“…think of what ninety nine percent of the human race want – food, shelter, a secure family life and to be left alone by bosses and busybodies. Unfortunately the one percent who are interested in power and ideals and ideologies are the ones who call the tune.” (Aldous Huxley, 1947)
One of the more powerful slogans adopted by the worldwide ‘Occupy’ movement has been the catchphrase ‘We are the 99%’. Inspired by Huxley’s above-quoted comments on the inequalities in society, the phrase was adopted by the Occupy movement to both criticise the extent to which power is concentrated in the hands of a powerful, wealthy minority and, simultaneously, to promote the idea that those involved in the Occupy movement are the true flag-bearers for the masses.
For his presentation at the Tipping Points Conference (entitled ‘Who is the 99%?’), Dr John Gibson — a Senior Research Executive at Marketwise Strategies and a former Research Officer at LSE — sought to look in more depth at this phrase in order to assess both its impact and its relevance for the Occupy movement. Focusing primarily on the British context, he showed how the adoption of the phrase ‘we are the 99%’ could be seen as part of an attempt by the Occupy movement to give political cognition to the powerless and create a new political discourse for the masses. He also looked in some depth at the extent to which the Occupy movement can be seen as a ‘tipping point’ for the neo-liberal social order.
Ultimately, however, the main message to come from his talk was that the phrase ‘we are the 99%’ was actually somewhat misleading. As his research demonstrated, the extent to which the Occupy movement enjoyed popular support was actually somewhat overstated, with large sections of the British population either unwilling or unable to fully get behind the movement. This, in turn, raised important questions about the extent to which mass political movements are of relevance in today’s increasingly commercial, individualised society. Following the talk, a lively discussion ensued about the decline of the political Left in Britain and the difficulties involved in envisioning and articulating alternate socio-political systems.