The mic check is derived from the police prohibiting the amplification of occupiers' voices and involves the crowd repeating the words “mic check” uttered by an initial speaker. It is phatic; it checks to see if a channel of communication is available. It is also performative—it enacts its intention and clears a space for the speaker and auditor. The mic check works: I participated in a demonstration in which a speaker used her mic check to let everyone know that police were threatening to arrest anyone who did not move to the sidewalk. When we repeated her words, we knew what was at stake; the added volume of our voices also allowed for more protesters to hear her message.
This repetition provides a way for collective human voices to broadcast. Borne of necessity and bordering on tediousness, the mic check is key to the creation of group identity. The speech that succeeds the mic check is also repeated, and it both encourages brevity on the part of the speaker and allows opportunity for the crowd to inhabit the speaker's words. This "echolalia" promotes intersubjectivity in occupied spaces.
The mic check reveals that listening is always already responsive. It is also expands Roman Jakobson’s notion of the empty sign (such as the word “I”) that becomes full by way of the speech act. With the mic check, the first person singular shifts to accommodate the many. When the crowd utters an “I” simultaneously, the pronoun is changed, providing the opportunity to see if the utterance also articulates the experience of its audience. When the speaker uses “we” the audience gets a chance to test out this identification--to see if the utterance is indeed valid for collective expression. The sign becomes replete with the presence of multiple “I”’s within this rhetorical “we.” The significations of I and we overlap and intertwine. In this way, the mic check forces the speech act to adapt to the demands of the newly-formed linguistic community.