By Emily Weiland ’15
“The problem is, you 99%, you aren’t willing to eat dirt sandwiches to follow your dreams and turn a 15k a year business into a million dollar one.”
So reads an October 30 post on the53.tumblr.com, a blog created as a reaction to the claims by protestors in the Occupy Wall Street and related movements that they represent the 99% of Americans who account for 76% of the nation’s income.
Since the Occupy Wall Street protest began on September 17 of this year, hundreds of other protests modeled after it began in cities around the globe. While opponents of the protests have vocalized their opinions before, only recently has a strong counter-movement established itself.
The 53% backlash is so called because, according to the nonerpartisan Tax Policy Center, only 53% of American households pay income tax. Photographs posted to the 53% blog show people holding pieces of paper which tell stories about their lives. A unifying theme in these stories is self-improvement through hard work and determination, often ending with the words “We are the 53%.”
FreedomWorks, a libertarian organization headquartered in Washington, DC and a major Tea Party backer, posted a petition on their website calling for those who disapprove of the Occupy protests to sign that they are not represented by the movement:
“You are part of the 53% of Americans who pay income taxes. When Occupy Wall Street calls for more government and more spending, the 53% has to foot the bill.” This perceived gap between those who pay income taxes and those who call for more government spending is the source of much of the Occupy backlash.
Elsa Costa, president of Students for Liberty at Bennington College, expressed concern over the number of unemployed protestors participating in Occupy protests:
“It’s not fair that they say they’re speaking for everybody, or 99% of everybody, when they aren’t out there working and improving their own lives. Most people get jobs and work hard, but it seems like a lot of these people don’t try. I know there’s an economic downturn, but blocking up cities the way these protests do isn’t going to help that at all, either. They want something for nothing, and that’s not really what America is about.”
Not all of the 53% who pay income taxes are against the movement. Joshua Wiltshire, a 28-year-old medical software programmer living and working in Nebraska, recalls the months he spent unemployed after being let go from his position as a bar manager at a local country club:
“I didn’t make that much while I was working, but I made enough to pay income tax. I am part of the 53%, I guess, but for a couple months I had no job, and I had to change paths completely to get a new one. Not everybody can do that, but there’s a lot of us that do make money. I think it’s good that some of my income goes to help people who need it more than I do, even if sometimes I wish I could keep what I make just for myself.”
One photo on the 53% blog shows a man in a baseball cap, his eyes and the top of his head just visible over the paper he holds in front of his face. On the paper is typed the story of his immigration to the United States and the many jobs he has worked in order to secure a living for himself and his family. It ends:
“The American dream is not given to anyone; it’s earned by everyone and anyone that wants it. Get a job, pay your taxes, contribute to society and you can have the American Dream. Be lazy, look for handouts, and live off the back of society – and you will never have or deserve the American Dream. I am one of the 53%.”
Contact Emily Weiland at firstname.lastname@example.org