‘Plant Blindness’ Our Negative Tendencies to Ignore Plants

by Wayne Michaelson

Think about your interactions with the fauna around you. Do you remember the last animal you encountered? Can you characterize this organism? Well, you might even have a pet of your own statistically speaking. More importantly, Can you distinguish it from other animals? These questions might not seem alarming to you, but try considering your interactions with the flora around you? Can you specifically tell me the last plant you saw?

If the latter part was a challenge to you, don’t worry, it’s not just a ‘you’ problem. Our tendency to neglect plants is more widespread than you think. This tendency is so widespread that American botanists James Wandersee and Elisabeth Schussler, coined a term for it in 1998: “plant blindness.” Originally, they defined plant blindness as “the inability to see or notice the plants in one’s own environment,” which results “to the inability to recognize the importance of plants in the biosphere and in human affairs.” Plant blindness also involves an “inability to appreciate the aesthetic and unique biological features” of plants and “the misguided, anthropocentric ranking of plants as inferior to animals, leading to the erroneous conclusion that they are unworthy of human consideration.”

  Failure to see, notice, or pay attention to plants in our daily lives can be partly attributed to the cultural framing of Euro-western thought towards separation, exclusion, and hierarchy. We place organisms on a hierarchy where humans sit at the top; animals subservient to humans, and plants at the bottom. Wandersee and Schussler noticed the anthropocentric ranking of plants as inferior to animals and used their voices to warn us about negative implications of these tendencies. They developed a classroom poster that says “Prevent Plant Blindness” as part of a national campaign to raise awareness and help the nation overcome plant blindness.

So why is “plant blindness” problematic? Not surprisingly, plant blindness leads to the underappreciation of plants and results in a limited interest in plant conservation. This is problematic because much of the big issues we are tackling in the 21st century are plant based. Global warming due to climate change, food shortage, and the need for new pharmaceuticals to cure new diseases all involves plant based processes. An article published by the University of Chicago Press shows  plant blindness impacts how we prioritize conservation between plants and animals. Getting Plant Conservation Right (or Not): The Case of the United States stated that “while most federal endangered species (57%) are plants, less than 4% of money spent on threatened species is used to protect plants (Kayri Havens, Andrea T. Kramer and Edward O. Guerrant Jr., 2014) 

Plants are put in a lower pedestal than animals partly because of the differences in the way we interact with them. Plants don’t necessarily have the conventional voice to fight for air time in our daily lives. In fact, from our childhood, these tendencies are rooted from the lack of plant representation in schools. According to Angelique Kritzinger, a lecturer, from the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, in University of Pretoria, concluded that “Plant blindness begins in childhood, exacerbated by how little attention is paid to botanical content in school” (2018). We are not educating students in active learning with new thought paradigms that expands their ways of listening and interacting with their surroundings. 

Time and intimacy with plant matter are important components of generating attention to plants. Unlike animals, we don’t invest a lot of emotions when we interact with them normally, plants don’t lick your face or bark at you when you try to touch them or even just look at them. Emotions play a huge role in how we compartmentalize on what is important or not. According to multiple authors from the ​Society for Conservation Biology “engaging meaningful experiences involving a multiplicity of senses can potentially engage emotional responses and concern towards plant life” (2006). 

According to Natalie Rogers, a humanistic pioneer activist, and the creator of Person Centered Expressive Arts, “incorporating movement, sound, art, and journal writing into their therapeutic practices helped patients identify feelings, explore unconscious material, gain insight, and solve problems” (1993).  Our human minds are more than capable of developing practices that direct attention to plants’ voices and dissipate plants’ invisibility. Today, we have created machines that are capable of measuring the vibrations and electrochemical signals plants send through the air. We can even manipulate those vibrations and musicalize it.

The Portuguese sound artist João Ricardo created full soundscapes by electrochemical signals from a cactus.  João Ricardo led a “Cactus orchestra” of over twenty cacti, performed by young students that follow his gestural directions on how to rhythmically pluck the cacti needles. Creating music through touch and corporal proximity with plant life revitalizes human-plant relationships generating intimacy and knowledge. Plus, he is inspiring the future generation to divert their attention to the underrepresented flora. 

