Time to update the pop culture lexicon. Originally coined by “outlaw” bikers in response to the AMA’s response to the 1947 Hollister Riot, it used to be that the “1%” label referred to the small number of motorcyclists who weren’t law abiding citizens. Now? A bunch of punk kids have co-opted the term, using it in Occupy Wall Street protests to symbolize the income differential between America’s richest citizens and those affected by the current recession. Ask any kid on the street, Sonny Barger is no longer a 1%er.
Photo: Clay Gardner
Memorialized by Marlon Brando and “The Wild One,” the Hollister Riot was an AMA sanctioned rally, which included racing, that attracted a larger-than-expected audience. Out of 4,000 or so bikers that descended on Hollister, California the weekend of July 4, 1947, 50 were arrested for for crimes like public intoxication and disturbing the peace. Newspapers sensationalized the event as a riot, staging photos of rowdy behavior to feed public outcry about scary bikers. In response, the AMA was alleged to have stated, then later denied saying, “the trouble was caused by the one per cent deviant that tarnishes the public image of both motorcycles and motorcyclists.” Whether it was that statement or something along the lines of “99 percent of motorcyclists are law abiding citizens,” the one percent identifier was seized on by unsanctioned or “outlaw” motorcycle clubs as a badge of honor.
Today, “1%” patches and the “1%er” identifier are used primarily by members of motorcycle gangs like the Mongols or Hell’s Angels as a generic term descriptor for the outlaw biker lifestyle.
Now, a grassroots spring of protests has popularized the use of “1%” to refer to America’s richest citizens. The Occupy Protests encompass a wide range of participants, causes and complaints, appearing to be more a general expression of youth disaffection than a a specific agenda. As such, the “other 99%” can refer to those impacted by the recession (with the implication that the 1% caused it, but suffered no consequences) or a more general authority/citizen rich/poor dynamic.
This Tumblr blog is a good clearing house of 99 percent-related sentiments.
So, a term that used to mean badass biker now means something along the lines of rich asshole. Somehow, there’s a nice symmetry to the devolution of biker culture in there too. From counterculture to mainstream to time for replacement…