Tag Archives: the 99 percent

Doug Henwood: NYC More Unequal than Brazil

LBO News from Doug Henwood:

The New York City Independent Budget Office is just out with an analysis (pdf )of income distribution in the city. It’s no surprise that it’s very unequal. The surprise is that it’s far more unequal than Brazil’s.

Full details are available in the letter—which was in response to a request from City Council member James Oddo—but here are some highlights:

  • The poorest tenth (decile) of the city’s population has an average income of $988, and claim 0.1% of the city’s total income. Since the source of this data is tax returns, the very poor no doubt have hidden sources of income. Taxable income doesn’t include many social benefits, like public housing or Food Stamps. Even allowing for that, my god.
  • The bottom half of the city’s income distribution has 9% of total income; the bottom 80%, 29%. Comparable figures for the U.S. are 19% for the bottom half and 44% for the bottom four-fifths.
  • The richest 10% of New Yorkers have 58% of total income, and the richest 5%, 49%. The national average is 42% for the top 10%, and 32% for the top 5%
  • And here’s where the action is, the proverbial 1%: it has 34% of total income, compared with 19% for the U.S. as a whole.

Some dollar amounts to make those percentages more concrete:

  • The average income of the poorest 30% is $6,373, on a par with Egypt and about $1,200 below China’s (computed on a purchasing power parity basis, which attempts to adjust for price differences across countries).
  • The city’s median income—the level at which half the population is richer and half is poorer—is $28,213. That’s roughly the level of Greece.
  • The average income of the top 10% (a category that begins at $105,368) is $387,259.
  • The average income of the top 1% (a category that begins at $493,439) is $2,247,515. These are the people that Andrew Cuomo was very reluctant to tax.

How does the city’s income distribution compare with that of Brazil, a country with a worldwide reputation for stunning inequality?

  • The income of the top 20% of New Yorkers is 64 times that of the bottom 20%. In Brazil, that ratio is 17 times.
  • The income of the top 10% of New Yorkers is 582 times that of the poorest 10%. In Brazil, that ratio is 35 times.

The New York and Brazilian comparisons are pretty rough, since the Brazilian figures are based on survey data reported by the World Bank. Rich people don’t answer surveys, so the incomes of rich Brazlians are probably way underestimated by that data. But if you look a little down the scale, to the second-richest quintile (20% slice) of Brazilians, they have incomes about 6 times the poorest quintile. In New York, the comparable ratio is 14 times.

So there you have it: New York City makes Brazil look almost like Sweden!

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A Few Notes on the Eviction

Derrick O’Keefe
An open letter to 1 per cent: you cannot evict an idea whose time has come

To the 1 per cent (you know who you are),

I write to you, as a lowly ninety-nine percenter, to offer both my congratulations and my condolences.

First, my congratulations on sending in the NYPD to clear out Zuccotti Park in the wee hours of the morning today. Congratulations for demonstrating, with this cynically timed manoeuvre, that when push comes to shove the police exist to serve and protect your vested interests. Congratulations on teaching a new generation this painful but necessary lesson about the true function of the police in a capitalist society. You deserve thanks for proving that when consent falters you’ll resort to force to maintain your hegemony — liberal democracy, when it is by and for the 1 per cent, must have its limits.

Congratulations are also in order for the seamless way you have deployed your media and your legal system against the Occupy encampments around North America. From Oakland up to Vancouver, all the way over to Halifax and many places in between, injunctions and smear campaigns have paved the way for evictions. Congrats all around on the super job you’ve done reminding us of the ultimate purpose of our society’s superstructure.

I also write, however, to offer my condolences. Because, for you, the sad truth is that you can evict an encampment, but you cannot evict ideas whose time has come.

As it was with Cairo’s Tahrir Square, I know that we, the 99 per cent, will be back in New York’s Liberty (Zuccotti) Park. And even if that takes some time, I’m still sorry for you and your tiny minority, because you cannot evict these ideas: they are simply too important, too long overdue, and too big to fail.

You cannot evict the idea — at long last expressed in no uncertain terms — that you, the 1 per cent super-rich, have been getting away with crimes against the people for far too long.

You cannot evict the idea that the rich and the powerful are responsible for the social and economic crisis we face.

