Opinion: Workers Are The 99%, Plain and Simple
Until the beginning of Occupy Wall Street a year ago, we were a seemingly heterogeneous entity, working within the framework of an ill-conceived notion of classes and groups. Now, the true classes have become apparent: the capitalists and the workers, the value takers and the value creators.
This is a moment to celebrate in which people dedicated to all different struggles - radical socialists, women's rights and empowerment movements, labor unions, civil rights movements, black liberation movements, gay, lesbian and transgender groups, inner city communities, environmental groups and all other ostracized segments of society fueled by struggle for decades in America - are realizing a singular identity under which to coalesce: the working class. Instead of our multi-cultural pluralism distorting our view of full the world and its true structures of power, we now have the battle lines clearly drawn: those who want a new society, and those who want to keep it the way it is.
This bifurcation signals the beginning of a new era in the modern mind. The concept of workers has been popular when we peer back into history. However, the past three decades have produced the greatest expansion of global capital the world has ever seen and, with that growth, the sons and daughters of the wretched system have been cast aside, leaving our society a mere shadow of its former self. The ethic of neo-liberal individualism infected all of us -- made us think in terms of pure self-interest -- and subsequently we lost the concept of workers.
Do not let the institutionalized corporate media fool you. This movement is the start of systematic global change because we have, in a moment of dissolution, reached back into ourselves for our actual place in society. We cannot fully and completely address the maladies of patriarchy, impending environmental disaster, institutionalized sexism and racism, big moneyed interests running rampant in our political systems, the corruption of federal regulation agencies, the perpetual abuses by Wall Street speculators, etc. outside of the paradigm of global capitalism and the levers of power created in response to that system. In short, we need to break down what it actually means to be a part of the 99%. We all use the moniker, but we seem to have different definitions of what that moniker actually means.
The main ability of the Occupy movement is its power to provide an alternative. But how is this accomplished? When the movement properly assumes its own identity.
Thus far, while the analysis has been based around two unequal classes of people, the idea of the 99% was born out of the critique of the abuses and riches of the one-percent. Thus, our identity is not based on what we are as a movement; it is currently based on what we are not. We consider ourselves the 99% in lieu of us not being the one-percent; we haven't identified who we are positively. Our current, amorphous definition of the 99% will not provide us with an adequate paradigm to move forward. Our anger is rooted in structural issues, yet it is articulated in a way that blames the super wealthy for our own misfortunes, meaning we've blamed "evil" bred from the system instead of the system which bred the evil itself.
Identifying with problems that cripple the diminishing middle class, and the expanding lower classes, will place this movement as an alternative to capitalism. We've seen this movement get behind workers rights, rally against back-breaking student debt, and fight back against home foreclosures -- all giant leaps forward to truly addressing the effects of unfettered capital. Next, we will see the formation of an identity which is more tangible. As of now, the identity is a negation: identifying what we are not. The next step, which will propel us forward, is to identify the commonality the protestors have which is the fact that we are workers. Executed properly, and coupled with the structural issues of capitalism, the movement is bound to grow.
Looking back down the hallway of history, we can hear Georg Lukacs' Class Consciousness essay from March of 1920 speaking to us within Occupy Wall Street nearly a hundred years before its inception: "For if from the vantage point of a particular class the totality of existing society is not visible; if the class thinks the thoughts imputable to it and which bear upon it its interests right through to their logical conclusion, and yet fails to strike at the heart of that totality, then such class is doomed to play out a subordinate role. It can never influence the course of history in either a conservative or progressive way. Such classes are normally doomed to passivity, to an unstable oscillation between the ruling and revolutionary classes, and if perchance they do erupt, then such explosions are purely elemental and aimless. They may win a few battles, but they are doomed to ultimate defeat."
In other words, we need to treat the idea of the 99% properly, once and for all. The 99% are the workers, plain and simple. Fellow occupiers: our struggle has brought us to this place, it has fueled us to antagonize the unjust and corrupt system which has stripped us of that which we created. I do not ask you to forget your back-breaking debt, the institutional sexism and racism you experience every day, the daily destruction of our most precious natural resources, the tidal wave of corporate money in the public arena; but these are the burdens of our times, all rooted in the parasitic system of global capital.
And once this movement coalesces under a banner in which all identities can be properly understood, properly articulated, and made human, the movement will become something more than a movement that merely changed the script of the political theater. At our movement's core, we are revolutionary. If we cast aside the identities which brought us here, and begin to realize that we're workers first, exploited, abused, and dehumanized, the real change will come.
Oscar Wilde once wrote, "A map of the world that does not include utopia is not worth glancing at, for it leaves out the one country at which humanity is always landing. And when humanity lands there, it looks out, and seeing a better country, sets sail. Progress is the realization of utopias." Do you ever wonder why those in power have an inability to articulate a better, more perfect world for us? This is their utopia. Allow us to set sail, finally, and with our anchor removed from the depths of the oil-soaked oceans, freed from the chains of global capital, set our course anew to an era of a humanity more perfect, more fulfilling, and more just.