Occupy Wall Street’s redefining triumph

Overheard at an afternoon editors meeting at one of America’s top finance journalism websites: a reference to an example of the buying power of “the 1 percenters” — meaning the nation’s richest 1 percent of the population.

This came just a day after several hundred or thousand-plus people passed by our building in Downtown Crossing in Boston, many bearing signs for the local Occupy Wall Street movement that proclaim them as part of the 99 percent — meaning the rest of the country.

It also came six days after signs were posted at the Chicago Board of Trade apparently to taunt Occupy protesters eight floors below by proclaiming right back: “We are the 1%.”

And it occurs to me that, just like that, Occupy Wall Street has won something. No matter what, the movement has redefined the terminology, and that suggests a lasting impact, possibly as significant a one in the long term as the ownership taken of the term “gay” or dismissal of any number of now archaic terms for black people.

Or the most obvious comparison: Occupy Wall Street seems to have created another parallel for the tea party by changing our shared lexicon to reflect political reality. The tea partiers created themselves and forced the media and the rest of America to adopt the term to talk about them, and Occupy Wall Street has done much the same with a term once used only among a small subset of people.

The tea party has resulted in big, rapid changes in our politics, and this is the way they started. It’ll be interesting to see if Occupy Wall Street can do anything similar.

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