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  • A Snapshot of a Timeless Amplification Tactic: The Human Microphone | Chris Michael

    What do you do when you have a message for a few thousand people, and using a megaphone is illegal? Mic check, MIC CHECK!

    November 17, 2011 marked the second month anniversary of the Occupy movement, and the encampment at Liberty Plaza in lower Manhattan. Before sunrise on that fall, brisk morning, I joined a few thousand friends to occupy Wall Street and celebrate a burgeoning movement’s second birthday through marches, demonstrations and non-violent direct action.

    I had just returned from Egypt a few days earlier, where I was learning from and sharing with 25 of the most innovative and effective video activists who were harnessing the power of video to support their efforts for freedom, justice and democracy. They were from six countries in transition – Bahrain, Egypt, Libya, Syria, Tunisia and Yemen – and full of wisdom and tips I was looking forward to share when I got back.

    Strangely, while in Egypt, I was watching video and livestream feeds of police abuse and brutality back home. Through my work as the Training Manager at WITNESS, a human rights organization based in Brooklyn that has helped train and support human rights activists’ work to strategically and safely use video for the past 20 years, I was looking forward to getting back to New York and getting involved in the Occupy efforts.

    In particular, I wanted to share some of the essential video tips that we’ve been developing over 20 years, as well as the advice of these key video activists I just had the pleasure to be with.

    So, before the morning marches left from Liberty Plaza and headed to Wall Street, I borrowed a cameraman’s step ladder, climbed up and did what everyone is invited to do at an occupy event: a mic check.

    A mic check is a timeless, savvy way to get a group’s attention and share information – particularly useful in big crowds when you do not have sound amplification, or in New York City where using a megaphone is illegal.

    The way it works: one person speaks in short spurts, typically 3-7 words at a time, and the people within listening range repeat so the people behind them can hear. This is repeated and creates a ripple of words rolling through a crowd, ensuring everyone can hear the important messages and updates.

    Mic checks have been a staple at Occupy events, and on this anniversary morning, I wanted to wish everyone a good morning and offer some suggestion on how to safely and effectively record and document the day’s events, with a special goal of capturing any police abuse and misconduct.

    Through the human mic, I shared some of these Top 10 Tips for Filming Occupy Events – ranging from how to capture good footage and the importance of getting officer badge numbers and names to getting essential details so video could be used for evidence and how to tag and share videos so they could be found by lawyers and advocates later.

    It wasn’t the first time I had embraced the power of the human microphone to get a message out, but it certainly was the biggest crowd, with at least five ripples of folks passing the tips back, making sure the tips got around the corner to those joining the march a block away. Also, it made it really easy to distribute the flyers after I wished everyone a fun, safe day of actions.

    This picture captures me, but sadly, my view of everyone on that beautiful morning was so much better (leave it to the video trainer to not snap a photo!).

    Chris Michael is a trainer, video producer and human rights advocate who leads the Tools and Tactics initiatives at WITNESS.

    Photo Courtesy of Ryan Kautz.
    Ronit Avni is a member of the Board of WITNESS.
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