Posts Tagged ‘ #occupy ’

Why We Disrupt

Originally published on Inside Higher Education.

Colleges and universities increasingly face tough decisions regarding how to deal with manifestations of the growing Occupy movement on their campuses. We are all now well aware of the intense negative press the University of California at Davis and its chancellor, Linda Katehi, received after a group of peacefully seated protesters were pepper-sprayed by a campus police officer. Since then, new incidents have made headlines: Students associated with the Occupy movement have been disrupting public presentations by academics, activists, and politicians (most of whom identify as conservative). The protesters delivered messages or rebuttals to the person on stage using a practice called “the human microphone.” The human microphone amplifies a speaker’s voice by having many people repeat the speaker’s words in unison. The speaker initiates the practice by calling out “mic check” and the speaker’s fellow protestors demonstrate that they are ready to act by repeating “mic check.” The chorus then repeats the speaker’s words one sentence at a time. This practice — which originated as means to communicate at Occupy encampments where electronic amplification was forbidden — has become an important and recognizable symbol of the movement.

A recent news article in Inside Higher Ed reports on several such instances occurring on university campuses. The article’s author, Allie Grasgreen, notes many people believe that the Occupy tactic of mic checking powerful speakers is tantamount to “censorship.” This common assertion shares the logic of the demands made by Karl Rove when he was mic-checked at John Hopkins University: “If you believe in free speech and you have a chance to show it … if you believe in the right of the First Amendment to free speech … then you demonstrate it by shutting up and waiting until the Q&A session … Line up behind the mic….” Continue reading

Occupy’s Mic Check: A Tactic to Disrupt Power, Not Free Speech

President Obama receives the script from his recent Mic Checking

Author’s Note: This piece was originally posted to Sociology Lens on December 10th. On December 13th, the piece was temporarily removed and I was asked to make revisions to make more explicit the conventional sociological themes in this piece. This request was made as the result of pressure from a senior professor who deemed this piece too “polemical” and not “sociological.” While I and many others in the discipline have epistemological objections to very concept of value-free social science, and thus view with suspicion any implication that sociology can be separated from politics, I agreed to make revisions, because I think that argument in this piece important and can only be strengthened by further reference to the social theory canon. The downside is that the post is now less accessible to a popular audience than it was originally intended to be, so I have archived a copy of the original here. Finally, I must note that, while examining power is, perhaps, the oldest and most important task of sociology, it is (and has always been) political by nature.

A recent news piece for Inside Higher Ed reports on several instances where students have disrupted public presentations by conservative academics, activists, or politicians. The students used “the human microphone”—i.e., a practice of amplifying a speaker’s voice by having many people repeat the speaker’s words in unison—to offer counterpoints to the arguments being made by the presenter. The article’s author, Allie Grasgreen, asserts that the mic checking the conservative presenters is tantamount to “censorship.” This assertion shares the logic of what Karl Rove demanded when he was mic checked at John Hopkins:

If you believe in free speech and you have a chance to show it… if you believe in the right of the First Amendment to free speech… then you demonstrate it by shutting up and waiting until the Q&A session… line up behind the mic…

But Grasgreen and Rove both miss the point. Occupiers are trying to demonstrate—through the very performance of this act—that “free speech” is not evenly distributed. The point is that only the 1% ever find themselves at the podium. The 99% are left to fill the seats in the audience, and, if they are lucky, they may have the chance to do as Rove commands and line up behind the mic for a few brief seconds in the spotlight. This is, of course, because the opportunity to speak and to be heard is inextricable from issues of wealth and power. The few who hold these assets in abundance have more purchasing power in the attention economy. K Street is nothing if not an industrialized machine for converting money and power into speech that will be heard. Sure, we all may have “free speech,” but as George Orwell quipped in Animal Farm “some animals are more equal than others.” Continue reading

Occupy’s Mic Check: A Tactic to Disrupt Power, Not Free Speech

President Obama recieves the script from his recent Mic Checking

This text was posted to Sociology Lens on December 10th. On December 13th, the piece was temporarily removed and I was asked to make revisions to make more explicit the conventional sociological themes in this piece. This request was made as the result of pressure from a senior professor who deemed this piece too “polemical” and not “sociological.” While I and many others in the discipline have epistemological objections to very concept of value-free social science, and thus view with suspicion any implication that sociology can be separated from politics, I agreed to make revisions, because I think that argument in this piece important and can only be strengthened by further reference to the social theory canon. The new version is now on Sociology Lens and archived on my personal blog.