You cannot evict the idea that money must cease to dominate and corrupt politics.

You cannot evict the idea that everybody, all 100 per cent of us, deserves a home, a permanent, safe and comfortable roof over their heads; this is an idea that you cannot evict no matter in how many places you try to evict the homeless who have joined our encampments. You cannot evict from sight and from mind the social problems that your 1 per cent centric system has created and perpetuated.

You cannot evict the idea that the environmental crisis is driven by the insatiable and irrational system of capital accumulation that you sit atop.

You cannot evict the idea that the war machine is paid for with the blood and treasure of the 99 per cent, and yet serves only your 1 per cent interests.

You cannot evict the bonds of international solidarity that have already been forged, with actions like the Egyptians’ sharing lessons of struggle in New York or the Boston Occupation of the Israeli consulate in solidarity with the Freedom Waves flotilla to Gaza.

You cannot evict this rebellion because it has become global, beginning in Tunisia and spreading from there and picking up People Power and indignation along the way.

You cannot evict the joy we have all felt in joining a movement that has finally spoken to class injustice, and to the exclusion of the 99 per cent from power at all levels.

You can clear out a park in the middle of the night, but you cannot evict Occupy Wall Street, and you cannot evict this political moment and these movements that have emerged.

My condolences, again, to you the 1 per cent. Now that we’ve finally got these ideas in our hearts and in our minds, you can never again evict the 99 per cent from political life and from the struggle to create a better society and a better world.

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Glenn Greenwald
A police raid suffused with symbolism
November 15, 2011
Salon.Com

Following similar raids in St. Louis and Oakland, hordes of NYPD officers this morning forcibly cleared Zuccotti Park in Manhattan of all protesters; New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg took “credit” for this decision. That led to this description of today’s events from an Occupy Wall Street media spokesman, as reported by Salon‘s Justin Elliott:

A military style raid on peaceful protesters camped out in the shadow of Wall Street, ordered by a cold ruthless billionaire who bought his way into the mayor’s office.

If you think about it, that short sentence is a perfect description of both the essence of America’s political culture and the fuel that gave rise to the #OWS movement in the first place.

* * * * *

Jesse LaGreca, who justifiably received substantial attention as an insightful and articulate spokesperson for OWS’s grievances, here condemns what he describes as the “1-party bankster owned oligarchy” (for more on what he means, see here). Meanwhile, here’s a photo of the police earlier this week clearing out Occupy Chapel Hill in North Carolina; the Baghdad-like scene is but a small taste of how para-militarized America’s domestic police forces have become and what we’re likely to see much more of if (more accurately: when) protests, disruptions and other forms of unrest continue to emerge in the face of a disappearing middle class and exploding inequality:

UPDATE: A New York state judge this morning temporarily enjoined the city from keeping the protesters out of Zuccotti Park, but Mayor Bloomberg is simply ignoring the Order and deliberately breaking the law by refusing to allow them back in. Put another way, Bloomberg this morning has broken more laws than the hundreds of protesters who were arrested. But as we know, the law does not apply to the Michael Bloombergs of the nation; the law, instead, has simply been exploited into a weapon used by the politically and financially powerful to prevent challenges to their standing.

Could #OWS have scripted a more apt antagonist than this living, breathing personification of oligarchy: a Wall Street billionaire who so brazenly purchased his political office, engineered the overturning of a term-limits referendum and then spent more than $100 million of his personal fortune to stay in power, and now resides well above the law?

UPDATE II: To justify his raid, Mayor Bloomberg said: ”We must never be afraid to insist on compliance with our laws.” Leaving aside the fact that torturers, illegal eavesdroppers, wagers of aggressive war, Wall Streets defrauders, and mortgage thieves are some of his best friends who thrive and profit rather than sit in a jail cell, this is the same Mayor Bloomberg who, now beyond all dispute, is knowingly and deliberately breaking the law by violating a Court Order of which he is well aware. He’d be arrested for that if he weren’t a billionaire Mayor (and indeed, having seen that bevvy of political and financial elites break the law in the most egregious ways with total impunity over the last decade, why would Bloomberg be afraid of simply ignoring the law?). Today really is the most vivid expression seen in quite some time of the two-tiered justice system I wrote my new book to highlight; the real criminals are not only shielded from the law’s mandates, but affirmatively use it as an instrument to entrench themselves in power and protect their ill-gotten gains.

