Who’s Preaching to Whom?

Who’s Preaching to Whom

Like three-quarters of the world’s population, I do not come from a cultural background that includes proselytizing, and I consider it somewhat rude. Those who proselytize, however, are eager to share their One True Right Answer – spiritual, political, commercial – with the rest of us, even though like most of the world I’d rather they kept their joy to themselves or shared it with like-minded folks somewhere out of earshot. I guess that takes the fun out of prophecy, though, because street corner preaching persists.

For over twenty years, the intersection of 8th and H Street Northeast and has been a place where Prophets like to share their Answers with us Multitudes. The intersection of two bus routes serving residential areas without many other services, it is a commercial area, loud with the sound of voices, recorded music and Metrobuses. If you wish to speak to several people at once, amplification is required.

Some newly-arrived residents are not so keen on that 8th and H ministry, where preaching takes up three or four hours of a Saturday afternoon. Rather than regarding amplification as necessary tool in the city soundscape, they see it as the problem. Without amplification the Voices of Prophecy would be stilled, of course, but that is someone else’s problem.

This situation is exacerbated by class and race differences between the two parties, and appeals to bad law, embarrassing politics, and worse science. I wonder how the local Radio Shack is able to keep decibel meters in stock, not that anyone in this crowd seems to know how to use them. No one measures a consistent sound frequency from a consistent distance. No one measures the ambient noise of those Metrobuses, the sound level a speaker needs to rise above to be heard. One party may be shouting on the street corner, but the other is shouting in ANC meetings, District Council Hearings, in the community press and on the Internet.

When I lived across from the Eastern Market Metro station, a gentleman had a pavement ministry more-or-less under my window. The sound drove me nuts for months. Then something happened: his voice no longer ripped through my brain like a hacksaw. Was I starting to get his message? No. His voice was no longer badly distorted. He upgraded to a nice electronic podium, the kind used in many schools and businesses. His voice was actually louder, but not distorted; it no longer scared small dogs or sent me running for aspirin. Sound pressure is only one component of what we perceive as “noise.” Just a thought.

So that’s where we are now: lots of shouting; not much listening on either side. Don’t look here for answers. Personally, I blame Metro for bad noise specs on buses and MPD for lax automobile noise regulation enforcement. Fix those and the whole city would quiet considerably. Of course, someone might start complaining about all those noisy birds.

Image by Mike Licht, with help from some by-gone revolutionary cadre or other. Don’t think it’s funny? Fine. Keep it to yourself. Like it? Download a copy here. Creative Commons license. Credit: Mike Licht.

One Response to “Who’s Preaching to Whom?”

  1. Noise, Neighborhood, Newbies « NotionsCapital Says:

    […] working people since the 1920s, even after the riots of 1968. This”agora” has attracted street preachers of various political and religious philosophies, poets and musicians. If Dave is familiar with this […]

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