This article invites you to share our mode of inquiry, to mobilize and amplify this practice. We present you with a kit and question the gap between you and the page or screen you are reading from. 1 We invite you to re-speak Queen Mother Moore with the tools and prompts provided here, along with resources from your own abilities and histories.
I am going to tell you something no one else can tell you who wasn’t there...
A kit for speaking and re-speaking
Video recording: Queen Mother Moore, recorded at Green Haven Federal Prison by the People’s Communication Network, 1973.
Speech transcript Queen Mother Moore, see insert
BLW is huddled around the monitor, three women watching an unauthorized dub of a recording on the sidelines of a conference about radical media. We contemplate the speech and the tape, and the electrical push-pull created by the video’s ability to simultaneously recall the moment when Queen Mother Moore addressed inmates of a federal prison, while also calling out the vast distance between that moment and this one.
BLW proposes “re-speaking,” the act of committing to memory and reciting a recorded speech as a practice-based embodied method of inquiry into the history of radical politics and our positioning as subjects today. We find that by holding archival speech at a critical distance, we can also investigate the productive role of media in those politics and positions. Our interest is in the text and the conditions and implications of the recording, speech and the conditions and implications of utterance. We are looking for resonance—not theater. We are looking for <speech> beyond the limitations of the recording.
Watching the tape again, BLW wonders what it meant to make the speech today and what it means to have preserved it. As close as we move in, we are still watching and listening to Queen Mother Moore speak from inside the tube. We wonder if there is another way to “play back,” to move beyond televisual enchantment in search of political agency. We are interrogating a gap that pertains to radical media, militant speech, public memory, and the positioning of subjects.
We ask ourselves if we have any experience with radical speech, radical politics, in our daily lives. What are the customs and practices of radical speech in your own history to refer to? 2
1. SPEAKER – a person who speaks
In civil rights activist Queen Mother Moore’s stirring speech she directly addresses the problem of empowerment as an embodied and political process that is shared: the transfer and redistribution of power among the heretofore powerless. BLW is longing for a moment that we were not a part of, and that even now, we might be excluded from.
Everybody’s gun came out, and this is what they said, “speak, Garvey speak! Speak, Garvey!” with the guns in their hands. “Speak Garvey, speak!” And Garvey said, “As I was saying….”
We want to know how we might be called to speak, in what ways might the actions of others enable us to speak. “Speak ______ Speak!!!” In what ways can you no longer be silent?
Our impulse is to re-tell the story of Queen Mother Moore. The story she tells is about Marcus Garvey in New Orleans, in which an entire community arms themselves and successfully opposes the power that seeks to silence their leader. Her words, “Speak, Garvey, Speak” are an invitation and a command, marking an imperative responsibility or obligation: Garvey must respond, he cannot be silent.
How can you respond to such a command, given the anxiety and difficulty of speaking, what are the experiences and practices that may enable you to respond?
I wanna give you a little example of the story of Marcus Garvey.
I wanna tell you something that nobody else could tell you
who hadn’t lived long enough to be here today, to experience this is to tell you. Those who were there…down in New Orleans, when the police told Marcus Garvey he couldn’t speak to us, and prevented him from coming to speak to us one night.
We understand that when Queen Mother Moore tells her story, it is as a witness, as someone who was there. Her testimonial is not just a telling–it is a summoning, a conjuring. 3
Her breath is a vehicle that unleashes and mobilizes power within the prison courtyard, in the same way that Garvey’s audience used their guns to physically enable the transfer of power in New Orleans fifty-three years earlier. What avenues do we have for the transfer of power?
We ask if a potential for mobilizing has been swallowed by watching. We recall what we have witnessed in our own lives. How can we use these recollections as a provocation for ourselves, to speak about what we have witnessed?
Is it ok to speak imperfectly or clumsily? What are the ways to learn or to build your capacity?
Queen Mother Moore suggests power is collectively generated (seized), so this “you” is always the collective you, a community of speaking subjects where all can be summoned if need should call. We look within our past experience for the kinds of solidarities that can produce mobilizing language.
As you speak the words of others, what is it that is moving through you? You might ask yourself if the saying of these words increases your commitment to programmatically unifying action or is it an unfamiliar encounter like trying on a strange costume?
This discomfort is a measure of our distance from radical experience. This distance might feel like a kind of pain beyond failure or inadequacy, a kind of anguish, despair.
Is this pain also the measure of our limits-of our commitment, or courage? Why is it that the acts of watching and speaking produce opposite effects?
Watching = euphoric, elated, inspired, safe // Speaking = painful, scary. Silence=death.
What can we understand about our distance from the event, from the experiences of which it is a part? What kinds of erasures are perpetrated by speaking these words? And is there not still the possibility of erasure if we banish these words to the archive?
