This post has been produced by Sharlene and Michele.
In the many and diverse voices that I hear coming out of the 99% the loudest one is calling for “more equality!” How catchy, just and noble! …But lets step aside from all these voices, take a deep breath and ponder about our position in the world… As part of the 99%, are we really so worse off?

The 99%! …and the 99TH%

WE don’t have to go too far to realize how lucky we are and how well off we are in this system compared to others…

If you are strolling along Granville Street on a Sunday morning, shopping or whatever, take a walk on the Downtown Eastside and soon you’ll realize where we stand. Yes, you’ll see many poor people, many homeless and many unemployed. You might also recognize that within the crowds of poor people hanging outside of the Carnegie center many of them are the marginalized First Nations people. Then, again, you will realize where we stand within the 99%. Many of the 99TH%, those at the bottom of the 99%, have been taking part in the demonstrations of the 99%, however, their voices have mostly been kept low to give a wider attention to the middle-class majority. Some say that they were allowed in the 99% as long as their demands and consequent political investment remained minimal.

In the List of Occupy Vancouver Demands recently published on CTV some of their voices were exposed. The 30th article calls for “an end to gender and racial discrimination in the workplace”. And the 31st article calls for “the right of self-determination for all indigenous nations”. The First Nations are in the agenda of more equality; this is great! However, why should these be so low in the list, considering that demand 29 demands “massage, dental and eye care be covered under the health care system”? I guess the 99%’s demand for massages gets priority… And, again, although article 28 mentions the need to redistribute wealth into “housing” it doesn’t even address the problem of gentrification that the Downtown Eastside people are facing. Naomi Klein recently came to Vancouver to address this issue; if you didn’t know, the rich people are buying land in East Hastings at low prices so that in a few years when all the poor people are displaced, or as Naomi sais “swept away”, they can gain from the increased value of the land. Dirty stuff…

The Pig’s phrase in George Orwell’s Animal Farm is appropriate here: “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others”. When the 99% call for greater equality with the 1% they cannot lose track of the inequality that occurs within the 99%. Thus, if the 99% want to address the inequality with the 1% – a deeply problematic but noble task – then they should not forget to consider and include the needs and demands for equality of the 99TH%. Otherwise we should rethink who are the pigs.
The 99% are really the top 3% of the planet

Occupiers in Vancouver are fighting for change, for an end to inequality, and for more just distributions of wealth in our city, which they feel they have been robbed of as the ninety nine percent. However from a global perspective, these North American, middle class citizens who have the time and resources to organize a tent village complete with food, a library, general meetings, and Internet advertising, actually fall under the top three percent of the world. By wanting to change a system in which the privilege of some is contingent on the poverty of others, occupiers want to change a system that actually benefits them on a global scale.

The occupiers’ focus is on how to reorganize, so systems are more equitable and distribution is more fair. But in reality, we make decisions every day that exploit our neighbours around the planet and result in deathly inequality. Our apathy and ignorance to the state of millions around the world keeps the global system of oppression running smoothly. No matter how well intentioned and purpose driven we are, we humans are rarely able to clearly see the systems in which we find ourselves. It is rare to see all holistic aspects of a system rather than the one or two streams we grapple in; systems are complex and interrelated, and as we look more closely at the state of the world, it becomes evident that true suffering occurs in ways unimaginable to us on a daily basis. It can be uncomfortable and even personally inconvenient to see the whole truth, as we begin to recognize our integral roles in the systems which we despise and fight against.

By living in Canada with the wealth and privilege that we have access to, no matter how small it may seem in relation to others, we gain from inequality and injustice everyday. We live the way we do because the rest of the world lives the way they do, and people we do not know have been stitching our clothing, mining for our electronics, growing our food, and manufacturing our goods for years. I did some research on this thought, and found out how many slaves are working around the world in terrible conditions, often for inadequate wages and too many hours. For my personal situation, the number is 39 slaves. Take the test here: slaveryfootprint.org.

