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The People's Microphone

Anne Dalke's picture

I was lucky enough to be invited by my daughter, who's been involved for the past week in  "Occupy Philadelphia," to attend a Meeting for Worship @ the base camp, hosted by Philadelphia Central Monthly Meeting this past Sunday morning. I have been a Quaker for 25 years, and most of my worshipping has been done in musty-smelling meetinghouses. This service was remarkable, in my experience, for being 1) in the open air 2) in the center of Philadelphia, with tourists and visitors mulling around --sometimes walking among-- the worshippers.  A worship space w/ no walls! It was also remarkable because we began in the dark and, an hour later, @ noon, were all sitting in the light.

It was perhaps most remarkable, though, because @ the rise of Meeting we used the "people's microphone," an innovation that arose when the first group to "Occupy Wall Street" was unable to get permission to use a sound system. It works like this: one person speaks--a brief, concentrated phrase (one of the nice benefits here is the distillation that happens), something like "I am Anne Dalke"--and it is repeated by 70 voices strong, all shouting, "I am Anne Dalke." Then I say, "I have been a Quaker for 25 years," and they all shout, "I have been a Quaker for 25 years."

As you might imagine, this slows down the conversation. But it does so by encouraging us all to 1) listen carefully, 2) repeat what is said and 3) amplify it. I found it a very powerful tool for dialogue. My daughter told me that the process isn't unproblematic; @ a meeting she'd attended earlier in the week, a participant spoke in a rambling fashion, making claims that didn't reflect the reality of most of the other attenders. They stumbled over repeating her words--in part because they weren't distilled, and so easily repeatable, but also in part because they didn't want to repeat what seemed to them not true. So the people's mic failed, @ that point, to project. An interesting disabling.

I also had the experience, the next day, of attending the first in a series of Out events on the Bryn Mawr campus, where there was some discussion about the wisdom of declaring the room a "safe" space (nothing traveling beyond those walls, nothing "projected"). Does doing so suggest that whatever might be said is "unsafe," possibly shattering to the social order? Like those words not projected in the midst of occupying Philadelphia?