2. A PLATFORM – a place from which to speak
A conference we attend gives us an opportunity to explore our frustration with the seeming impossibilities, but also the possibilities, of radical speech today. We feel urgency about speaking out about conditions that surround and affect us, and we are given, quite literally, a comfortable place to stand and talk. In a larger sense, we are standing on the platform of this moment in which it is so difficult for radicality to have any sort of a foothold. Queen Mother Moore stands behind a podium in the courtyard of Green Haven prison, in front of the inmates and invited visitors and also in front of the prison guards. She stands in front of, and faced by, both those she seeks to mobilize and those who are agents of repressive power. She stands in a prison courtyard at a time when young men are returning from Vietnam and the next stage of military deployment is domestic.
Stand on a crate, a balcony, or in front of a line. Stand in front of people, close to them, or far away. Stand-alone. Stand with others. Stand in a classroom, a park, an office building, museum, a grocery store, a safe place, or unfamiliar one. Stand in front of those you wish to mobilize and those who wish to silence you. Look for your possible platforms. Consider the location from which–and within which–you speak. Speaking requires deep engagement. Tap into your potential as aspeaker. Tap into your beliefs, practices and experiences. Find an ideological ground to stand upon.
This distance between her experience and ours gains clarity as we imagine her as a model. Who the hell is our model? BLW begins with recitations in an apartment, a bus in Chicago. We struggle against our comfortable silence. We are not accustomed to stridency. We recognize how Queen Mother Moore stands upon and within a lifetime of practice in community organizing, personal and collective practices of political struggle. The deeply scarring racial violence experienced in early childhood and her encounter with Garvey and the Africanist movement are defining moments in her life and work.
What other kinds of platforms support speaking? The Speakers’ Bureau is a ubiquitous structure for the distribution of speakers. Speakers’ Bureaus take many forms, from business ventures that operate as talent agencies for neo-liberal motivational speech, to the public educational face of institutions. There are Speakers’ Bureaus for the poor, the homeless, and the Left. You can join one, or start one together. Train together in order to explore practices and traditions that cultivate and enable speakers and oratory.
She stands within a history of oratory but she undoubtedly encountered opposition from the very communities for which she advocated, for speaking the unspeakable, for her insistence on naming and indicting all forms of inequality, for rocking the boat.
The structural landscape of systematic oppression and denigration against which she always stood would not be unfamiliar to her today. BLW considers the concentration and deployment of power in our daily lives. We look for places in our silence from which we can begin, recognizing that we are - you are always situated in a landscape of power.
What is the history and use of speaking freely? Do you need to follow the G-8 to speak or can you find targets in your immediate landscape to directly interpolate, with others, or alone? For those of us coming of age after the systematic elimination of the left in the late ‘60’s and 70’s, is there a higher tolerance of silence, or of self-censorship?
Today, public utterance might push us to the border of legality. Moore’s platform is insurgent, revolutionary–a call to action that could be criminalized today as an incitement to terrorism. What are the implications of this call to arms today? Where are today’s platforms for revolutionary change? How do we understand the structures of power and oppression today, where is it that we can stand to face them?
3. AMPLIFICATION – a way to make your voice heard
We think about the microphone, the vehicle that carries her voice across the prison courtyard. Her speech is emphatic, commanding. It is further amplified through rhetorical devices such as repetition, modulation. Her speech has increased resonance because she is speaking as a witness – no one else can tell the story in this way, because no one else was there. She is a kind of diaphragm herself, an amplification device that converts one kind of signal or vibration into another—one form of power into another.
The police—knew they would have been slaughtered in that hall that night—because nobody was afraid to die. You've got to be prepared to lose your life in order to gain your life.
You will need to find a way to make your voice heard. Shout loudly, or use a bullhorn. Stand very closely to others. Listen closely. What, if anything, makes this difficult? Is there a distance or divide over which your words cannot travel?
In practicing outspokenness, BLW produces eruptions of sound that are unintelligible.
What is politically potent about the grunts we emit on our way to language? Is there political potential in amplifying the struggle to speak, our failure, anxiety, fear. Despair? Sound is a dynamic vibration–can these dynamics “do” something? We feel what it does to our bodies to speak out, when we do so for a long time. Can these vibrations become converted into other forms of energy? How do you experience this transformation? Can this energy be channeled, transferred?
4. AN AUDIENCE – someone to speak to / with
The video depicts her speaking outside before a group of young African Americans. As the camera pans around, we see other features of the courtyard space where she is speaking; it is grey and filled with sun. Her audience is on folding chairs and behind them, tall walls made of concrete, a guard tower. Moore is addressing inmates and their guests at the Green Haven federal penitentiary in upstate NY. 4 The three of us, as BLW, began our recitations in the places of our work. We were invited to do a project at Pilot TV in Chicago. From a stage, we addressed a modest group of artists and activists, gathered to experiment with the possibilities of radical media today. They sit on sofas and folding chairs and listen, not without some discomfort.
