This morning I got the opportunity to experience the most interesting social event in all of my years as a functioning adult (Oh yes– all two of them.) We took the tube this morning to the Speaker’s Corner in Hyde Park. None of us really knew what to expect going in as all we were told was that it was a place where on Sundays people would show up and… wait for it… speak. So with this pretty vague description in mind, and the brief warning that everyone who speaks is not necessarily speaking coherently, we dressed in our finest– flip flops and rain parkas included–and took to the town.
When the park came into view, I think it’s safe to say that we were all flabbergasted. The crowds were enormous, swarming and passionate. From a distance, we could spot individuals standing on chairs, stools, ladders and boxes. They all wore some sort of outfit representing their causes and many had props, posters and stands to explain their arguments more cohesively. And argue they did! The Speaker’s Corner is more than just talking. It’s a place where strangers and friends gather to preach and yell about their beliefs, feelings and nonsense. I started off listening to a very well-spoken Muslim man discuss his views on the Christian Bible. The first thing that caught me off guard is that the crowd was by no means a passive entity. People responded to his claims verbally; some swore, some booed, some cheered, some pulled out their own bibles and asked him about specific verses. It was completely interactive. The other groups I visited were similarly engaging.
However, because anyone could stand and speak, there were also the less, um,… enlightened arguments. For instance, the hilarious man who helped me to title this post. I never got his name even though I got the chance to speak with him after his “speech,” but his argument focused around several ideas about life and women. Particularly that women wearing trousers shouldn’t be trusted because by showing their legs they are showing their honesty! Women with bare legs are treasures of society because, and I quote, “The legs are how you can tell they are in heat!” What really made this experience special, however, was that even this man with his bizarre arguments drew a crowd of people laughing and clapping along with his nonsense. I discovered when talking with him that he had been coming to the corner for some ten years and was something of a speaker-comedian. He then asked my friends and me if we were Mormon, sighed dejectedly when we said no and shook each of our hands for an embarrassingly long time. I would love to see him there again.
Ultimately, I listened to five or so in-depth arguments about religion, politics and social values and left feeling incredibly connected to the strangers around me, all of us listening to the same views and thinking together about how we respond to them. It was an amazing experience and if possible, I would love to see it recreated in some form in the States. It was a beautiful and curious example of free expression.