The 99 Percent Tumblr: Self-Service History

An online home for the stories of Americans who are struggling to cope with sickness, debt, and unemployment during these hard times

wearethe99percent.jpg
In the middle of August, in advance of the protests that began on Wall Street and have since spread across the country, a Tumblr by the name of We Are the 99 Percent opened up shop. Its first message asked readers to write their circumstances on a sign, take a self-portrait while holding the sign, and send it in. "We're all fighting," the organizers wrote. "It's time we recognize our common struggles, our common cause. Be part of the 99 percent and let the 1 percent know you're out there."

At first the stories trickled in, but over the past few days the site has exploded. Not every story will resonate, not every person will elicit sympathy, but the sum-total paints a very human and at times very sad portrait of the national trends and systemic problems (student debt and health care, in particular) that we all know.

This Tumblr is part of a growing online genre that includes PostSecret and the anonymous posts of the It Gets Better Project: the collaborative confessional. Perhaps the best analog equivalent is bathroom-door graffiti, a place where you could write, anonymously or not, whom you liked, whom you couldn't stand, or what you feared. You could respond to the graffiti of others, and, over time, see responses to your own. Online or on a bathroom wall, it's a powerful medium, allowing you to bear something private and maybe find someone else carrying around the same weight.

Where It Gets Better and the 99 Percent Tumblr are different from PostSecret and the bathroom stall is that they are speaking to a national issue: being gay in America (as in the case of It Gets Better) and struggling financially (the 99 percent). In this way, these two projects are reminiscent of Studs Terkel's 20th-century oral histories, which he collected from hundreds if not thousands of Americans about their experiences with work, race, and war.

What is different now from mid-century is that there is no Terkel. This is self-service history, with no curator and no narrator. Some of the stories call out for follow-up questions, but there is no one to ask them. The results are raw and rough, but demonstrate that, with or without a Terkel, the power of personal narrative, whether on the radio, in a book, on YouTube, or on a Tumblr, can cut through the noise and cynicism of punditry and give shape and texture to our national story.

Image: wearethe99percent.tumblr.com.
Presented by

Rebecca J. Rosen is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where she oversees the Business Channel. She was previously an associate editor at The Wilson Quarterly.

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well. Bestselling author Mark Bittman teaches James Hamblin the recipe that everyone is Googling.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well.

Video

Before Tinder, a Tree

Looking for your soulmate? Write a letter to the "Bridegroom's Oak" in Germany.

Video

The Health Benefits of Going Outside

People spend too much time indoors. One solution: ecotherapy.

Video

Where High Tech Meets the 1950s

Why did Green Bank, West Virginia, ban wireless signals? For science.

Video

Yes, Quidditch Is Real

How J.K. Rowling's magical sport spread from Hogwarts to college campuses

Video

Would You Live in a Treehouse?

A treehouse can be an ideal office space, vacation rental, and way of reconnecting with your youth.

More in Technology

Just In