‘Tax me, I’m good for it,’ some in the richest 1 percent say in support of the protest
By Miranda Leitsinger
The “Occupy Wall Street” protesters — also known as the “99 percent” — have struck a chord with at least a few members of an unexpected audience: America’s rich and privileged.
United under the banner “We are the 1 percent: We stand with the 99 percent,” a band of entrepreneurs, trust fund babies, professionals and inheritors has taken to the web to share their abhorrence of corporate greed and support for tax code changes that would see them pay a higher share of their considerable wealth.
Among other things, they’re posting their stories on a Tumblr page created by Wealth for the Common Good and Resource Generation, two groups dedicated to working for “fair taxation and just wealth distribution.”
Some are probably not actually in the top 1 percent wealthwise — calculated at earning a yearly salary of more than $506,000, according toThe Wall Street Journal— but all are certainly well off and supportive of reforms that would narrow the widening gap between America’s elite and poorest citizens.
Msnbc.com contacted some of the posters and others affiliated with the website’s creators to hear what they had to say.Here, in their own words, is what they told us:
Farhad A. Ebrahimi, 33, who shares his inherited wealth through a charity that he founded, says he attends the Occupy Boston protest every day. He has donated tents, helped with organizing, raised funds and written for the protesters’ blog. He said that his inheritance put him squarely in the top 1 percent, plus he makes enough on investment income every year to be in the highest tax bracket. But he lives what he calls a “Spartan” life compared to other members of his family.
At the protest, he often wears a homemade T-shirt that reads: “I’m a member of the 1 percent and I fully support the 99 percent” on the front, and, “Tax me, I’m good for it,” on the back.
Why are you at Occupy Boston?
“I think my taxes are at a historical low … and also, I think that the ability for someone like me who has financial privilege to influence our government is at an all-time high. I’ve never been comfortable with those ideas. They’ve always seemed like to me things that should change and to … play a role in the movement and to try to advocate around those issues was just a tremendous opportunity.”
What specific changes would you like to see?
“The big picture for me personally is any sort of restructuring, any demands that can be met that make our tax code more progressive. So campaign finance reform in general would be another one, to make the ability for money — whether it’s personal or corporate — to play a role in politics, anything that diminishes that would be on my list of goals to see out of this movement.”
What kind of role can 1 percenters play in a movement of the 99 percent?
“Participating in any way that does not directly involve my privilege. … And I think one of the things I find very compelling about the occupation (movements) is that by practicing direct democracy through the general assemblies every day, we’re essentially trying to practice what we preach and trying to make decisions as a group, where various kinds of privilege don’t have the sort of outside influence that they have in society as a whole.”
“… I think for me it’s very important to be visible and it’s very important that everybody there be comfortable with the idea of somebody like me being there. So far I’ve received nothing but positive feedback for being sort of honest and transparent about that.”
Burke Stansbury, a 35-year-old communications specialist for nonprofit groups, has been loosely involved with the protests in Washington, D.C. (known as Occupy K St), donating homemade food, tarps and money. He inherited a little more than $1 million and stands to inherit more. He doesn’t believe he officially qualifies to be in the top 1 percent, but says he grew up with all the advantages of being wealthy.
Why did you get involved with the ‘Occupy’ protests?
“I think it’s a beautiful movement of people that really gets at the heart of what’s wrong with our country right now in terms of the really obscene level of inequality that exists and the institutions that have sort of influenced that.”
What would you like changed?
“A lot of us have honed in on the tax code piece as something that’s tangible, that can be changed and we have a kind of unique role in speaking out on, as people in the 1 percent. So certainly I feel really strongly that people with wealth, high income people, should be taxed at higher levels and not just in terms of income tax but in terms of the … capital gains tax as well.”
You said you worked with your parents to start a foundation and have given money to nonprofits and grassroots groups. Can’t the wealthiest Americans make a difference that way?
“It’s all well and good that we maybe have family foundations for giving away a lot of money ourselves to good causes, but that’s not enough, like that isn’t going to change the big problems, the really extreme inequality that exists. … It has to come from the government, it has to be a sort-of involuntary … redistribution of wealth because the few altruistic wealthy people giving (away) their money isn’t going to do it.”
