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Who coined the phrase “The 99%”?

One of the most popular slogans at the Occupy Wall Street protest is “We are the 99%!” It refers to everyone outside the upper 1% of incomes. The phrase draws attention to the gulf between the rich and poor, and suggests that even if you aren’t super-wealthy, you have strength and importance. Who came up with this phrase?

It’s impossible to say who coined this phrase, but we have some clues telling us it’s a fairly recent usage.

In Mother Jones, writer Adam Weinstein interviewed the two activists who started the Tumblr blog “We Are the 99 Percent.” One of the bloggers, “Chris,” says in the article:

“Well, from doing a little bit of research on occupywallst.org, the earliest mention I can find of “99 percent” is this flyer, which was made to inform people of the second General Assembly, which functioned as, essentially, our planning meetings during the buildup to all of this.”

Here’s the flyer Chris is talking about:

The “General Assembly” has no official leadership, which makes it tough to know who wrote the flyer. But that meeting may represent the birth of this new meaning of “99%”:August 9, 2011 in New York City.

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Further reading:

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Thanks to a few readers who noticed similar phrases that appeared earlier.

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Photo: A demonstrator at Occupy Wall Street, October 10, 2011.

— By Daryl Lang. Filed under Language, News & Journalism, Politics


  1. Nancy says:

    “The Other 98%” has had a Facebook page since April 2010. One percentage difference, but same idea.

  2. Michelle Bova says:

    Daryl, your posts come up all over the place for Occupy Wall Street and I was fascinated by this comment on another of your posts regarding it.

    “When I had to answer my friend Dan, I wrote: ‘The protestors want to fix the economic and social systems that created a wide gulf between rich and poor.’ But those are my own cautious words, and that’s only a broad synthesis of what I’ve read and heard.
    It would be good to hear more specific reforms proposed by the brains running this protest.”

    I feel a sincere need to understand what’s going on with Occupy, and feel that I disagree with it, but don’t know why. Your comment gets to the heart of it. I don’t see what they’re about, or know specifics enough to form a disagree or agree position. The result is that I feel angry with them for the imprecise rhetoric.

    Your thoughts?

  3. The Patriot says:

    I am proud to call myself an American. I love this country very much. Not because of how it came to be but because of what it is now and what it can be. This country is a model of how we are to live with one another. At this very moment, there is at least one person representing one of the many tribes, from all the corners of this beautiful world, living on American soil as legal citizens.
    This country has produced one of the most important documents if not the most, ever created. “The Constitution of The United States”. The beginning says it all. “We the People”. It doesn’t start with “Us and the people”. Any representative, holding office, from the President on down, knows and understands that their true and only boss, is “The People” not some dictator, king, queen, or corporate interest. We vote them into office, to represent US, listen to OUR needs, and implement the laws that are in the best interest of “The People” and not corporations or a small group of bankers. The time has come, that we remind them of this fact. The message is clear, the voice of “The People” will be heard.
    I come from humble beginnings, am a father of three children, and have been a husband for 19 years. I have been shown how to live off the land from an early age, and have a deep respect and love for our home we call Earth. At a young age, at had a death experience that changed the way I perceived life, I understood how precious and valuable it truly is. I understood that we are all here for personal growth. Not to attain financial or political power. At our end, those will be of no value to us. All that will be important to us, is how much love we expressed to our family and close friends.
    I have sat at tables, with rich and wealthy individuals, poor and needy people and have learned that we, at our core are all the same. We all need to be loved, respected and treated with dignity. None of us wakes up in the morning wanting to be mistreated. We all want to be happy and live a life of joy, not misery. So, why is it that things seem so out of balance, that’s because they are. We have lost respect for one another, lost respect for our home planet, and lack the ability to treat each other with dignity. Well, I believe we can change. I know we can change. It has to start at an individual level, it has to start within each one of us.
    I have worked for about thirty years now and have volunteered my income taxes ever since I was able to hold a job as a paper boy at the age of thirteen. I have led marches in protest side by side with Julio Ceasar Chavez, led men and women on marches, chanting “One Man, One Vote” during a Carpenters Union dispute. From those experiences I have learned that the Will of the People, is what gives the movement strength. The message has to be clear and simple to understand in order to really make a change. That is what we have here, with the occupation of American cities, by the 99%, we have a clear and simple message. We will not sit and let a small group of people take advantage of our free will. We will stand together, to help improve the lives of the masses. We will not tolerate the abuse anymore. We are here to make a change, for the greater good of humanity.
    The economy is in the shape it’s in, for many different reasons, greed is at the top of the list. The barter system or monetary system we use today is not failing, it has failed. We need something different, a system that represents everyone, not just a few. If we think about the current system, the value is based upon so called precious metals, diamonds and other natural resources. Those things are of this earth and will be here with or without the human presence. So, if we come to that understanding, we will realize what holds true value, it lies within our hearts and our creative nature. It is a human life, and the free will it holds, that has real value, not some piece of paper, pretty little gem or rock. Anything, produced has only been brought to the stage through human creativity, human imagination, and human free will. It’s the will of the people that will determine what type of world we live in. Nothing is impossible, nothing. Just look at all the technology that exist today, all brought to existence through human creativity. Just a few generations ago, one could not even imagine such a world like ours, but yet here we are. We are about to wake up, and become united as one species, supporting one another, for the benefit of all future generations. If this statement is to be true, it will come from within each and every one of us. It can only happen and manifest, collectively.
    We will begin with the issues at hand. One can only lead by example. A lot of the people throughout our planet are frustrated and are finding it hard to feed their families and or make ends meet. Mainly because of lack of employment, not lack of will. I suggest we each help strengthen our country, by becoming a manufacturing country again. I believe that each country should be self sufficient, and take care of its own before it can take care of others. We need to focus on our problems at home, improve all our systems, starting with the financial ones, in order to lead by example. If it is not produced in the country, it should not be sold in the country. Companies and corporations need to produce their products in America if they intend to sell those products within our borders. This formula, will eliminate most of the unemployment throughout our planet, and help strengthen each country so that the standard of living for the average family throughout the world is improved substantially. Any real change will take desire, dedication and discipline from each and every one of us. Nothing of this magnitude will come easy. It’s going to take lots of effort, energy and participation from everyone to become a reality. There are no free rides. Everyone in the human tribe must do their part, to insure the existence and prosperity of all future human generations.

