The Common Good

Who Is the One Percent?

Most Americans have gotten used to the popular #OccupyWallStreet terminology of the 99 percent and the 1 percent, but in a movement that has remained intentionally vague many are wondering — who exactly are the members of the 1 percent? 

I know that when I imagine the 1 percent, I picture a pack of angry white men sitting around a table on the top floor of a 100-story office building greedily counting cash and cracking offensive jokes. The problem with this dehumanizing image of the 1 percent is that it isn’t true. In fact, an image of the 1 percent as a group of money-hoarding goblins is detrimental to the spirit of the Occupy Movement. 

According to the Chicago Tribune, new study from Northwestern University attempts to shed light on what the 1 percent actually believes about charitable giving and social problems. The study found that of the more than 100 interviewees with a median annual income of $7.5 million, most were enthusiastic about philanthropy and 92 percent were involved in some kind of volunteer activity.  Furthermore, the great majority of respondents cited budget deficits, unemployment, and education as the most pressing issues in the United States today. 

So, maybe the 1 percent isn’t so different from the 99 percent? 

Wrong. 

What this research tells us is that America’s wealthiest are smart, and probably fairly nice, people. They are aware of the greatest societal ills (even though they themselves remain relatively unaffected) and they give away some of their money and time to those who are less fortunate.  But the fact remains that the 1 percent, regardless of its propensity toward charity, still benefits from the unjust laws, markets, and policies that keep poor people poor, jobless people jobless, and homeless people homeless in this country. 

The members of the 1 percent are mothers, fathers, sisters, and brothers just like the rest of us. They give money to fund important work, even the work that we do here at Sojourners.  But the bottom line remains: It is still criminal — sinful I would argue — to be excessively wealthy in a country where so many are just barely scraping by. 

And what’s worse is that many of us in the 99 percent aid the 1 percent in maintaining its wealth, power, and influence. I think of the officer at UC Davis who casually doused seated students with pepper spray a couple of months ago. Who was he? A working man, protecting? 

Many of us still keep our money in Bank of America or JP Morgan Chase; we still shop at Wal Mart; we charge merchandise to our credit cards without a plan to pay it off; and worst of all, we feel hopeless about our lives and the future. All of this helps to maintain the status quo. 

May we enter this new year with a strong conviction to do better, to do what we already know how to do. 

We are the 99 percent.

 

Anne Marie Roderick is an editorial assistant at Sojourners.

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