Are Your Customers The 99%?

For the last week or so I have been following the Occupy Philadelphia protest. It is a fellow movement to Occupy Wall Street that I am sure, or at least hope, you have heard of. The basic premise is that the people occupying Wall Street (self-proclaimed “The 99%”) have had enough of how banks have gotten bailouts and special treatment but still manage to take advantage of the average, middle class person in this country.  This is not all they are protesting but this is a part of their core message. To learn more I would suggest that you look at their website as I don’t want to say something that is not accurate.

On the banking issues we can all feel a bit manipulated to say the least. Everyone I talk to in my travels knows someone that has been foreclosed on or manipulated by the banks. My sister is a monies broker and she wonders what is happening to her industry. Business is down, trading is drying up and she is wondering what she should do next. Will her job still exist in 6 months? A year?   Two? Who knows?


Bank of America is sitting on $13 billion and yet they have to audacity to start charging fees if you use your ATM card to buy groceries! $13 billion just sitting there and they want to charge me $5 to buy groceries that are already expensive as [insert colorful metaphor]!  Wells Fargo is being sued for predatory lending practices: charging excessive fees and large prepayment penalties. WTF is a PRE payment penalty?  So if I try to pay off my debt early I am penalized?  Heaven forbid I am responsible and actually try to get ahead. Nope I still have to pay off the interest to Wells Fargo for the whole loan.


So it’s not an issue of if these people should protest or why, it is that they are and these are just a couple of issues that got them to exercise their first amendment rights.


In NY there have been reports of excessive force by police and issues with Mayor Bloomberg. In Boston there have been confrontations with the police as well.  Many news agencies have shown clashes between police and protestors. However in Philadelphia there has been no such conflict yet. The police have been conversational, pleasant and friendly. I have even heard of them being “supportive” if only with a smile or affirmative nod of the head.


In the slideshow below you will have a chance to see some of these protestors, at least the ones from Philadelphia. Some look a bit haggard and worn but if you were sleeping on concrete benches for a few days or weeks do you think you would look fresh? I have also spoken to and photographed doctors, nurses, PHDs and others that come to City Hall on their lunch hour to be supportive and to protest as well. There was even a woman that was there one day to complain about the “noise” of late night music and drums and the very next day I photographed her with her own sign protesting about corporations not being taxed properly.  Many of these people may be your friends or family, some may be your customers too.


Be warned: you may start to like some of these people.


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6 replies
  1. Donna Harding
    Donna Harding says:

    Great job, Mike. I, too, feel this is a story that needs to be told and no better way than thru photography. I live within 30 minutes of Philly, too, and hope to get up there soon to help tell the story. Or perhaps NYC, if they’re still allowed to be there.

  2. Michael Metrick
    Michael Metrick says:

    I have to identify with the woman and her husband who own the small food franchise in the Wall Street area. They have their entire life invested in the success of this store. They work hard, extremely long hours, but are paying their bills. Now, more than half her business has dried up in the last few weeks, as regular patrons cannot stand the smell of urine and feces in the streets. Crowds of people use her store as a public rest room, some brushing their teeth, and even trying to give themselves baths. The owners have to pay rent, electicity, water, toilet paper, etc. And she has to clean up the horrible mess in the bathrooms. When she started limiting her store to patrons only, she and her staff were threatened. Whether sympathetic to the protesters or not, she is being forced against her will to suffer. How long they can survive the protest remains to be seen.

    You can show all the empathetic pictures you like, yes you are certainly a talented photographer. And I have not read much about the Philly protest, only the Wall Street. But always remember, there are two sides to every story. And as Tolkien said, tales tend to “grow in the telling”. Don’t let your ideology blind you to the whole story, the whole truth. Yes the protesters are individuals, each with his or her own story. But so are the people they are hurting. Maybe Mr. Albany, you should go into the local stores around the protests and ask them how they have been affected by the protests, and publish sympathetic pictures of them. To hell with an ideological narrative. I’d think that intellectual honesty would demand a fuller, more complete telling.

  3. Dale Farkas
    Dale Farkas says:

    This is a nice slideshow that shows the protestors’ side of the story.

    Two things are obvious from the visuals:

    1) These protestors see corporations and the government as their enemy.

    2) They are having a pretty good time socializing with others of a like mind during these protests.

