The Occupy Wall Street movement adopted “the human microphone” in response to its lack of a permit for the use of amplified sound on public property in New York City. The human microphone embodies the pluralistic nature of the movement itself and serves to enhance its message, writes Casey Selwyn.
The Occupy Wall Street movement began in the financial district in New York City on 17 September 2011 and spread to more than 1,500 cities globally. Occupy Wall Street deemed itself a “horizontal” movement representing the 99% of society in opposition to the top-earning 1%. Instead of resorting to traditional protest techniques and using powerful orators to rouse crowds, Occupy Wall Street had to create a different model for its movement. This is because New York City requires a permit for the use of “amplified sound on public property”, something this movement lacked.
As a response to this ban, Occupy Wall Street adopted a method dubbed “the human microphone” as a means of amplifying voices and speeches. Using this method, a speaker begins his or her speech by saying, “mic check”, and when the surrounding crowd repeats this back, the speaker delivers the speech several words at a time and the crowd repeats these words in unison. This continues until the speech is complete. In order to make decisions, the crowd uses different hand gestures to express approval or dissent. Subsequently, groups attempted to popularise techniques such as “people’s Skype’” or the hack entitled the “inhuman microphone”, which use cell phones and smartphone apps to broadcast speakers’ words amongst crowds and potentially throughout cities.