Members of the Occupy Charleston protest group will come face to face with Newt Gingrich tonight at a fundraiser and candidate forum featuring the leading GOP presidential contender and former Speaker of the House.
No word yet on whether the occupiers will repeat their performance from Nov. 10, when they interrupted Michele Bachmann's foreign policy speech onboard the USS Yorktown with one of their signature "mic check" call-and-repeat chants, with one speaker shouting a phrase followed by the entire group repeating it aloud. "Mic check!" one speaker bellowed, and the 30 or so supporters echoed him in unison. "You parade as a grassroots candidate, / but your campaign is funded / by Americans for Prosperity, / a group that takes advantage / of legalized money laundering," part of the speech went.
The "human microphone," as it has been called elsewhere, arose during New York's Occupy Wall Street protests when occupiers were banned from using electronic amplification. So, for instance, when Hegelian-Marxist philosopher Slavoj Zizek addressed the crowds in Zuccotti Park on Oct. 10, he spoke in clipped phrases and waited for nearby members of the crowd to repeat him.
As The Nation's Richard Kim has noted, the practice can make it difficult to convey certain rhetorical nuances. In an Oct. 3 blog post, he wrote,
The overall effect can be hypnotic, comic or exhilarating — often all at once ... It’s hard to be a downer over the human mic when your words are enthusiastically shouted back at you by hundreds of fellow occupiers, so speakers are usually pretty upbeat (or at least sound that way). Likewise, the human mic is not so good for getting across complex points about, say, how the Federal Reserve’s practice of quantitative easing is inadequate to address the current shortage of global aggregate demand ... so speakers tend to express their ideas in straightforward narrative or moral language.
The occupiers can be cagey around press sometimes — as when one protester at the 99-hour occupation of Brittlebank Park in October asked a City Paper journalist, "Are you a reporter, or are you the 99 percent?" (As a side note, it is rare indeed for a reporter to be counted among America's wealthiest one percent.) At the first night of the group's illegal occupation of Marion Square last week, there was some hemming and hawing over who would speak to TV news camera crews when they arrived on the scene. No official spokesperson has arisen for Occupy Charleston, and it is rare to hear consensus on anything except the issue of nonviolent protest.
But when police finally arrived to round up 10 of the occupiers around 2 a.m. last Wednesday, they appeared to have developed some sort of game plan: They mic-checked the police, with one person at a time hurling slogans and accusations at the police, followed by a small choir of angry repeaters.
Jessica Dugan, who nearly lost her voice leading several of the battle cries last week, says she does not want to give away details of the occupiers' plans for Gingrich's Charleston appearance tonight, but she says they will be "making some sort of presence." She says members of the group are opposed to Gingrich's fundraising and lobbying practices, including allegedly naming a Dallas strip club owner Entrepreneur of the Year in exchange for a $5,000 donation.
"He's an example of the rich getting richer," Dugan says.
The Gingrich fundraiser will begin at 5 p.m. at 17 E. Battery St., and the "First in the South" candidate forum, hosted by U.S. Rep. Tim Scott, will begin at 7 p.m. at Sottile Theater (44 George St.). There will be Occupiers. There will be Tea Partiers. You do the math.