  4. James says:

    The phrase was first coined by the author R Alan Dalton in his book ‘The Last Surfer’ published in July 2011.
    Pg 128: “John Brewer is determined to lower taxes by twenty percent for ninety-nine percent of us. The wealthy will pay the lions share in ending our federal deficits.”
    Pg 307: “Do you really think that Heaven has a small percentage of haves and ninety-nine percent have-nots?”
    Pg 309: Eric looked around the table and said: “Ninety-nine percent of us make less than one million dollars per year. I propose the new party platform being committed to lowering taxes by an initial minimum reduction of twenty percent a year.”
    “Not for the one-percent though?” Brian said.
    “No, absolutely not . . . the rich will pay the lion’s share of the tax burden.”
    Darby asked: “Where will our government get the one-fifth difference?”
    “From the top one percent—”
    Pg 310: “The few in the population, who consider themselves the elite, are outnumbered ninety-nine to one”

  5. James says:

    R Alan Dalton’s book: The Last Surfer

    More on Pg 310: “The few in the population, who consider themselves the elite, are outnumbered ninety-nine to one. They know they have no chance to remain in power unless they keep us divided. We will be united by one voice, by one platform of political ideal. A new party will form within the old one on the platform of a new mission statement that will unite all those who are eager for this change to happen. The old party lines will fade, and this new party coalition will rise and take control of our government, to implement the ideals stated, and renew our nation from within. Our emphasis will be on the people of this country, the economics that sustain us, the green economy, and the world environment. We will find multitudes that are eager to follow—if we lead.”

  6. Ruby says:

    I read in rollingout.com (12/1/2011) that Priscilla Grim co-created the phrase, “We are the 99 percent.”

  7. m03020023 says:

    Reference to the gulf between the top 1% and the 99% occurred as early as 1982, not long after the struggle between big-government Democrats and hollow-government Republicans started becoming bitter. Ca plus change … Here’s an excerpt from a column back then, regarding “True Federalism,” at that time: “Currently, Washington is transferring budget savings largely to the “investing class” — 1% or 2% of the populace. Big government is yielding to big investment. Such a policy fails to address the real questions of revitalizing the economy — one not so much of money supply or investment, as of circulation, of getting the money to flow uniformly through out the economy. Counting on the “investing class” to reinvigorate the economy is letting the whole mountain of chips ride on 99 to 1 odds. The smart money is in the money and merger markets, gold Krugerrands and Swiss_francs …”

  8. Curious says:

    The phrase almost seems similar to the times of the french revolution where the poor made 97% of the population, yet had no voice when compared to the other 3%. The 1% was made of the truly rich of that time, the other 2% was mostly made up of titles and did not have substantial wealth when compared to the 1%. Just a theory or idea to spark a few brains possibly? The term 1% seems to have been around a lot longer than many people seem to know.

  9. Jack Connor says:

    George Carlin used the term in the 1990’s speaking about the 1% who REALLY control us. His language was a lot more graphic but I heard it first from George.

  10. Rex says:

    Geoff Tate of Queensyche sang of the 1% in 1988’s Operation Mindcrime album, in the song ‘Spreading the Disease.’ Something about “…the banks get fat, the poor stay poor, the rich get rich, the cops get paid…to look away, while the 1% rule America……spreading the disease”

  11. Michael Guzman says:

    A punk/hardcore band named Verse from Providence, Rhode Island released a record titled ‘Aggression’ in June 10, 2008. One of their songs ‘The New Fury’ uses the phrase:

    “Perpetual war for perpetual peace”, turn a
    blind eye to poverty while manufacturing new enemies. The new slave’s south of the border, murdered or overseas. We still struggle with the fact that one percent has ninety-nine on their knees. Washington’s drawing up war plans, while there’s still no hope for the homeless man.

    This was really the first time I’ve heard this phrase, well before the occupy movement.

  12. Lauren says:

    I found the 99% and 1% diatribe in Howard Zinn’s book A People’s History Of The United States released in 1980.

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