Occupy Wall Street Poses Branding Problem for “The Other 98 Percent”


No one is happier than Andrew Boyd that Occupy Wall Street has survived, grown, and spread around the world.

As the co-founder of a campaign that calls attention to the vast and growing economic inequality in America, Boyd is thrilled to see protesters in New York and across the country taking to the streets, organizing around the slogan that has quickly become one of the movement’s most powerful signatures: “We are the 99 percent.”

But as the 99 percent rhetoric took hold, defining the movement and permeating the popular consciousness, Boyd realized that that it actually poses a delicate problem for his own project, which is called The Other 98 Percent.

When Boyd and his collaborators launched the campaign on Tax Day of 2010, they envisioned a project that would combine the netroots activism of groups like Move On with confrontational direct-action tactics more akin to those of the Ruckus Society.

The campaign quickly took off. Its Facebook page now has more than 120,000 followers, and the group has pulled off some high-profile stunts with some of the brightest stars in the activist firmament. They worked with Robert Greenwald on a guerrilla drive-in campaign, projecting unflattering text and movies onto buildings like the Lincoln Center building named after a Koch brother. They teamed up with the Yes Men to prank General Electric over its tax write-offs. They built a network of cell phone numbers that was central in organizing the Bloombergville protests.

But now, as as a movement they love is taking off, Boyd and his partners find themselves wrong-footed, awkwardly out of step. 98 is passé. Occupy Wall Street goes to 99.

“In a certain sense, when we see the ‘We Are The 99 Percent’ slogan exploding and becoming a rallying cry, it’s beyond our wildest dreams,” Boyd says. “At the same time, we have this name that has now been transcended. We’re perfectly happy about that, but it leaves us with a question: What move do we make? We want to change our name, because now it’s just confusing. It muddies the waters.”

The solution is obvious and simple: Rename the campaign “The Other 99 Percent.” It’s a matter of changing a single digit. But Boyd and his partners worry how they’ll be seen by the movement if they do change their name.

“We don’t want to step on anybody’s toes,” he says. “There’s an issue of perception. It’s a sensitive moment for the movement in terms of groups coming in and trying to draft on their momentum.”

That’s not what The Other 98 Percent would be doing, of course. They’re already closely involved in Occupy Wall Street. In fact, The Other 98 Percent’s Action Director, helped get Occupy Wall Street off the ground, taking part in early planning sessions and facilitating the meeting the night before the protest launched.

And they’ve continued to work with the movement. Last month, when Bloomberg was threatening to evict the occupiers in Zuccotti Park, The Other 98 Percent rallied other organizations for a joint petition drive that collected 163,000 signatures against the eviction.

Last week they joined Occupy DC protesters in bringing their guerrilla drive-in to Washington, projecting Americans For Prosperity summit, projecting movies about the Koch brothers onto the convention center.

Still, Boyd worries that people unfamiliar with his group’s track record will be hostile if The Other 98 Percent unilaterally changes its name. “I think some people might be suspicious,” Boyd says. “We need to change the name eventually, but maybe first we ought to log a few more actions in collaboration with other occupations, just to make it as smooth as possible.”

On a certain level, it’s a silly problem, Boyd says. “We’re not attached to the number, we’re attached to the actions. But the name thing dilutes the message and gets in the way, so it’s something we’re going to have to deal with somehow.”