  3 Responses to “The 99% in Perspective”

  1. I have also been troubled by the hypocrisy, which seems inherent in this slogan. Especially living in Vancouver, one of the most privileged cities in Canada. I feel a certain amount of guilt about the exploitative system I know I am a part of. When I think about my current placement on the economic ladder of the world, I know I live extraordinarily well. I live in a country of health care, suffrage, social programs and almost unlimited opportunity and access.
    When I look at my position amongst the economic hierarchy of North American, however, the context is different and new things come to mind. I am a student and I only make about $15,000 a year. I don’t have a car, I ride my bike or take the bus, I rent and I live with roommates. I can’t afford a flat screen TV or an annual trip to Europe. I’m 23 and already I have debt, which increases every year. I’m part of the working class.
    In addition, here are the other things which come hand in hand with being a poor student relatively free of the material chains which lock you into a middle-class position: I have no car, no car insurance, no house to maintain and no mortgage. I also have: a great student insurance plan, access to free counseling, free clinics, passes for public transit, all sorts of student discounts for necessities like the community center, the gym, the internet and telephone service as well as a host of other benefits, which lots of people don’t know are even available to them.
    Now, it’s true I don’t have a family. Having dependents changes a lot of things. However, what I’m trying to say is, that in Canada, I am working class and relatively poor, but as a result I also receive the most benefits. If the government could better provide for people in Canada, by expanding public transit, improving the health care system and the education systems and subsidizing tuition, providing for people in the arts, investing in better child care, maternity leave, social housing, pensions, environmental incentives, etc, perhaps the middle class, currently in crisis, could join me in my bracket. I’ll tell you, its not so bad. I can’t afford a car or a lot of the other culturally endorsed signs of wealth that I would buy out of desire if I had the money, but I’m not at the mercy of a mortgage or gas prices. Most importantly, I’m happy.
    Obviously none of this really revolutionizes growth in the under-developed countries of the world or the environmental damage caused by our current consumption-driven capitalist system and exploitative imperialism. And by no means is the government of Canada doing all they can for the social networks that are there to support Canadians; there are serious holes in our net and they are getting bigger. As far as the economics of this part of the world are concerned, however I might suggest that middle-class Canadians be aware of where they’re standing and not be afraid to move a few rungs down the ladder. They might notice there’s less pressure down here.

  2. “I think that this post and illustration brings some really grounding perspectives on the current state of our country in relation to other places in the world. To consider that there is not only a divide between the 1% and the 99% but that there is also a hierarchy within the 99% is very eye-opening. It is true, there are still those who are marginalized as a result of various social, economic and political issues that have it way worst off than the average “99er”. First Nations issues and the DTES have been pushed on the backburner and although “efforts” are being made to alleviate these strains, the problem still subsides. A prime example of the DTES and social awareness as expressed by politicians is the Woodwards Building development and the amount of social housing that ended up being put aside for those who are less fortunate. The big problems are only being brushed upon. If interested, check out “Streets of Plenty”. This documentary provides great insights into the issues of homelessness and the lack of government intervention. There is even a small clip on Gregor Robertson putting a band-aid on the problem.

    Check out the trailer here: http://streetsofplenty.com/pages/trailer.html. The big question is raised on how this social and economic disparity came about in the first place”

  3. I completely agree that we, mostly the Middle class in the Western world, are so much better off than the majority of the world population. We do take for granted many, many things, and we seem to get depressed for no reason while people go through truly horrible hardships we could only dream of in our worst nightmares. It is also true that we ourselves are taking advantage of the poorer people around the world. And yes, we really should not be lumping the Middle class with those who are being taken advantage of the most in this Occupy Movement.

    However, I also believe that we are being taken advantage of the present system, and when it collapses we may well be homeless and poor as well. I do not believe credit will be very useful in this world when the current socioeconomic system collapses. We are slaves to our own ideology, the ideology that consumption equals happiness, and in the end many of us do not find it. Yet, poor people in for example South America are happy though poor. They do find meaning in their lives, while we do not. True, there are poor people in worse situations that are in horrible situations, but money does not always equal happiness. As humans, I think happiness and meaning are THE goals we strive for in life. Although we may be better off economically we may not live as fulfilling lives as some who are taken advantage of the most, though of course not all. Although we may be better off victims, we still are victims.

    Also, how exactly would we be able to survive in the U.S. or Canada without taking advantage of these people? Although there are products that are produced ethically, we cannot always afford these products or able to get everything we need. The ideology of consumption of more and more goods that are not always ethically produced also is continually ingrained in us due to our system. We may be doing wrong, but the present system makes it hard for us not take advantage of those less fortunate. Thus, not having this system would probably help out the less fortunate as well.