“My girlfriend got cancer at 22. She spent everything she had and worked two jobs, 80 to 90 hours a week to pay for chemotherapy. She kept working even during treatment. We still live paycheck to paycheck one year later. I am the 99 percent.”
“My daddy passed away last month at 45. He could not afford to miss work so he held off seeing a doctor for months, working in pain. He had a 98 percent blockage to his heart and died. The last two weeks of his life were spent cutting copper pipe and wire to get money for rent. He was planning on starting his own business — an American dream — but no one helped him in his time of need and now he is gone. My children will never know their grandfather. He was the 99 percent, and so are we.”
These excerpts are taken from the website wearethe99percent.tumblr.com. The site is made up of pictures that Americans submit of themselves or their family members holding up a sign with passages like the ones above. Most of the signs end with references to websites such as occupywallst.org or occupytogether.org, whose goals are to “take action against the greed and corruption of the 1 percent.” The common message is that many people in the world’s wealthiest country are struggling to get by physically, mentally and financially.
Though eye opening, the 99 percent website has a few flaws. For instance, it’s possible that some of the people who are unable to pay for health insurance are instead spending their money paying for the three deadly sins: drugs, alcohol and Xbox live. The website also implies that this problem is unique to modern day America. It’s not as if, all of a sudden, every non-CEO in the country is living on the street.
However, despite its flaws, the website has tremendous value because it reminds us of how we get wrapped up in our trivial day-to-day problems.
Sure, it sucks that your bus arrived late and it can be really frustrating when people use an Oxford comma, or serve you a one percent latte when you ordered two percent. The message that we should take away is not necessarily that America is corrupt or that Wall Street is driven by greed. Instead, what I take away from websites and organizations like these is something a lot of Americans lack: perspective.
Another similar website sarcastically shines a light on this lack of perspective. The concept has many incarnations, but Googling “first world problems” will take you to the right place.
A few of the better lines include:
“I accidentally cut myself with my Macbook Air.”
“Some kid knocked the hood ornament off my Mercedes and now it looks like a fucking Hyundai.”
“iPhones are too expensive so I have to carry around a phone and an iPod touch like some sort of pack mule.”
And, my personal favorite, “I ripped the bag down the front and now my cereal won’t pour right.”
Despite their divergent methods, the two websites make the same point: be grateful for what you have. Whether you come from a family of millionaires or you’re working two jobs to put yourself through college, you’re an extremely lucky person. You’re going to a first-class university in a country where even those who are struggling have food on their plate. You have the luxury of taking time out of your day to do things like read The California Aggie or study for your midterm.
Despite the incredibly heartbreaking situations described by the 99 percent, one of the site’s submissions takes things to a whole new level.
The picture is of impoverished third-world children. The caption says, “In America, you are the 99 percent. But to the rest of the world, you are still the 1 percent. When you win your battle, please remember that the war is not over.”
Don’t be the person who walks around thinking, “The new iPhone looks the same as my old one so no one will be able to tell that I upgraded!”
No matter how crappy your life can get, always remember this: you’re one of the lucky ones.
MARK LING must now pause Madden ’12 and mend his cereal bag. Send him your condolences at firstname.lastname@example.org.