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Stephanie Luce: One of the amazing things about OWS in New York has been the degree to which organized labor has come on in support, and been able to intersect some of its own organizing with that of OWS. There is a long way to go, but this level of interaction seems remarkable to me in this city where unions have been known to be insular and not good at working with others. Unions have already contributed support in a variety of ways: offering money, food, medical training, supplies, meeting space, storage space, and publicity.

And OWS has participated in ongoing labor activities, from the campaign to get a contract at Verizon, to supporting locked-out Teamsters at Sothebys. Public sector unions have been fighting to extend the millionaire’s tax in New York, and on October 11, 2011, the 99 percent and unions joined together for a march against the millionaires and billionaires.

The general assembly, consensus model has drawbacks. It can be used poorly in ways that allow a small minority to block consensus, and control decisions. With large groups of people, it can be possible for small cliques to develop and function in non-transparent ways. But the same can be said for our other models of functioning—notably, traditional union structures.

Despite its weaknesses, the Occupy model can provide tremendous inspiration for rank-and-file unionists. It has worked so far to allow “ordinary people” to feel they are participating in democratic decision-making for the first time in their lives. They have seen how it’s possible to develop an idea and run with it, working to organize with others to make their vision a reality. The horizontalist model is new for many union members, and will take some work to learn and develop, but is a tool that can strengthen movements.

OWS provides another important lesson for unions, which I think expands on the UE fight at Republic Windows and Doors, and the fight back in Wisconsin. The lesson is that we should not be afraid of “the public.” Unions have been spending millions of dollars on consultants, polls and focus groups to craft a careful message that will play with the public. But the messages that come out of these tend to be ones that people have been hearing in the media and from politicians. They tend to be conservative, backward looking messages, and not ones that push people to new ideas and greater possibilities.

No focus group would have come up with the “message” of a plant takeover in Chicago. And no poll would have predicted that a mass teacher walkout and citizen take-over of the Capitol building in Madison, Wisconsin was a wise public relations strategy.

Instead, the labor movement has been trying to frame itself as “reasonable.” Top union leaders in Wisconsin stated emphatically that they were “only asking for the right to collective bargaining.” The same is true with the Verizon strike in August, where union leaders said they were on strike “for the right to bargain.” Unions and labor coalitions declare that they are just trying to save the middle class, or reclaim the American Dream: nothing radical, nothing confrontational.

OWS turns that idea on its head, and within a few weeks, with no consultants and no polling, asserts a very bold and expansive “message”: we are the 99 percent, we are in a class war against the 1 percent, we demand public space, we demand the right to protest, we want another world. OWS uses images that link its fight with the Arab Spring, suggesting that our fight is a fundamental struggle for democracy and basic human rights. These are bold, visionary demands, and ones that ignite the public imagination.

Farooque Chowdhury and Michael D. Yates, “The Occupy Wall Street Uprising and the U.S. Labor Movement: An Interview with Steve Early, Jon Flanders, Stephanie Luce, and Jim Straub”

Thanks to Louis Proyect and Marxmail for keeping the flame and the heads-up.

 

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The News from Occupy Wall Street

(Via the eternally invaluable Louis Proyect)

John Halle:

Under the Giuliani and Bloomberg regimes the cold precision of the choreography imposed by the NYPD on protests rivals that of the Ballet Russe under Balanchine: since the Feb 15th, 2003 and Republican National Convention protest, the authorities have made use of a highly effective combination of carrots and sticks. Quiet and non-violent-by which is meant non-disruptive protests under the terms set by the authorities are tolerated.  However, those stepping out of line, those who insist that protests do what they are supposed to do, i.e. disrupt business as usual and impose a cost on those primarily benefitting from its operation, are dealt with considerable harshness.

