H. played with the stacks of flyers printed up with “What to do if you’re arrested!” and “Know your rights.” P. stood in front of a small crowd that grew as he spoke. He told them about how it’s illegal to carry a stick at a protest. Who you call to monitor protests, what to do if you’re arrested.
They have amplified sound, now, at Occupy Los Angeles. I got to hear the human microphone when a young man working a video camera asked about whether the protesters needed to worry about being “disappeared” into “fucking Guantanamo Bay.” I could see that from his perspective, inside a highly surveilled tent city, this didn’t seem outlandish.
Even in that one interaction, amplification changed the dynamic. The microphone concentrates power, it’s an immediate technological sceptre. When this guy started talking, no one could hear him. “We can’t hear you!” Shuffling and negotiation: Who has the microphone? Can you hand it to him? Can he walk up to the front? But then he has to leave his camera? Can you repeat the question? Then he just said, “MIC CHECK!” And we all knew the drill.
“What if you believe… What if you believe… That this America is entirely illegitimate… That this America is entirely illegitimate…” At least during the call and response, his world view and its rhythym had the floor. The rest of us took it in. He was not allowed to speak. He just spoke.
A girl came up to talk to P. afterwards. She wore a jumpsuit. Her hair was dyed cerulean blue—a shade darker than her sky blue eyes. She seemed too young to be wearing the sobriety charm that hung around her neck, “serene and sober seven years.” Seven years ago she must have been a child. I overheard her talking with a friend about the new Tom Waits, with the kind of urgency and authority about albums that I associate with dorm life.
She said she couldn’t call P.’s office because she lives in a tent and doesn’t have a phone. She moved here from Ohio. She has a job, doing canvasing work. She used to work for a different company, but now she wants her former employer brought to justice… She was angry. A clear, pure, even rage. I swallowed my questions. I wanted to ask: How old are you? Are you getting enough to eat? Are you safe here? I just wanted to buy her a sandwich and get her away from her angry young friend who wasn’t listening to her opinions about Tom Waits. And then I thought, this girl doesn’t want my bourgeois mommy pity. And then I thought, we should move down here, we should come down here, the whole family, spend a week, as long as it takes, I’m angry, too. And then I thought, who am I kidding? We don’t have any food in the house, it’s complicated, so complicated, to love a country and a city and a family, to want what’s best for everyone, and I’m tired, and let’s go see what that guy in a bowtie holding the “Ask a Capitalist” sign is saying…
I saw some conspiracy theories and some quotes that were questionably attributed to Marx. I also saw a teenager holding a flyer printed with “GLASS STEAGALL OR DIE.” That was my favorite moment. I want to go back and visit the library. I want to talk about banking regulations with that teenager. And give him a sandwich.