Our realities are affected by the cosmos, the environment, living and nonliving, which is why we need to challenge subconscious tendencies and creatively organize ways of contextualizing and materializing the inaudible components of plants’ voices. Recognizing and listening to the voices of plants are acts​ of acknowledgment. We should listen and be sensitive to these paradigms as they are critical to our own survival and to the health of the planet. We should emphasize plant relationships in schools. We can use the arts to stir up emotions and attract new audiences.

WEEK 9: Bridging Multiple Worlds Survey

After completing the Bridging Multiple Worlds (BMW) survey, I came towards a realization that at the early stage of my development, I did not have any say in the cultural knowledge, values, and beliefs ingrained in by my designated world. By ‘world,’ I am referring to “cultural knowledge and behavior found
within different spaces (I) occupied.” My various worlds “contains values, beliefs,
expectations, etc” that has shaped me directly and indirectly (Phelan et al., 1991).

Like most of us, our first identifiable world would be our immediate family. My parent’s both decided to raise me in the Philippines, because my father did not want to raise me in what he thought was a toxic culture prevalent in the United States. With all the freedom and privilege advocated here in the mainland, my father understood that great distinction of the culture in the Philippines and America. My parent’s expectation of me to develop into these perfect male model- the “breadwinner” of the family- put a lot of pressure on me being the oldest, and resulted to internal repercussions that I had to battle alone, with our long-distance relationship.

I was brought up in third-world country, infested with poverty, and influenced greatly by conservative values enforced by a partnership of the church and state. I was raised in these conservative values. My parent’s acknowledged the negative parts of their upbringing and try to protect me away from that. It was always about church, family, and school. There was a huge emphasis on what kind of behaviors are right or wrong- to a point where my expectations of myself became narrow and limited. But, I didn’t realized these before encountering and being ingrained in various worlds with unique people carrying with them unique experiences. My parents were directly dominating figures of my life until I was 5, after that our worlds were only connected through a phone call. When I started going to school in the Philippines, I learned more about the limitless possibilities in various worlds. I was very conflicted with myself growing up, what was right and what was wrong was set to stone to me by my parents- literally beaten into me. My immediate world and their expectations played a huge part in my development and that it stuck with me until now.

Moving to the states and finally experiencing a life with my family together, I thought my life here would be an upgrade to the way I lived in the Philippines. We moved here because my parents expected me to find more opportunities and have higher potential for success in this rich and privileged land. I upheld those expectations to the best of my ability, however, I realized that with the pressures of upholding all my parent’s expectations, I was undermining the expectations of the new environment I was in as well as my own expectations. It was like my voice was being suppressed by the fear of diving in to my new found worlds of friends, organizations, even sport’s clubs. to thIt doesn’t necessarily mean that I upheld those expectations, but I definitely contemplate on most decisions I make because of those initial expectations of me. In fact, I found a sense of power and identity in finding my out of those expectations. However, with my experience literally moving to a new world (country) permanently, with new culture, new normalized beliefs, I was put a disadvantage in terms of having to navigate to both worlds that is pulling me in. I felt like I wasn’t really sure of myself, or what kind of voice or persona I should be embodying, because what was expected of me was polarized.

WEEK 8: “Sorry to Bother You”

Nina Eldsheim discounts our tendency of reducing sound to its “quantifiable” properties. He argues that we reduce the complex compositions of sound by naming them, with an understanding that through those tendencies “vocal timbre” is racialized. These tendencies are featured in the movie “Sorry to Bother You”- a movie centered on the character Cassius Green, a young African-American male, trying to make a break in a telemarketing company. The scene featured in the trailer denotes how Cassius’ old-timer workmate calls him out for using his natural voice. A voice that is culturally preconceived to deter potential customers. Old-timer Langston, played by Danny Glover, advises Cassius that his voice is not “white enough.” After watching this clip, I realized that when we categorize sounds to labels, to the point of normalization of social and cultural expectations, it is sometimes rooted from necessity. The racialization of vocal markers such as timbre and pitch has been developed and integrated in our society for years. The newer generation introduced to these perpetuated assumptions tied to racialized voice, are forced into these tendencies to confer to the demands of our society. Cassius’ husky and deep textured voice, as well as his speech mannerism, has been discredited by years of inequality and institutionalized racism. Eldsheim extends that “voice is not singular; it is collective.” In this scene, this concept puts Cassius at a disadvantage, his voice is not perceived as an individual, but as part of a disenfranchised collective. Furthermore, the cultural apprehensions tied to his voice are perpetuated by years of underprivileged communities with unequal educational opportunities.  

