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Assembly in Washington Square

I went to the assembly held in Washington Square. The organizers described it as the second New York general assembly; it appeared to have been successful. There were many people, so many that I had a hard time finding any I knew. Once things got underway, facilitators set up the human mic by distributing their most vocal throughout the crowd and staging two tiers of repetition. (That should give a rough estimate of the crowd: otherwise, we packed the central circle of the square, the one with the fountain, full.) “Mic check!” repeated twice, things got underway.

The point of the day seemed to be to familiarize those (like myself) who are not part of the day-to-day operations of things at Liberty Plaza with the form of assemblies, and to let people know who to contact from the various working groups should they want to get involved. Also, there were exhortations to occupy everything; if some of those are heeded, and there’s an assembly called for Prospect and Crown Heights, well, nifty, maybe I’ll take more part in the day-to-day operations of things.

The human mic is an interesting process. I can’t say I enjoy it. While effective (speakers were able to communicate to hundreds, if not thousands, of people without equipment), it does impose formal limits on what can be said, and how. It was adopted as a tactic because protesters have to get a permit in order to use a bullhorn or other forms of electronic amplification in New York. In response, they amplify each other. This slows the movement of ideas to a snaillike pace; depending on the number of tiers (mostly it will be just one, but yesterday there were enough people to require two), every fragment of a sentence is repeated at least once. You could argue that this allows people to ruminate on what’s being said, which it may, but it also is tedious. Speakers’ syntax also needs to be kept simple: having to break speech into repeatable bitelets means that the long, wandering syntax of many eloquent speakers would be lost in the echoes. Declaritive statements and short, three word phrases are best. Staccato, not loping cadences. And, of course, it’s important for whoever is doing the the speaking to enunciate. Yesterday, someone from one of the working groups garbled her name (it may have been Kathie or Jackie, but I couldn’t tell because after she said her name, it was garbled in the amplified repeatings). I’m sure that there are wonderful, clever ways to play with the form (Naomi Klein’s first interaction with the occupiers, which begins with “I love you,” is a fine example of that), and I’m sure if I attended more assemblies I’d see more of it. But the form itself makes me uncomfortable. I don’t like to repeat what people are saying. It reminds me of recitation in church, or repeating creeds in unison. I don’t like to join my voice with others. So I’m a bad addition to the human mic.

The assembly ended and broke into discussion groups after explaining what each of the working groups at the plaza did. People could break out and discuss things which could be presented at the assembly in the plaza that evening.

In another week the protest will have gone on for a month, and that’ll be something.

Categories: Notes.

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