Michiana Chronicles: A Time To Amplify

Apr 5, 2019

I usually paddle around in the medium of metaphor, but not today. Today I’m making an unvarnished argument: If you have the means, buy a megaphone. Then, hand it to people you know whose voices need amplifying. Maybe it’s the turning of the seasons, or the political reminder that no one’s gonna save us but ourselves, but my sap is running fast (whoops, metaphor!) and I’m laser-focused (sorry!) on amplifaction.

Who among us hasn’t been moved by the global uprising of young people surging forward to say that climate change is no abstraction? When sixteen-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg called for a global climate strike, her thin, fraying braids worked like electrical antennae (argh - a simile! I can’t help it!) sending out signals answered all around the world. In my neighborhood, Adams High School students borrowed my megaphone for their demonstration by the County-City Building. Their voices were bright, despite the midday sleet. (Their energy sparks out from the photo on the station website.) They, like the college students in my classroom, remind me — climate change is “literally our future.”  That’s no figure of speech. Some grimly tell me they are afraid to have children of their own, given the bleak ecological horizon. Let’s amplify their urgency.

Credit Forest Wallace

I bought that megaphone after helping to plan the 2017 Women’s March in South Bend, which drew over 4,000 people on a glittering gift (metaphor!) of a balmy January day. We’d decided to forgo a big sound system for the rally out of respect for the matinee in the nearby performance hall. (I can’t resist pointing out the situational irony that the matinee scheduled during worldwide women’s marches was the traveling musical Cinderella. Thrillingly, some of the little girls who tumbled out of the theater in their princess dresses pulled their parents’ hands toward the marchers, dissolving into the dizzying energy of the all-ages crowd, like so many — well, I’ll toss that simile to you.)  In order to be heard without electricity, we organizers took a page from Vietnam protests onward, using the “human microphone” method of shouting short phrases for everyone in earshot to repeat, echoing in waves to the back of the crowd. This strategy amplified the Occupy rallies, too, where the method also served as a metaphor (oof — sorry, not sorry!) for the 99% whose voices are so often unheard.

The office-variety of this amplification tactic was used by women in President Obama’s administration, to ensure their voices mattered in meetings when they were sometimes talked over by men. Women echoed and credited ideas from other women, amplifying their presence, and with success. Any of us might do the same.

My own red and white plastic megaphone cost less than twenty bucks, and I love its shine and sass (Personification! Sorry!). When people call it a bullhorn, I stoop to didactic correction. I’m not about to use gendered slander like “bull” for my freedom machine. I’ve called it a cow-horn as a lark, but really, a megaphone — coined by Thomas Edison — tells it like it is: It makes voices big. I’ve handed mine to activists protesting the border wall, who passed it between them, sharing stories of immigration trauma and advocacy. I’ve handed it to health care advocates, who told hard truths of survival and loss in front of the shuttered windows of an absent representative.

And somehow, this is our second spring without dear David James, amplifier extraordinaire, who owned a megaphone as big as my torso. With his blessing, I lugged that thing like an outsized bagpipe to Take Back the Night marches and Equal Pay Day protests, before I learned that for the price of a nice lunch I could have my own little one — like me, but louder.  Soon, I’ll give mine to college students who are polishing staccato manifestas calling for a future they can believe in. On the last day of class, they’ll feel the power of their vocal chords shaking us awake.

Am I obsessed? Maybe. With every energetic pop of a daffodil, I see a mini-megaphone in the tubular corona — a little projection, there, but also a reminder of the energy singing through springtime’s chorus: Small voices add up!

Back to plain prose: If you’ve got the means, buy a megaphone. Give ‘em for graduation, for birthdays, for the heck of it, or, really, for our very survival. Hand them to the young and say: We need you. Crank up the volume to 11 (you’ll  have to explain that allusion) and tell them: We’re listening. Please, speak.

Tony Krabill with April's megaphone
Credit April Lidinsky