Sabine Gruffat & Bill Brown

There is perhaps no more potent display of self-determination and empowerment than the street protest. A street protest is both physical-- a mobilization of human bodies and human voices-- and spatial, concentrating those bodies in a particular public location, or within a set of ideologically significant spatial coordinates (a national capital, a financial district, a shopping mall, etc.). But what about the bodies that cannot be present at a protest? What about the voices of protest that are too faraway or faint to be heard?

We propose to create the Public Address Protest Amplifier (P.A.P.A.). This networked voice amplifier will allow allies, accomplices, and sympathizers to soapbox in public space even when they are not physically present. Using off-the-shelf, readily available technical tools (cell phones, megaphones, and free computer software), we will assemble an audio amplifier system than can rebroadcast text messages sent from any place in the world by persons wishing to participate in a street protest. We envision P.A.P.A. not as a way to replace the physical dimension of protest politics, but to augment it. P.A.P.A. offers the possibility that for every one body in the street, their could be thousands, even millions of remote participants who could add their voices to the protest space.

The P.A.P.A system consists of a website and SMS gateway that can convert text to speech. Participants may submit their message via a form on the P.A.P.A website and choose whether they prefer their message to be rendered via a male or female computer voice. Those who do not have access to a computer may text their message to a unique phone number that converts their text into audio. Messages submitted either way connect to server side scripts that immediately broadcast to the P.A.P.A. loudspeakers. The P.A.P.A. loudspeakers consist of used hacked mobile phones set to auto answer and whose headsets are connected to the audio input of the loudspeaker. The P.A.P.A. website calls the phone and plays the text-to-speech converted audio seconds after it is submitted.

We envision P.A.P.A. being deployed in a variety of ways. Protesters will be able to carry P.A.P.A.-equipped megaphones to a demonstration, using these devices both to amplify their own voices, as well as the voices of remote participants. P.A.P.A. speakers could also be mounted throughout a protest space, on lampposts, streets signs, and buildings, allowing protest messages to be broadcast even even human protest is suppressed (during a tear gas barrage or other aggressive police action, for example).

As part of our project, we will assemble a number of P.A.P.A. loudspeaker kits and distribute them to activist groups who are interested in using the system during their next protest action. These kits will serve as prototypes that can be easily copied and distributed by and among affinity groups. A list of parts, and a short video demonstrating how to assemble a DIY P.A.P.A. kit will be available on the website. Participants who assemble their own P.A.P.A. loudspeaker may add their cellphone number to the website, which will serve as a meeting place and information hub for protesters around the globe.