fresh voices from the front lines of change







At the 2012 Take Back the American Dream conference, activists Amanda Devecka-Rinear, Sarita Gupta, Ai-Jen Poo and Nelini Stamp all spoke at a plenary titled “The 99% Movement: The Next Steps.” The plenary focused on the successes of and future plans of a new social movement that Poo noted was “of the 99 percent and for the 100 percent.”

How the 99 Percent Movement Started

Devecka-Rinear traced the beginnings of the 99 percent movement. As an organizer at National People’s Action, much of her work focuses on fair housing. She connected the issue of toxic mortgages targeting communities of color to the housing crisis and pointed out the average person’s connection to Wall Street. The transition from a manufacturing-based economy to a service and finance-based economy also deepened the impact of the economic crisis.

She also pointed out a particularly sore spot for progressives and other social activists: “Although we are doing worse, the banks and the corporations are doing better than ever,” Devecka-Rinear said.

Plenary attendees were also asked to identify how they have contributed to the 99 percent movement. The responses were diverse, ranging from electoral involvement to direct action at various Occupy encampments.

Nelini Stamp, an Occupier and member of the Working Families Party, provided a more specific timeline of Occupy Wall Street and laid out the next steps of the Occupy movement. She talked about personal stories posted on websites such as We Are the 99 Percent and how Americans are connecting their own struggles to the larger conversation about income inequality. The work of Occupy Our Homes across the country has led to more awareness about the housing crisis and its deep connection to toxic Wall Street banking practices.

Every speaker and participant noted the amount of hope and optimism contained in this nascent social movement.

The Participation of “Non-Youth” and Direct Action

The all-woman panel acknowledged the necessity of older activists, and Poo in particular connected this issue to the aging population. Gupta and Poo, both co-directors of the Caring Across Generations campaign, emphasized the need for dignified, well-paying jobs in the elder care sector that would offer affordable services to all families.

According to Poo, an American turns 65 every eight seconds. This not only affords a great challenge for our government welfare systems, but it also is a great opportunity for social activists to involve older people in the issues that affect them the most.

Sarita Gupta enumerated the accomplishments of Jobs with Justice, especially in its nonviolent direct action curriculum. According to her, over 50,000 people benefited from the direct action training, the largest in history. The 99% Spring also saw multiple direct actions at shareholder meetings for companies such as Sallie Mae, Bank of America and Verizon Wireless.

Both Gupta and Poo emphasized the importance of alliances across race, gender, class, and age. Stamp briefly brought up how the Occupy movement is starting working groups about the prison-industrial complex and its relation to race.

Targeting the 1 Percent

Gupta said she believed in targeting members of the 1 percent who make the decisions that impact our daily lives. She said that corporate board members were the people that the 99 percent movement needed to target after building a broad coalition of activists and supporters.

There was disagreement in the room about how best to achieve the goals that the 99 percent movement is seeking. Stamp pointed out that Occupy was not a body that endorses political candidates, while some attendees emphasized the need to register voters of color and push back against right-wing efforts to disenfranchise voters in various states.

Conclusion and Consensus

The general consensus was that the 99 percent movement needed to start talking about the economy that they wanted, more so than just the problems with the current economy. Talking across political lines and reaching out to those who may have a different political persuasion is crucial to the survival of the 99 percent movement. Most importantly, we must contrast the right-wing narrative of fear and divisiveness.

“We need to build a movement based on unity, love, and justice,” said Gupta


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