Monday, October 10, 2011

Occupy Wall Street - Restore Democracy

UPDATE 4:00pm: I have received a comment from Al Giordano:

"I don't know who wrote your quoted citation in the beige box, but it certainly was *not* Al Giordano, who happens to disagree with much of what is said there. Please correct this errant claim. - Al Giordano"
It seems Al Giordano does not agree with the quote in the box. He doesn't say what he takes exception to, so we don't know. However, I also don't know what the "errant claim" is. My mention of Mr. Giordano was simply to introduce the term "participatory democracy," which is something I first encountered at Narco News. My aim is always to credit terms, photos, quotes, etc., and not to claim them as my own creation, although I probably could have used the term "participatory democracy" without any credit. If I have misinterpreted the sense of the term, or if Mr. Giordano was not the one to use that term, then that is entirely my mistake. Other than that, I don't know what the objection is. As always, the information in the "beige box" in my post is cited by the link within the box at the end of the quote. In this case, the quoted material is from an al Jazeera article, and the author can be determined quite easily by clicking the link.


Original post...

Al Giordano, Narco News founder and investigative reporter uses the term “participatory democracy” to differentiate the way Latin Americans approach democratic governance and the way it is practiced here in the United States by “representatives.” It seems that with the Occupy Wall Street movement, participatory democracy has come to the US.

Contrary to corporate media attempts to dismiss these people as a disorganized rabble, they are very organized and much more functional than the government and corporate elite they are protesting.

Protesters [...] make key decisions collectively, like adopting the 'Declaration of the Occupation of New York City'.

It facilitates the kind of direct democratic process that many protest organisers say is a retort and even an alternative to the democracy deficit in the United States, where one per cent of the population controls almost 40 per cent of the wealth, and exercises a disproportionate influence on politicians and electoral politics.

The occupiers’ numbers have grown so much over the past two weeks that most General Assemblies and Open Forums (at which speakers give a short talk and answer questions) require two waves of amplification to reach the outer edges of the crowd.


The New York Police Department prohibits the use of electronic sound amplifiers - megaphones, microphones and loudspeakers - without a permit. The occupiers do not have one.

So they are using what they call the human mic.

It works like this; the person addressing the crowd in the shadow of the large angular sculpture that stands at the corner of Broadway and Cedar and is universally referred to as 'the red thing' shouts:

“It’s a beautiful night...”

Those seated around her respond by repeating:


She goes on:

“ occupy Wall Street.”

The echo comes back, much louder, and people who are sitting or standing too far away to hear her solitary voice can hear the words now that they are spoken by hundreds of others:


The human mic is a form of resistance to a police regulation designed to maintain a certain kind of order.


Sometimes the human mic breaks down. Speakers forget to wait for the repeat, or use more words than the human mic can remember. [...]Then the speaker or the session facilitator calls “mic check” and waits for the responses to readjust and fall back into unison.

Perhaps more problematically, it can be a slow-going, time-consuming way to have a conversation, debate issues, and make decisions. General Assemblies last for hours. Protesters get hoarse, tired, and sometimes frustrated.

But it also nurtures a kind of concise thoughtfulness. Speakers choose their words carefully; rambling is not an option. The assembly listens carefully; you can not get distracted or talk over the conversation when you have to repeat every word that is spoken.

Indeed, the ground rule for the human mic is that everyone must repeat everything that is said, regardless of whether you or not you agree with it. In a group of hundreds (or thousands) deprived of megaphones and loudspeakers, it is required to hear anything at all, and thus required in order to be able disagree.

So, the human mic seems to cultivate a kind of egalitarian attention to one another. And on occupied Wall Street, what began as a way of circumventing an inconvenient police rule has come to function as a regular demonstration of solidarity and co-operation, amplifying the people's voices.


I've been expecting them to be infiltrated by agents provocateurs and squashed by tanks. It now seems more likely that there will have to be some pretense at meeting their demands, a long drawn-out negotiation period that never quite addresses, much less redresses, the conditions being protested.

....but hey, do what you will anyway.

1 comment:

  1. I don't know who wrote your quoted citation in the beige box, but it certainly was *not* Al Giordano, who happens to disagree with much of what is said there. Please correct this errant claim. - Al Giordano


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