A recent news piece for Inside Higher Ed reports on several instances where students have disrupted public presentations by conservative academics, activists, or politicians. The students used “the human microphone”—i.e., a practice of amplifying a speaker’s voice by having many people repeat the speaker’s words in unison—to offer counterpoints to the arguments being made by the presenter. The article’s author, Allie Grasgreen, asserts that the mic checking the conservative presenters is tantamount to “censorship.” This assertion shares the logic of what Karl Rove demanded when he was mic checked at John Hopkins:

If you believe in free speech and you have a chance to show it… if you believe in the right of the First Amendment to free speech… then you demonstrate it by shutting up and waiting until the Q&A session… line up behind the mic…

But Grasgreen and Rove both miss the point. Occupiers are trying to demonstrate—through the very performance of this act—that “free speech” is not evenly distributed. The point is that only the 1% ever find themselves at the podium. The 99% are left to fill the seats in the audience, and, if they are lucky, they may have the chance to do as Rove commands and line up behind the mic for a few brief seconds in the spotlight. This is, of course, because the opportunity to speak and to be heard is inextricable from issues of wealth and power. The few who hold these assets in abundance have more purchasing power in the attention economy. K Street is nothing if not an industrialized machine for converting money and power into speech that will be heard. Even more concerning is the Supreme Court’s recent Citizens United decision that makes the linkage between access to money and access to speech de jure and not merely de facto. Sure, we all may have “free speech,” but as George Orwell quipped in Animal Farm “some animals are more equal than others.” Continue reading

The Future of the #Occupy Movement (in Memes)

With police dismantling Zuccotti Park and other #Occupy encampments throughout the country and impending Winter weather, pundits and activist alike are asking: Does the #Occupy movement have a future? To survive, #Occupy must begin—and, in fact, has already begun—a tactical shift. However, before I attempt to discuss #Occupy’s future, let me first be clear: The #Occupy movement is already a success. Recent months have witnessed a radical shift in mainstream political discourse, where concerns over America’s widening income and wealth gaps now have near equal footing with the deficit-reduction agenda. It has become common knowledge that the top 1% receive roughly a fifth of America’s collective income and control a third of the wealth. More Americans view Occupy Wall Street favorably (35%) than Wall Street (16%), government (21%), or the Tea Party (21%); and, though the country is gripped by a state of general cynicism, more people hold unfavorable impressions of big business (71%), government (71%), and the Tea Party (50%), than of #Occupy Wall Street (40%). Put simply, #Occupy is the most popular (and least unpopular) thing we’ve got. Continue reading

Ambient Documentation: To Be is to See and To See is to Be

This post was co-authored with Nathan Jurgenson.

We begin with the assumption that social media expands the opportunity to capture/document/record ourselves and others and therefore has developed in us a sort-of “documentary vision” whereby we increasingly experience the world as a potential social media document. How might my current experience look as a photograph, tweet, or status update? Here, we would like to expand by thinking about what objective reality produces this type of subjective experience. Indeed, we are increasingly breathing an atmosphere of ambient documentation that is more and more likely to capture our thoughts and behaviors.

As this blog often points out, we are increasingly living our lives at the intersection of atoms and bits. Identities, friendships, conversations and a whole range of experience form an augmented reality where each is simultaneously shaped by physical presence and digital information. Information traveling on the backs of bits moves quickly and easily; anchor it to atoms and it is relatively slow and costly. In an augmented reality, information flows back and forth across physicality and digitality, deftly evading spatial and temporal obstacles that otherwise accompany physical presence.

When Egyptians dramatically occupied the physical space of Tahrir Square this past January Continue reading

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