The Human Mic: Not Just for Occupy

<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/matmcdermott/6199917119">Mat McDermott</a>/Flickr

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You’ve probably seen video of the “human microphone” technique used at Occupy Wall Street’s general assembly meetings to amplify speakers’ voices without the aid of a sound system. New York City doesn’t permit amplified sound in public spaces, so protesters started repeating en mass (“REPEATING EN MASS”) every few words a speaker says (“EVERY FEW WORDS A SPEAKER SAYS”) so everyone can hear (“SO EVERYONE CAN HEAR!”).

It’s an invention of necessity that nicely reinforces the protesters’ messages of community, horizontalism, and strength in numbers. Also, it can’t be confiscated by police.

Lately, the human mic has been turning up at non-Occupy protests, disrupting a hydrofracking panel at Ohio State, a Bachmann address in South Carolina, and a Scott Walker speech in Chicago. I’ve seen lots of Internet videos in which guerilla protest groups like Code Pink crash official events and interrupt with signs, songs, and gimmicks. They often seem kind of pointless. The breathless shouts of a lone disruptor or a few scattered people usually can’t get the message across to a whole room before being cut off and whisked away by security. But the human microphone is a force multiplier; when tens and even hundreds of people echo the same speech at a rapid clip, they suddenly outnumber the powers-that-be in the room—and their message can actually be heard. 

Here are some recent videos of human-mic disruptions at all sorts of public protests (h/t nettime):

At the Panel for Education Policy in New York on October 26:

Wisconsin governor Scott Walker at the Chicago’s Union League Club on November 3:

Republican presidential candidate Michelle Bachmann in Charleston, SC on November 10: video here.

And at a natural gas industry panel at Ohio State, students protesting hydraulic fracturing (a.k.a. fracking) managed to get their message across last Friday (November 18):

We have yet to see what the next step for Occupy Wall Street will be. But the movement’s lasting legacy may include a handy lo-fi trick that future protesters can use to turn the tables anywhere, anytime, no equipment necessary.

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You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

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