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Carl Gibson Headshot

The 99% "Mic Checks" the 1%

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ERIC CANTOR SPEECH INTERRUPTION
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As the lead Republican negotiator during the manufactured debt crisis, Eric Cantor had the podium all summer long. He walked out of the early debt talks, insisting on a cuts-only solution. The House Majority Leader readily dismissed sensible proposals like ending billions in wasteful tax giveaways for corporations and the super-rich. Cantor's callousness is legendary -- he even withheld FEMA assistance to his own and other hurricane-ravaged districts until disaster relief spending was offset by cuts.

With Cantor at the helm, Republicans in the House refused to end $20 billion in wasteful subsidies to tax-dodging oil companies, stalled on closing corporate tax loopholes that bleed out $100 billion annually, and even refused to close a tax loophole for corporate jet owners. Republicans got everything they wanted thanks to Cantor -- cuts to public services, no new revenues and a super committee tasked with making even more harmful cuts.

So on November 10 in Houston, a handful of brave Rice University grad students interrupted the House majority leader with a "mic check" protest live on C-SPAN, despite an overwhelming security presence (and my own arrest). All Cantor could do was smile sheepishly and be quiet while law-abiding, taxpaying Americans directly confronted him and spoke loudly, in unison, against his cruel policies. With occupations in hundreds of cities across all 50 states, and past mic checks of the likes of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, Michele Bachmann, Karl Rove, Newt Gingrich, Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf, Rahm Emanuel and now even President Obama, the enablers of the corporatocracy will now always have to be wary of a mic check wherever they go.

The mic check can disrupt the most powerful people in the world and demand the attention of every person and every camera. It evades all metal detectors, x-rays and pat-downs. All it requires is a handful of people with loud voices and determination. The mic check has recently become the Occupy movement's preferred method of speaking directly to the corporate executives and government officials who actively work against the interests of the 99 percent. And when it starts, those within earshot have no choice but to be quiet and listen, even over attempted shout-downs and police intervention.

Critics of mic check protests accuse Occupiers of denying these politicians and CEOs their right to free speech by interrupting their speeches. This is equivalent to telling a kid he was wrong for shouting a pithy insult at the bully who just bloodied his nose and stole his bike. Of course, such accusations are nonsense -- these are powerful people who own cable news networks, newspaper conglomerates, radio airwaves and gerrymandered Congressional districts. They can call press conferences and have swarms of reporters record every word at a moment's notice. And for all the ceaseless attacks on public sector jobs, Medicare/Medicaid, food stamp assistance and pensions by Cantor, Walker and their ilk, they rightly deserve some verbal push back from their victims. Just like with the tea party's 2009 town hall shout-downs over universal healthcare, free speech is still free speech, even when it disrupts the one percent.

As the automatic cuts resulting from the failed super committee debacle phase in, Washington should take note of the occupiers at McPherson Square and Freedom Plaza. They should be ready for a surge of occupiers in the coming weeks as Occupy Wall Street activists march toward Capitol Hill on foot. And Congress should be prepared for thousands more to bring the fight right to their doorstep next month in defiance of unforgiving December weather.

If they can't hear our voices in our own cities, we'll raise them loudly right under their noses. The mic check might even find its way inside the House and Senate galleries.