“Born Obviously Incredible”

MCC- Mediated voices of “The BOI Doc” by Wayne Michaelson

I. Preface

For this assignment, we chose to listen to UCSB’s Multicultural Center, also known as the MCC. The MCC is a perfect location for this assignment because there are a multitude mediated voices that converge in this institution. The MCC is a space where critical conversations take place in addition to being a place to study, hold meetings, and have social events. In fact, if you haven’t checked or participated in any of the MCC events, you might be missing out on various scholarly programs, performances, art shows, and facilitated discussions that enhance our awareness and inclusivity of all people. This is a space of dignity, equality, and inclusivity, where years of scholarship and empowerment of marginalized communities is the base principle. 

For our first visit, we wanted to highlight the Multicultural Center’s “Cup of Culture” series. This event series features various speakers, performances, art shows, films and facilitated discussions that tackle the distinct struggles for validation and valuing of minoritized voices from numerous cultures. During our visit, there was a poetry reading and film screening called “Cup of Culture: THE BOI DOC” which was hosted by Evolve Benton. During the event we listened to poems from Evolve’s poetry collection “SIR”- poetry dedicated to Boihood and Black Queer Love. We also watched their film “THE BOI DOC.” THE BOI DOC is film that focused on shared narratives about gender and gender expression through the Masculine and Masculine of Center queer voice of the people of the African diaspora to the world.

Our second visit to the Multicultural Center was in the afternoon when there were no events taking place. During this time of day, it was fairly quiet, and the voices and sounds we heard the day before were contrasted with the silence in the building. Due to the absence of the dominating human voice, me and my partner were inclined to notice non-traditional voices that affect this institution. We noticed the astounding artworks on the walls which are the representational manifestation of the voices that once converged in these walls. We also listened to the voices of the machines and facilities that allowed the stories of marginalized communities to be heard. The state-of-the-art technology and facilities that the Multicultural Center offers, is a great privilege to have however, getting once voices heard in institutions like this is a right not a privilege. Through this paper, we are trying to expose my audience to an institution that recognizes the value of diversity and inclusion.

II. Observations

February 19, 2020 (6:00-8:00 PM) and February 20, 2020 (1:00-1:30 PM): Multicultural Center

While waiting for my partner Avital to arrive, I sat down in one of the couches by the theater entrance, and began to listen to the loud voices of ushers offering free food and welcoming viewers. The sound of “free food” is just music to my ears. I instantly thought that the first voices that you hear coming into a facility can affect your experience that whole night greatly. In that case, the energetic and welcoming voices of the ushers are already welcoming people with warmth and comfort. 

As we entered the theater, after Avital arrived, we were met with various distinct voices. I can clearly remember the musicalized voice of classical music controlling the mood of the room. Before, the event formally started, the room had a very calm and light hearted vibe. People’s whispers, conversations, and laughs complimented the ambience of the room. Despite the sensitivity and gravity of the issues expressed in this institution, the mediated voices that inflect on the Multicultural Center allows people to be lax, authentic, and be themselves.

The metaphorical and material voices that converge in the theater were overseen by Evolve Benton when they took over the stage. Their stage presence and passion did not just bring out the power in their voice but also reciprocated with the audience. Evolve’s live voice as she was reading her poetry had a rawness and sincerity in it. When I compared it to her recorded voice in “The Boi Doc” her mediated voice was very polished and assertive. The rawness of her live voice is due to sudden pauses or errors she would make during the reading, however this did not reduce or weaken her rhetoric, in fact, it relayed a more heartfelt and genuine message. Furthermore, the speaker and the audience cumulatively decided to not use the microphone during the reading and also during the Q and A. In lecture, we talked about how in constructing voices, there are a series of decisions made about  what to include and what to leave behind (Lecture Jan 27). Because their voice is inherently mediated, Evolve decided to avoid further mediation of their voice. Evolve made these decisions to accentuate her speech performance to express emotions and not just words (Lecture Feb. 12). This resulted in a more natural and synchronous interaction with the audience.