Look for an audience, for someone to address. Construct an audience. Appropriate an audience. Invite others to speak with you. Consider your relationship, and theirs, to structures of power, your relationship and theirs to others, not present, who have transferred power to you and the obligation to transform/redistribute it.
Now how did we do that? How do you go determined to keep the powers that be from preventing your leader from speaking to you? How do you do that?
Moore has been invited by Think Tank, a prisoners’ group organized around skill building for community empowerment. In this moment the nation-wide prisoners’ rights movement is intensifying. Think Tank’s organizing is part of their commitment to deepening this movement through a conscious inquiry into the relationship between conditions in the black communities and high rates of incarceration. Queen Mother Moore has herself been instrumental for years in this broader movement for dignity and justice. The yard is full of people who are developing strategies for educating and empowering themselves. This site is the place of activation and exchange. This is where the “kit” is activated through your re-speaking. People are organizing themselves to hear her speech and to speak about the functions of power.
How does speaking with others become a way to understand how power is functioning within all of our lives? We can’t all claim to be in the same position in relation to power and designations of authority, but speaking with each other is a way to understand these structures, and the ways we all implicated in various structures of power and powerlessness.
The relationship between speaker and audience is established through Moore’s reflections on the power of speech itself: the witness of a speech later becomes a speaker, who speaks to someone else, who then becomes a witness who can then speak. Thus, power is transmitted through a redistribution of the agency and the mandate to speak through collectivity.
We came here to tell you to come home to us.
We want you. We came here to invite you and to let you know that you are not alone and to let you know that you have brothers and sisters who are waiting for you and who are fighting for your return and who are preparing places to receive you.
And we don’t want you to feel rejected. You’ve been rejected out of the man’s society.
But you are not rejected out of black society
Consider your relationship to the history of the civil rights movements, the history of radical or militant movements in the US. In what ways can you invite others to reconsider their status as criminals, outsiders, and outcasts? Who could you speak to and who could you be speaking with. What shared problems are being manufactured or produced in the spaces you inhabit? What is being overlooked or sentenced to silence?
The expectation that Moore's listeners will participate in a transference of power is implicit in her exhortation to her audience that they return home empowered citizens. She is charging them with a responsibility to effect radical change once they get home. She charges them to address the forces of social determination that distribute property, that designate theft, that assign criminality. Power is being transmitted through speech but the power of speech is not the goal.
You couldn’t steal brothers.
You can’t steal you can’t steal from a white man—all that you can do is take back from him.
It’s all you can do because everything that he’s got—everything, everything the white man has, everything, he stole it from you.
Everything, he stole it from you—
You are not the criminals.
You are not the criminals.
Queen Mother Moore speaks to her audience, a group of incarcerated people, about an instance in which a group of citizens “came armed.”
Can speech itself be violent? Is it possible to see various contemporary instances of violence and militancy as acts of speech or communication? What are the various uses of violence today? What are the various forms of legitimated violence, and what forms of violence are criminalized?
We ask whether speech has the potential to unmask violence. But as we begin to re-materialize this speech before an audience, we are forced to confront the removal of the person telling the story. Speaking the words of Queen Mother Moore is ethically complicated and potentially offensive. Re-speaking, and re-membering might function as acts of over-speaking, over-writing or erasure. If white bodies speak the words of a black civil rights leader, is this an act of stealing? Are we continuing a history of theft, of colonizing language, homelands, bodies, and identities? Her words remind us of the naked violence of this story.
You are not the criminals.
I’d like to ask you, have you stolen anybody’s heritage?
Have you stolen children from their mothers and sold them on the slave block?
Have you stolen wealth from the land and have you stolen whole countries?
5. A RECORDING DEVICE – something that witnesses and remembers speech
Queen Mother Moore’s speech was recorded by People’ Communication Network, a radical video collective. This was the first time an alternative video collective was allowed to document activities inside the walls of the prison. The accessibility and immediacy of the video medium in the early 1970’s ushered in a period of techno-activism: an optimistic, sometimes utopian, movement that saw video as means of radicalizing the relationship between spectator and spectacle. The medium was the message, and the message was meant to reinvigorate participatory democratic culture. 5 BLW records our experiments as an exploration of the role of this device as a repository of history and as a tool that participates both in the mobilization and demobilization of speech.
