Saturday, October 15, 2011

Cab Story / About the Message “TAX THE RICH” / 283 signups

AT THE RITZ-CARLTON last weekend a young guy (my guess: 32) stepped into my cab. He had short-ish hair, precisely cut, and wore expensive-looking blue jeans and an expensive-looking plain white tee-shirt. He said he was headed to the climbing wall/gym at the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge. He said he was from New York. I asked if he’d heard about the Occupy Wall Street movement.

He snorted and, with much scorn in his voice, said, “I wonder what they think they’re doing?”

I said something about the 99% and the 1%.

He: “Well, I think I’m one of the one percent.”

Me, with perhaps some scorn in my own voice: “Do you have five million dollars?”

He: “I do.”

Me: “Do you have ten?”

He: “No.”

Me: “Do you own any politicians?”

He: “No.”

Me: “I’d say you’re not in the one percent.”

He: “Well, you may be right about that.”

It went on . . .


In the past two weeks, even the mainstream press has been reporting some startling statistics about America’s wealthiest one percent. (I’m writing off the top of my head, and my numbers may be just a tiny bit off, but not much. Still, don’t take my word, check them out for yourself):

-- America’s wealthiest one percent owns 40% of the country’s total wealth. (The bottom 80% owns just 7% -- no typo -- I double-checked this figure.)

-- America’s wealthiest one percent owns 51% of all of the country’s stocks, bonds, and mutual funds. (The bottom 50% owns just one-half of one percent.)

-- America’s wealthiest one percent takes in 24% of all the income generated each year.

-- Between 1923 and 1929, the concentration of wealth at the top of the country’s economic ladder was at the highest point in US history. Then came the Crash and the Depression. For decades afterward, the middle class was dealt into the game at a more reasonable level. As recently as 1976, America’s wealthiest one percent took in only 9% of the country’s income (again, the current figure is 24%). Time Magazine, hardly an outfit full of liberal kooks, says that the concentration of wealth has again reached 1929 levels. This sucker is so broken . . .

“TAX THE RICH!” -- Wrong message?

I’ve been getting a lot of feedback from people who think TAX THE RICH is either the wrong or not the optimal message to spell out on the beach. I tell them this:

“I’ve been shopping this around for about ten months. Lots of people have offered different ideas about what we should spell out. My own personal favorite was CORPORATIONS ARE NOT PEOPLE, but there are so many problems with that one: it’s way too long; it’s a bit of a head-scratcher; and no visceral reaction for the reader. Every time I’d try it on people, they’d say, “How about TAX THE RICH!” A lot of people favored “END THE FED!” Again, too indirect. When I ran that one, and so many others, by people, they often said, “How about TAX THE RICH!” It went on and on like that . . .

Many people I know, including many who have come to my previous events, are worried that taxing the rich will somehow mean them personally. They say, “How about TAX THE SUPER-RICH! Or the MEGA-RICH.”

I say, “First, don’t flatter yourself. You and I have probably never, or just briefly, been in the presence of any of the one percent. Second, SUPER or MEGA requires another seven or eight hundred registrants. Also, we don’t have the whole beach to work with this time. Preparations for an upcoming surfing competition are using half of Ocean Beach, and we’ve had to move north to make way.”

So what’s my point here? I and my partners at The Other 98% (they named their venture more than a year ago) have to choose a message that’s short enough to fit the beach (700 feet is hardly short), can be understood in a blink, and is still punchy enough to get people to come out. TAX THE RICH is the best we’ve heard so far. Lately, people have been suggesting TAX WALL ST and we’re considering that, and others.

The truth is, this can be tweaked right up until the last minute, but it’s all going to be somewhere in this ballpark. The primary need now is for registrants. We need 2,000. Right now we’ve got 272. Plus 11 more who are un-registered. (If you are bringing people who have not registered, please send me an email to tell me their number, and I’ll keep a running tally.) So, 282 total.

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