III. Analysis and Conclusions

There was a dominance of traditional voices during the poetry reading and film screening in the MCC theater. However, the non-traditional voices that I picked out from the scene we’re definitely playing a huge role in completing that environment. First, the lighting in the room. I noticed that there is reciprocity in the way the audience and the lights speak to each other indirectly. Before the start of the poetry reading, the white lights were adequately bright. This gave people clear visuals of their surroundings less centered on the stage or the elephant in the room, who was sitting in the front room waiting to take the stage. Secondly, the seats in the theater also helped create a focused but interactive relationship between the speaker and the audience. I noticed that whenever Evolve, or someone from the film, or the audience, would share an interesting concept of compelling story, the seats would be dead silent and that kind of brings everyone to be more keen to the information being shared, but when there was a questions asked, or even a punchline thrown, you could hear people reacting through the sound of their chairs moving.

Evolve Benton’s voice and the voices of members of the “BOI” movement featured in the film were the privileged voices during this event. However, calling it a privilege might deprecate the whole message of this event. My point is that their voices were put on a higher pedestal just because they were the host of the event, and their narratives were the center of the conversation. Narrating the truth about black queer community through the different experiences of the members of that community was expressed in a way were the viewers were still allowed to contribute and react to those experiences. The Q and A portion set up for the audience and also just Evolve using her voice to make people at ease and not intimidated through her politeness is an effective way of getting people to actively think and participate in the event.

The Multicultural center by itself is an institution representing various voices from different cultural contexts. The institution’s base principle is to highlight the differences between people, giving them a safe space to be authentic. The collective voice in the Multicultural Center is creating a lot of noise in different ways and is indirectly giving other individuals voices by the collective speaking out. Evolve’s experiences were just a gateway to the distinct experiences that a lot of people in the audience are going through. In Nick Couldry’s “Why Voice Matters,” he stated that “to deny value to another’s capacity for narrative is to deny a basic dimension of human life (pg.8-9, 2010). Evolve Benton, members of the “BOI” movement featured in the film, and the Multicultural center collectively emphasized this right and empowered the audience. The culmination of voices were just so accepting and encouraging that during the Q and A the audience started with sharing their own unique experiences instead of asking questions. The collective voice created an environment where the audience understood that getting their narratives heard was not a privilege but a basic human right.

Section 7: Assignment 2 Reflection

Working on this duo project made me realize that it is really important to leave enough time to accommodate for both our schedules. The biggest challenge in doing this assignment is finding a time between our busy schedules to do the visits. Avital and I definitely tried to meet up and do the visits during the week it was a signed but miscommunication and work/class schedules definitely put a hold on our plans. We first planned to visit the Recreation Center instead of going to a location with a specific event to make it easier for both of us but with that not working out during the weekends we got even more delayed for our visits. We ended up changing the venue last second because during the day we finally met, there was a really interesting event in the Multicultural Center. That was definitely a better visiting location but doing our first visit 2 days before the paper was due was a really stressing situation.

Despite all that, that experience with Avital was a fun and engaging learning experience. With this assignment and our circumstance, having a partner to struggle with and build ideas with eases the whole process tenfolds. It was a privilege to have someone to refer to when you have an idea you are not sure of or when you’re trying to remember a vague memory from the visits. I also noticed that it was easier to connect individual ideas to complex concepts when it’s not just you generating ideas- a different perspective either asserts or challenges my ideas to become better.

Section 5: The Complex World of Opera

I was guilty of ignorance towards the complexities of classical music and the opera. Before being exposed to so much information regarding it, I simply isolated myself from a genre that seem so foreign to me. However, as I dug deeper on the rich history of this unique art form, I realized that the combination of dramatic narratives, stagecraft and music, and extreme manipulation of the human voice, make opera the art form that comes closest to expressing pure emotion. Furthermore, I also learned that opera is a form of storytelling, where the expression of feeling is prioritized. Born in Italy more than 400 years ago during the Renaissance, opera is an interesting case for the exploration of voices because it is the very first multi media. The richness of opera is important to study because it reflects the social conflicts of that era and embodies the layers of cultural beliefs under it.