Were other protesters aware of your status?
“I don’t go around telling everyone, ‘I’m a millionaire.’ But I’m also pretty and fairly open about it if it comes up. A lot of people have signs, you know, targeting the 1 percent, oftentimes really angry messages. … I don’t think people would like jump up and attack me, but I think I would just want to be able to like really talk through it with them and explain what that means to me and have that conversation.”
“… I think it’s a great opportunity to kind of bridge that class divide and it’s going to hopefully lead to great things in terms of building a bigger movement.”
What role do you think the 1 percenters can play here in this movement?
“We can bring this message that like there is still collective humanity in those that have more wealth, too. Many of us actually want to see the same kind of change that the people that are down on … ‘Occupy Wall Street’ everyday, want to see.”
Elspeth Gilmore, a 33-year-old co-director at Resource Generation, said she made waves when she went down to Occupy Wall Street with her sign. Gilmore, who believes she is close to qualifying as a 1 percenter and was raised in a life of privilege, helped launch the Tumblr page last week.
What is the idea behind the 1 percenter site?
“The Tumblr site was our response as Resource Generation and Wealth for the Common Good, who have been collaborating around what it looks like to organize and mobilize young people in the 1 percent to stand with the 99 percent. … The Tumblr blog was following the lead of the We Are the 99 Percent blog to actually tell our stories and show that there are both young people in our community — but then also a broader community of people in the 1 percent — who are standing in support and are working for a world of economic equity and a just distribution of wealth.”
Who are the 1 percent?
“What we’re talking about when we say the 1 percent is that we’re … part of the population that has more than we need, that has access to resources,” she said. “It’s more of a framing of what does it look like to be in a place where the majority of people in the country are not … getting enough to live well and are struggling and what does it mean for those of us who are actually supposedly benefiting from society but actually … believe that we would all be better off in a world with a more equitable distribution of resources and of wealth.”
“One of the solutions that we support is taxing the rich and changing tax policy, and saying there is more than enough money for all of us. We stand with the demands of the 99 percent … this is the betterment for all of us.”
“A number of people came up to me and said, ‘Hey, I love your sign, and — that’s me.’”
“… For me being open and public about being wealthy … is a huge part of me being able to be fully in this movement. … if I can affect other people who have money to be able to be open and honest about that, they’re going to be so much more effective in making change you know for the next many years …”
Leah Hunt-Hendrix, a 28-year-old Ph.D. student of political theory at Princeton, said she has attended the “Occupy Wall Street” general assemblies and helped to form one of their many working groups.She believes her family would be at the upper end of the 1 percent, though she has chosen to live in a modest apartment in Brooklyn and doesn’t see their wealth as a main part of her identity.
How involved are you in Occupy Wall Street?
“I go pretty regularly. I’m still not sure what my best role (is) … I think I will probably want to write about the movement.”
Why did you get involved?
“I’ve been concerned about the role of corporations in American politics for a long time and so I went down originally to see if the people at ‘Occupy’ were also talking about a constitutional amendment or (revocation of) corporate personhood as … a possible demand. But the more I went down, the more I realized that they’re really on target to not have any specific demand. I think this will lead to … policy changes. But I think that they are right to wait and let the movement grow … before choosing anything too specific.”
Do you consider yourself a 1 percenter?
“I personally don’t have a large income because I have chosen not to pursue anything that makes money. I think the point is … that there are people who are immensely privileged and there are people who are suffering terribly. I think that this movement should involve everyone … like 100 percent.”
What role do you think the 1 percenters can play?
“I think definitely show our solidarity … (and) we can help fund it. I think we can also help represent the fact that it’s not about good people versus bad people … there are people trying to work for change on both sides.”
Were you ‘out’ as a wealthy person at ‘Occupy Wall Street’?
“I am more of an activist in general and that’s more of my identity so that’s how I went down there.”
“… If I went down and said I have a lot of money, you know, I’d like to help, I don’t think anybody would care and they might be very suspicious. … I think (in) the movement, as far as I can tell, people are very concerned about where funding comes from and don’t want any money that would tie them to any donors.”