on the same team. The differences as to how to resolve certain problems and face predicaments will only enrich the creative process. We are on the verge of something wonderful.

  2. I don't know if you meant this to be funny but I found it quite amusing--even that you took the time to look at the numbers. It looks to me like 99%/1% are conceptual terms and not literal. It's a way of pointing to injustice. On a more serious note, I am interested not so much in pointing to those small number of people who "hog" most of the money and power but in what it is in our system that is allowing this to happen on a global scale? When I look deeply into this and all the related dis-eases of our day I see a forced, artificial separation between humans and our larger body of the earth and our human family. The voice of sanity says that we are ALL living in a state of dis-ease because of the unbelievable imbalance in our world. Isolation is only a foolish illusion. Those of us who have the clarity of mind to see this will not waste time and energy on blaming the rich. Instead we are radically implicated in responsibility to do what we can to bring humanity into right relationship/sacred reciprocity with ourselves and our larger body, the earth.

  3. "The voice of sanity says that we are ALL living in a state of dis-ease because of the unbelievable imbalance in our world. Isolation is only a foolish illusion."

    Every week, during centering prayer, the leader of our local Thomas Merton Society chapter (a Franciscan) prays that the rich will be "freed from the burden of excessive wealth and learn to love holy poverty." That echoed in my mind as I read your comment, Sarah. I suspect that ridding ourselves of the "isolation illusion" is hard enough for any of us, but devilishly hard for wealthier people, whose material comforts protect them from awakening to the dis-ease you speak of.

    Wonderful post, Miki. I love writing that cuts through conventional wisdom with clear ideas that seem so self-evident and yet, because we don't see them, astound us.

  4. Yes, yes, yes, love this! In Madison last winter/spring, many of the police ended up supporting the protestors, sometimes when they were off duty. And it would have been quite interesting if Gov. Walker really had called in the National Guard, as many of these families include state workers, teachers, etc. who are directly affected by the budget cuts here. It's about making alliances. Holding fast to the principles and caring about the people. Gandhi absolutely opposed the strategies of the British in authority but remained open to cultivating friendships with the people. We are one. We need everyone. Even 99 vs. 1 is somehow separation. This is so complicated in some ways, isn't it? So much to learn and reflect on and do!

  5. Here are links to two articles on nonviolence I really liked. In the one from today I thought of this blog when I read, "We are the 100%." The other one inspired me, fed some hope for the future.
    In companionship,

  6. Hi Miki,

    This is very funny! Thanks for giving a little levity to the whole scary depressing mess. I'm also glad to see your comments about the police, who, along with the military, must be specifically engaged.

    I have thought about the 1% question also, and I've found it helpful to think of 1% as a verb, rather than a noun. To paraphrase Forrest Gump: "1% is as 1% does."

    So, for example, Warren Buffet actually talked to his secretaries, found that they paid more in taxes than he did, was moved by this knowledge, and is now advocating changes in the tax structure to make it more fair. Of course this is still within the rotten capitalist structure, but if he is successful, there will be less suffering while we figure out a better way to live. In his action, Buffet, while he is in a percentage category all his own, is 99%ing.

    On the other hand, Madeline Albright, the former secretary of state, when told that the US sanctions and bombing of Iraqi infrastructure after the first Gulf War were causing the deaths of a half million Iraqi babies, famously responded, "That's just the cost of doing business." She may have a few less zeros to the right of the decimal point than Buffet, but she is performing pure 1%ism.

    There are many ways to 1%. Some, like Albright, are knowing creators of social injustice on a large scale. Others are oblivious benefactors. Most of us 1% in our daily lives, by virtue of the melanin content of our skin or the shape of one of our chromosomes, or by the fact that we walk instead of wheel, or love the "correct" gender, or shower before instead of after work, or work in a blue uniform or a white coat or a suit or rags as we push our shopping cart. If you look at our child rearing practices, virtually every child is 1%ed by the adults around them.

    It is easier, however, to 1% if you are very wealthy, which is why wealth is conflated with heartless behavior, and revolutionaries look to the economically deprived to develop new ways of living together. But if 1% is a verb, rather than a noun, then we have to be more discerning. It's not just about redistributing wealth, it's about behavior, and making judgements about behavior, and changing behavior.

    I think about 1%ing as an addiction. When I think about people who have recovered from addiction, I join you in the hope that everyone can learn to 99%. But it is part of the very definition of addiction that it is a behavior so out of the control of the addict that they may practice it until they die. People who 1% may well be unable to stop until they, everyone else, and the ecosystem on which we all depend, dies.

    We can’t know the outcome. But every effort must be made. Making that effort to save the lives of everyone is 99%ing in its essence.

    Thank you for your deep insight and your work in the world.

    Lorraine Bonner