To learn more about this culture, I listened and took notes during an interview between ethnographer Lauren Vinderlan and classical soprano singer Naomi Merer. I took note of key details regarding opera, while Merer was relating her experience growing into an opera singer. Merer’s interview with Vinderlan was generally informational regarding the broad aspects of opera. She talked about the importance of honing your vocal technique. One of the important aspects of these process is finding comfortability in your voice because in opera, expressing emotion and emitting a certain feeling is the center of performance, and your voice needs to be able to switch around between those emotions without having to strain your vocals.

Merer mentioned that for classical singers, it is essential for them to be fluent in many language, if they want to be a good performer, and if they want more opportunities to perform. Merer talked about having to go through specific trainings, and having to completely learn, not just speak, a certain language or certain culture to be able to justify a performance. Since, the body of the singer is the site through which the culture is materialized and expressed, the singer needs to educated and a master on that culture.

Furthermore, on Wednesday, I also had the privilege of watching a live voice lesson with Professor Isabel Bayrakdarian and voice student Terra Giddens. Bayrakdarian emphasized that complex vocal warmups is essential before singing to wake up one’s voice by engaging every muscle that has to be engaged. She emphasized that cultivating your voice to be opera ready requires rigorous training and discipline. Watching this live opera lesson made me realize that opera singers have to master numerous disciplines on top of honing their vocal abilities to the extreme. I was privileged to watch a teacher and student harness their knowledge of opera and learn with them live.

The excellence that opera singers portray when they perform involves various responsibilities. Think about it, they have to be able to read music, master different languages and the culture, act, and know so many there specific skills ingrained in classical performance. One major thing I learned from the live voice lesson, is that opera singers also have psychological responsibilities they have to uphold when performing. She emphasized on the importance of removing your ego when singing. As a performer, she says, ones voice must simply be conduits between the music and the magic that comes out during the performance. If you mess up, that’s all you, separate from the performance. She said one must never show off or feel bad for themselves when they are singing; they have to be able to stay calm no matter what.

This experience definitely deepened my understanding of voice. The richness of opera singers voice enlightened me and helped recognized that layers of voices are involved every time an opera singer does something. Some of the voices involved are the vocal capabilities of the singer submerged in the voice of the character, as well as the vocal expressions accented by movements and music. And on top of that, performers have to immerse themselves in the voices of the characters and the cultures they represents.

As someone aiming to maximize the potential of my voice, this experience was very informational. I am planning to utilized the disciplines that Naomi Merer, Lauren Vinderlen, Professor Isabel Bayrakdarian, and Terra Gidden shared with us to improve the musical aspects of my voice. I plan to visualize my voice as an instrument, capable of numerous things, that I need to hone and protect. Despite initially being foreign to classical music, I could definitely apply the techniques and the disciplines that opera singers follow to other genres, other forms of music, and even other forms of art.


For this week’s pursuit, I chose to listen to “Oceans (Where feet may Fail)” by Hillsong United. I chose this song because I noticed that in my time at UCSB, I have yet to encounter any gospel music played. I mean what do you expect was at UCSB. But seriously, if you think about it, there are definitely existing members of our student body that are religiously affiliated or just have religious beliefs and follow religious practices like worshipping through gospel music, which can also be called worship in church terms. In fact, I actually met a number of people at this school who recognized themselves with a religion, they were mostly Christians. However, with my experiences with my experience with them, Christian or gospel music was never played.

The song “Oceans” is by Australian worship band Hillsong United. The lead singer Tava Smith full-heartedly tells a piece of the biblical story through a dynamically controlled performance with her powerful instrument, her voice. The discipline and total control are recognizable in her emotional expressivity that she sonically pieced together to the dynamics of the instrumentals. She doesn’t release all the power and emotion at once but she builds it up with her voice. Her voice imposes a beginning and a climax. She builds that unique connection with the audience as she captures their attention with that soul-reaching tone matching with the solemn synth and violin in the beginning then blows them away as she builds up power and more passion in her voice at the end.
While listening to this song and analyzing, I tried to feel and listen to the song very keenly. I recognized that the singer, the song, and the instruments, are all pieced together to tell a compelling story. Tava’s voice- a silvery, pleasant voice but powerful at the same time, maximizes the emotional expressivity of the story through her angelic voice, especially when she hits those really soft high notes.

