POLITICS: Power to the Peoples’ Voices
The battle cry of the Occupy Wall Street movement is deceptively simple: “Mic Check!”
These two words set off a powerful system of call-and-response sound amplification. The movement’s speaker begins his or her message after the Mic Check call. Each segment in the crowd repeats the speaker’s phrases sequentially. Words cascade outwards, ensuring that the message reaches everyone present. Never mind tech tools and social media grapevines, protestors are using the oldest method of broadcast available–the human voice—to affect the very direct democracy of having their opinions heard.
Mic Checks are not just being used to preach to the choir at Occupy gatherings, but also to speak directly to (often) defenseless politicians. President Obama permitted his Mic Check interruption, libertarian presidential candidate Ron Paul went for a snarky comeback and the Tea Party’s Michelle Bachmann ran out of hers.
Why the low-tech method? Pure necessity. At the original OWS site in Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park, protestors innovated the “people’s microphone” because regulations disallowed electronic noise amplification without a permit. Unsurprisingly, city officials were not rushing to hand out permits to OWS. The very need for Mic Checks reflects the power of expression imbalance that exists between the protestors and the 1%, who not only hold the financial reins but also the bullhorns of media.
The technique is a very vocal and appropriately media savvy (nothing gets press like a stage-managed speech going awry) update of historical resistance strategies. In his 1848 essay, “Civil Disobedience,” Henry Thoreau outlined methods of protest, including refusal to pay taxes, to fight against the Mexican-American war, and slavery. The essay formed the basis for Mahatma Gandhi’s non-violent Satyagraha (in particular the Salt March), which in turn, influenced Martin Luther King, and Nelson Mandela.
Are Mic Checks are solely the preserve of the younger, urban members of the 99%? In this election year, will their parents, and disaffected members of Middle America embrace it as a tool of political participation during the candidates’ stump speeches? The idea of grandmothers in Idaho interrupting in unison will definitely add to the theatre of the election season. The possibility is there, because of the idea’s simplicity—human voices speaking in unison are the only requirement.