The response of demonstrators over the past few years has been to capitulate to these imposed conditions and thereby, often under the rubric of “non-violence”, allowing protest to become empty rituals. What is necessary now is that demonstrations reclaim their roots as a demonstrations of power, specifically, their ability to disrupt. And while the disruptions effected today, in the larger scheme of things were quite minimal, what a critical mass of the participants seem to implicitly understand is that disruption-the ability to inflict real costs on entrenched capital through unpredictable and spontaneous (i.e unchoreographed) direct action is a necessary condition for the success of any protest. If these protests succeed in growing with this assumption at their core, they have real potential to become truly meaningful. It remains to be seen whether they will do so.

[…]

A description of the remainder of the march requires the trite but, in this context, altogether accurate phrase, “violently dispersed by the police”, though this is, of course, usually applied to various third world dictatorships. One block south the police began to erect a second set of barriers with the purpose of dividing the march into smaller groups, separated by a block or so, arresting those who refused to get out of the street, and who resisted. The arrests were undertaken with considerable brutality which I was a direct witness to, and almost a victim of. The worst which happened to me was to have receive the full brunt of a body which had been slammed with remarkable force by a particularly violent and thuggish cop. Another encounter which I witnessed was worse and somewhat disturbing. A protester who had, I would imagine, prevented the erection of the crowd control barrier, was tackled and set upon by at least seven or eight cops administering a series of blows to all parts of the man’s head and abdomen. I had never seen a display of violence of such intensity and it was quite unnerving. The fact that the target of this display of brutality was black will probably not come as a surprise.

These are some of the events which seem worth reporting here. There were others which a more journalistically inclined (and trained) observer would no doubt relate. Rather than itemizing these I’ll close by mentioning a third reason for why I am somewhat optimistic.  This is personal and even a bit sentimental so those who don’t know me might do well to skip the remainder of this paragraph. At the intersection of West 4th my friend Judd Greenstein who I had called earlier darted in the the crowd next to me. Judd, in addition to being probably the most gifted, passionate and communicative of the younger composers I know, is also one of the finest people-in the most simple and meaningful sense of the term. Pretty much unique in my circle of acquaintances, he is a reliable presence at these sorts of protests, having met up with me a year ago or so at a Wall Street protest following the bank bail outs. More significantly for me, this seemingly random encounter brought back for me one of my most treasured memories. At the Iraq war protest in Feb 2003, I was within a sea of bodies walking southward on the corner of 79th and Amsterdam,  when I spotted within the crowd heading west my father Morris who was then eighty and my mother Rosamond who was now walking slowly having begun to be affected by the Parkinsons disease which would take her life this year. I probably shouldn’t have been surprised.  While they are not political activists (certainly less so than my father’s long time friend and colleague Chomsky) their investment in politics is real, though almost exclusively moral-dictated by a simple code which required them to actively protest when their government is enacting atrocities in their name, as it did in Vietnam during my childhood, and as it was about to do in Iraq.  Protest is what every decent person did back then-it was not limited to an activist clique.  There were lots like my parents back then.

Judd attended this demonstration for exactly the same reasons which my parents did nearly half a century ago, and which were defining events of my childhood.  Protest is what decent people do when they are confronted with evil.  Having both witnessed the thuggish crackdown south of Union Square, I was grateful to be able to be able take stock of the situation with him. His presence today was for me a validation of the possibility that there maybe some ultimate hope to be squeezed out of what now appears to be a fairly desperate trajectory into something approximating a police state-at least for those who do what is necessary to make protest meaningful.

Finally, a post-script: I’m writing this as the police prepare for what may be a final-and likely, if today’s events were any guide, intensely brutal assault on the encampment in Zuccati Park. As I have been posting on Facebook, this appears to me to be a Martin Niemoller moment for us-one where they are coming for a marginal clique, one which is the butt of jokes (including my own above) and regarded as absurd and insignificant by all but a few.  Today’s NYT’s coverage of the protestors, predictably contemptuous and dismissive, sets the stage perfectly for this crackdown-and provides grounds for all the right thinking people who are the Times’ primary demographic to avert their eyes.  The few decent people who find out about this may get on the subway and head to Wall Street to bear witness, and maybe even act.  But I can’t say I’m in the least optimistic that anything like this is in the cards-certainly nothing approximating the display of force which we must martial to make a difference. All this is only further confirmation of Niemoller’s dictum: when they come for us there may very well be very few left to speak up.

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Chris Hedges:

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Keith Olbermann:

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