No sooner had the panel finished opening remarks last night than a woman scampered up onto stage and yelled, “Mic check!” It was an orchestrated effort by several dozen activists to use the People’s Mic to interrupt a forum at Town Hall—a forum in favor of Occupy Wall Street, featuring three wonks and three activists from Occupy Seattle. Their stunt replaced what was supposed to be an informed discussion of the movement with an uninformative, shout-a-thon about process that consumed most of the evening. They booed opinions they disagreed with and drove supporters out of the building.
“I walked in supportive and left unsupportive,” said 69-year-old Mary Ann, who declined to provide her last name. “I’m turned off by the negative shouts, repetition, and all I can think about is a cult. And I believe in every one of their damn principles.”
Paula and Brian King also headed for the door early. “It was frustrating to listen to people shouting and interrupting,” lamented Paula. Brian added, “We are leaving because they are looking inward at themselves and their eccentric process rather than reaching out to people.”
Organized by Town Hall (and co-sponsored by The Stranger), the forum was intended to discuss the Occupy Wall Street movement, featuring three activists from Occupy Seattle and luminaries from labor, economics, and politics: Washington State Labor Council secretary-treasurer Lynne Dodson; Second Avenue Partners and progressive taxation activist Nick Hanauer; and GMMB political strategist Frank Greer. During opening remarks, JM Wong from Occupy Seattle declared that she wanted “no leadership from the Democratic Party or union bureaucrats. Nonprofits are trying to co-opt us.”
Dodson, however, politely explained that labor unions are part and parcel with the Occupy movement’s push for economic reform. “I like to consider myself a union activist, not a union bureaucrat,” she said. “This is labor’s fight, this is our fight.”
Whatever further insight the speakers planned for the 90-minute event was then cut short when the woman ran on stage. Activists had planned to interrupt the panel because, some said, they opposed the power dynamic created by speakers on stage talking into microphones. Although Occupy Wall Street uses the belabored people’s mic—which involves one person speaking and the crowd repeating everything—to amplify the soft spoken and encourage free speech, last night it was used to silence the panel. The call and-response created an echoing cacophony. Despite pleas from several older audience members who couldn’t hear well to let the panelists proceed, the Occupy activists demanded a vote to overtake the forum.