Tava Smith’s voice definitely justified the emotional goal of the song, which it is to touch people’s souls, despite being accustomed to the varying beliefs, somehow you can feel a sincere story by just feeling her voice. If you limit yourself to the textual and linguistic semantics of the song, the potential for distinct expressive reciprocity will be lost. Just like opera, barriers in language do not stop people from enjoying or experiencing the perfomance, their experience is just unique to themselves. Whether you believe in the bible, listen to or don’t listen to gospel music, the angelic presence and emotional build-up she portrays in her voice is very significant and engulfing. You can hear a story in her voice, without actually listening to the actual words.

Be Comfortable, Being Uncomfortable

Self identification is strategically deployed as movements to attain political ends for self-determination. We acheive self identification with our voices, through the physical, sonic, and contextual components of the messages we transfer. That is the obvious case for most traditional voices produced by humans, animals, even insects. However, in this course we are taught to think of the manifestation of voice more abstractly, not limited to its physical and sonic qualities. Hence, I decided to explore other manifestations of voices.

I listened to plants and discovered that the sonic qualities of plants becomes overshadowed by its material and physical qualities. I also learned that the way we view and interpret voices affect how we interact or not interact, with the holders of those voices. In plants’ case, they generally get ignored and get place down before animals because people don’t necessarily recognize them as sonically capable organisms. But they are. In their own way. Our Euro-western mindsets lead us to think that our way of listening and communicating is the norm and that other organisms that does otherwise are a step below us. By studying voice, I changed the way I give significance to everyone and everything in my surrounding. By thinking of voice more broadly, you learn to appreciate that everything and everyone has a voice.

In this assignment, I defenitely honed my writing skills and was introduced to utilizing different styles in my writing. I learned that I have to deliberately think about the general audience of the medium I am going to use. In addition, I also realized that we impose different personas when writing to a specific audience. When writing for a more mature, scholarly, educated audience with my news article, I felt more constricted in my writing. Even during the process of writing, I was very critical of my ideas and the way I deliver it because in the back of my head, I knew my readers were excellent readers and writers. My blogpost was light work. When I was writing my blogspot I did not feel the burden of trying to impress or be commended by what I perceived as more authorotative figures. I knew I was writing to a more familiar audience, less formal but witty and amusing. It was a more fluid writing process, I just wrote down my ideas and wrote about things I thought was important, not things I thought other people would think is imprtant.

Eyes Opened to Listen

by Wayne Michaelson

“Her sunburned face blends perfectly with these pretty flowers”


 I realized that most of my interactions with plants were centered on its aesthetics and its invariable position in the food-chain. When I dug deep and thought about my interactions with plants, I conceived that I only really interact with plants when my artistic urges fancy how the random organism organizes itself with the scenery. 

Yes, my recollections of plants were memories of scenes tied to my visual accounts of plants. Other times, I’m chopping it up while making dinner. Of course, its our main source of food sustenance. My recollections were either visual or transactional, a means to an end. I could vaguely remember interactions where the scene was centered on the plants itself. Most of the time, I don’t notice or acknowledge the plants around me unless it has some outstanding visual components.

I questioned myself “Why is this a pattern?” “How do I compartmentalize when assessing the significance of things around me?” “Why is it so easy for me to ignore plants?”

The article “Botanical Rhythms” discusses a condition botanists James Wandersee and Elizabeth Schussler refer to as “plant blindness.” The term is defined as a general unawareness of plants’ existence despite their constant presence in our daily lives. This tendency undermines plants’ value and takes a toll on the focus of plant conservation.

