Friday, 11 November 2011

Uses and abuses of MIC CHECK!

It continues to amaze me that it's possible to run a meeting of over 100 people by consensus, without an agenda or formal leadership.  One of the tricks that makes this possible is the bellowed phrase MIC CHECK!  It was designed as a cure for cross-talk.  If two people in a general assembly are talking over one another, or if several conversations are happening at once, someone who wants to see order restored will shout MIC CHECK.  All assembled who want to see order restored echo, shouting MIC CHECK in unison.  It's not aggressively pointing fingers at anyone for derailing, it's just loudly proclaiming that there is consensus that the assembly would like to get things back on track.  The shouting creates in its aftermath a silence into which one quiet voice can be heard.

It disturbs me to see this technique being used to silence others.  Globe and Mail columnist Rod Mickleburgh reported that Occupy Vancouver protesters used it to disrupt a mayoral debate on Monday.  Merely by shouting the magic words “Mic check,” protesters felt they could interrupt debate at will. I now know “what democracy looks like,” as some in the crowd chanted. It looks like someone yelling in my ear. 

Silencing everyone except the person whose turn it is to speak is necessary for direct-democracy.  Selectively silencing people with whom we disagree is thuggish, especially when it's done as an invasion of a meeting organized by others.

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