While Queen Mother Moore’s speech does not mention the video camera, we find the recording itself does contain and convey an almost euphoric optimism, this palpable intention to “engage a critical relationship with televisual society by participating televisually. 6 ” And, in this newly self-aware moment of the information age, intervening in televisual society was seen as truly radical: a means of “allowing people to…shape and reassert control over their lives.” 7
Find a way to produce a record of your act of re-speech–a video camera, a sound recorder, a notetaker. If you don’t own a camera, borrow a friend’s camera, use a display camera in a camera store, find a surveillance camera. Use a toy or make a model camera to re-enact the process of recording. Repeat the process of speaking to your recording device until the experience becomes recorded within your own memory.
We find ourselves back in the space of the monitor, considering the recording’s intention in relation to its outcome up to and beyond today. The People’s Communication Network made a record of an event that might have only survived in the memories of audience members.
On a fundamental level, to make a record of your speech is to use the camera as a witness, to “broad-cast,” giving your act of speaking a life beyond any one person’s memory. What will become of the record? You might also ask how you can participate in structures of archive, access and distribution.
Our re-speaking is a re-making and a play-back of the recording, a performative method of interrogating video as a repository for memory and a technology of forgetting.
My children, my children, I’m here today to identify myself and rededicate myself in the spirit of Marcus Garvey and our beloved brothers, who are incarcerated here behind these infernal walls, to meet the struggle on the behalf of our men who find themselves recaptured under captivity.
Queen Mother Moore faces the camera. Through the recording device, she faces us. What did it mean to her that the camera was there? Where did the electronic device and its promise of wide distribution beyond the walls of the prison stand in terms of importance, alongside the eyes, ears, and memories of the prisoners and community members there to witness the speech? Nevertheless, we allow that the tape telescopes out into a procession of memories: those of the prisoners in the courtyard, the force of Queen Mother Moore’s voice and gesture, the story of MarcusGarvey and the experience of an activated audience at the Longshoreman’s Hall in New Orleans.
How does the “record” contribute to a kind of shared re-call – the construction and activation of collective memory? What are the relationships of collective memory and collective action?
Do we need the recording device in order to remember? BLW wants to consider the potentials and the limitations of this instrument, an efficient means of storage that has no breath. Moore herself has also created a record of the story of Marcus Garvey that she stores in and transmits through her body. What capacities of agency and speech did Queen Mother Moore, demonstrate if we consider her as the “recording device,” the material vehicle (medium) to hold and re-tell the memory of Marcus Garvey at the Longshoreman’s hall? What capacities are lost in the act of transferring the laborious tasks of memorization and recitation over to video and other recording devices? And then, what can we do about mortality? If we were to lose our technological tools-our memory prosthetics, can we develop the capacity and commitment to carrying each other’s words forward into time?
Two years after beginning this study, BLW evaluates the project; what have we learned? And what can someone else discover from acts of re-speaking? We find ourselves more sensitive to the speech acts of others, to all attempts at oratory. We speculate that we ourselves have become more skilled at speaking, and that there is, in the debates and discomfort that re-speaking triggers, a key toward the formation of a parrhesiac (outspoken and truthful) political subjectivity. We are certain this is a great way to learn history. And yet, our research is still inconclusive and so we invite you wholeheartedly to add sources for re-speaking and records of your experience into the mix.
We are surrounded by stories; what kinds of stories can we find that should be told and retold for the way they assist acts of transference and empowerment? And what stories can we find that, by being told and retold, will produce collective recall, a gathering memory of what we need to do, and how we might learn to act together?
1. A kit, referenced here as a set of articles, tools, or equipment used for a particular purpose: or parts, which implies a state of incompleteness that you, the user, the reader, can “put together,” activate, and make use of. (back)
2. In some cultures, educational canons included speaking by rote, as a way of linking elocution with tradition. In other cultures, to speak out is to leap across a chasm of learned and lonely silence. (back)
3. Moore’s words emerge from her life of being there, forging a connection between the moment of Garvey’s speech in 1920 New Orleans and this moment in an upstate New York prison fifty-three years later. (back)
4. Following the Attica prison protests in 1971, many inmates were transferred to Green Haven and likely comprised part of Queen Mother Moore’s audience. Reform efforts led by a coalition of prisoners and academic activists at this prison are ongoing. (back)
5. The videotape was stored at Antioch College in an alternative library maintained on the campus “as a resource for radical and progressive thinking.” The maintenance of this library for potentially marginalized records is an important part of a larger network of commitment to outspokenness. Over three decades passed before the tape was found and restored by the Video Data Bank in Chicago, who now distributes it. BLW encountered the video at Pilot-TV in Chicago in 2004, where it was presented by Dara Greenwald, an artist and activist who is also interested in public memory and the video record. (back)
6. Hill, Chris, “Performing Video in the First Decade, 1968-1980,” Video Data Bank. (back)
7. Korot, Beryl and Gershuny, Phyllis, Radical Software 1/1, Table of Contents. (back)