Paying attention to a voice I don’t necessarily pay attention to was a learning experience.  I learned that voice studies work under the premise of thinking of voice more broadly. This premise is a foothold that helped me realize why plants aren’t as significant to me. Plants lack the traditional communication skills sufficient to interact with me and allow me to notice its direct influence on me. Thus, I subconsciously downplay plant’s existence because I base biotic significance on the replicability of the input and output between me and the other organism. I’m definitely  leeching off plants but I started thinking of them not as an inanimate object for me to exploit, but as a living co-inhabitant, just as important to this planet as we are. Now I am certain that plants have voices too. We have sonic, material, and contextual evidence of it. The sonic component of plant’s voices can be disembodied through space using various technologies but you don’t need advanced technology to be able to listen to plants. We can also listen to the plant’s voices through the historical evidence hidden in it’s material component. 

Plants are incredible organisms. They have been in our planet for about 700 million years. Can you imagine the ecological and biological knowledge cultivated for millions of years that are buried inside this organisms? Plants existence is a powerful metaphor. There are years of meanings and dynamism layered under the story that plants wants to tell if we choose to listen. We should listen and learn to understand these paradigms as they are critical to our own survival and to the health of the planet. The act of listening to plant life is an act of acknowledgment.


Power in the Collective

by Wayne Michaelson

Like zebra’s stripe pattern, our unique voices reveal our individuality. Just as no two human voices are alike, no two zebras have the same stripe pattern.

Our voices are not limited to the transactional process of disseminating information. Rupa Patel, a speech scientist from Northeastern University, who devoted herself to giving voice to the voiceless, says our voices “reveal our true feelings, our temperament, and our identity.” 

First, I thought of diving deeper into the factors that we assess when we analyze people’s identity. I learned that we assess an individual through their social and cultural identities (gender, age, class, nationality, spirituality, personality, etc.) By knowing that, it seemed logical to me to think that, by assessing someone’s identity through their voice we can also reflect on the invisible and inaudible political, spatial, and cultural themes that shaped them.

I wanted to dive deeper into the concept of voice as revelatory to our identities. However, I thought of an article I read that was centered on the historical significance of queer, Latinx, and minority communities that gained power by accessing the voice of the collective. I reread the article, and I decided to further my research on how oppressed voices sometimes have to find power in the collective. When I first read the article “How Many Latinos are in this Motherfucking House?”: DJ Irene, Sonic Interpellations of Dissent and Queer Latinidad in ’90s Los Angeles,” I was focused on understanding the sonic elements that create the soundscape of the Arena Nightclub. This time I aimed to study the archival evidence of the thousands of voices that identified with the collective voice of the Arena, led by DJ Irene.

I utilized the written and filmed records of the voices that once erupted in the Arena- voices of celebration, dancing, expression of retribution, and most importantly, voices that were heard. The article incorporates interviews about people’s sentiments regarding the voice of the collective. I assumed that the collective voice is the voice of a group that could either be a community, a particular racial group, gender, sexuality. 

Ironically, I started with focusing on the distinctive characteristics that can be revealed through our voice but ended up focusing on the fact that the experiences that shape our identities are not individualized. I learned that our joint experiences allow for the development of a community that speaks in unity and unison. And, because the desires, hopes, dreams, challenges, frustrations, joys and sadness are the same or at least, similar, the voice of the collective becomes a powerful tool for change. 

In the Arena, DJ Irene’s voice became the most recognizable sound. Her voice rallied the crowd, with a rhetorical question that doesn’t just reveal her identity, but also allow other’s to find an identity in it as a collective. In Chaves-Daza’s words “Her nervous, silly laugh–echoed in the laughs of her audience–reaches out to bring me into that space, that time. Her smooth, slow and raspy voice–her vocalic body–touches me as I listen.” She also adds that Irene’s shout outs “allowed queer Latinx dancers to be seen and heard” in an otherwise hostile historical moment of exclusion and demonization outside the walls of the club. The Arena might be at that time the place was underrepresented communities heard themselves be named during the racial, gender, and political tension in Los Angeles during the 90s. In the Arena, the collective speaks and acts on behalf of the individual but the voice of the group is also the voice of the individual and vice-versa. 

In my performance piece, I wanted to relieve the notions and sentiments expressed inside the walls of the Arena during a decade of political strife and systematic demonization of the underrepresented communities in my song. I wrote the song Some’s Orange to retell a story of oppressed voices that found power in the united voices of the collective, despite being placed in a rigid system ran by outdated conservative values.