    This makes a nice statement about Democracy and our ability to congregate and protest. As long as they don’t interfere with the rights of other people to go about their business and to their jobs it seems the police are keeping a pretty hands-off attitude and treating the protestors with respect.

    What’s missing is any statement of how to reverse the evils that these folks see. What, exactly, is it they want? What is their plan to replace the “big bad wolf?”

    Also missing is any balanced statement of the good that financial institutions are doing. Tens of millions of retired people are gaining their incomes from dividend or interest returns on money they saved through a lifetime of work. These retirees certainly aren’t living on Social Security alone. Are they part of the 1% or the 99%? How about the thousands of regular folks who earn nice livings working for these same institutions?

    Would we, as a nation, really be better off without banking and financial institutions? Would we have been better served without the bailouts, finding ourselves in a Depression rather than a Recession?

    I guess the point I’m getting at is that photography is an excellent editorial vehicle. But, it is a difficult medium to use in telling both sides of a story. That’s what I’m seeing here. The pictures are great. What they’re missing is a balance. They’re only telling one side of the truth.

  4. Amelia
    Amelia says:

    To all those who have concerns re: local businesses suffering: I have read about one or two situations in locations other than Philly and feel for anyone dealing with that. That said, I have not seen this at all in Philadelphia. Every restroom I’ve used in center city looks exactly the same as before the protests. I have, in fact, been speaking to the local business owners and nearly all I’ve spoken to are very sympathetic to the protesters. Small businesses are hurting too, and I expect to see many finding ways to temporarily adapt their business model to make money in these circumstances. As one deli manager put it – “it’s the same as any fair or big event here; it’s just lasting”.

    I know these business owners and the surrounding areas because I’m there 5 days (at least) per week interacting with them. I happen to work for a Fortune 500 company downtown and earn enough to take care of my family. I have, however, watched my well educated, well trained, highly competitive colleagues get laid off and have trouble finding work again, seen my overall compensation decrease due to ever diminishing raises/bonuses and rapidly rising healthcare costs (my contribution went up 20% last year alone). I’ve watched unemployment figures rise above 9%, with estimates of real unemployment as high as 22-25%. Those still employed are terrified, overworked, and very stressed. I’ve done everything “right” to spend within my means and save as much as possible and still my 401K has dwindled due to no action or inaction on my part. I’m one of the lucky ones.

    As this has been happening I’ve also been in a position to see spending on executive compensation, “business” retreats, and shareholder payments increase. I find the protesters sympathetic (and these pictures fantastic, btw) because they are just average people realizing something is wrong in society when money is more important than people and no one else is ever going to fix it. No, they don’t have pre-packaged universal solutions (yet). Not surprising though – when those in charge of solutions have failed so completely I can’t really expect anyone else to know what to do yet.

    As for the call for “balance” I see cropping up everywhere I ask what kind of balance do you wish for? What exactly is the other side? The banks that illegally foreclose on people but “hey, they gave money to a charity!” ? The corporate shareholders who have placed profit above all else? The financial institutions wrapped up with those banks that have made immeasurable fortunes gambling on our economy? Or maybe the politicians who have been bought and sold by those very organizations? They are the 1%. The rest of us are in this together whether we ever attend a protest or not.

  5. Lem Maurer
    Lem Maurer says:

    Great pictures, but a waste of time. I hope you realize that each person’s image that you capture will probably never be hired by anyone who actually owns a business and keeps our country running. I’m afraid you’re skewed empathy is helping to promote laziness and government dependency.

  6. Geoff
    Geoff says:

    Mike – thanks for capturing and sharing a vision of the level of interest in this issue. The comments to your posting show alignment on both “camps” of what does not have clear boundaries. How “big” must a business grow to be “one of them”?

    I see a possibility for a two stage transition from current frustration to action.
    1) Move a significant amount of your current purchasing to “American made products”. That will reward those companies who have recognized that without US paid employees they can’t sustain US customers. There are a number of websites to find American products. Social networking can help to “out” those who lie about their US content. This will create jobs here.
    2) Then move your purchasing away from those companies whose CEO, CIO, COO have total compensation which exceeds 50 times their average workers’ compensation. The ratio in the 60’s was about 30:1 and the economy was strong. Poorly paid employees cannot buy high margin products and services.
    Protesting creates awareness but does not make change. A vote with your wallet sends a much stronger message.

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