Jul 052010

Speakers’ Corner, London

A man trying to make a point, and a cyclist flashing by.  A bit metaphoric perhaps?

Speakers’ Corner is a London institution.  Every Sunday, in the north-east corner of Hyde Park near the Marble Arch, folks (guys mostly) attempt to persuade both the passersby and the intentional “attendees”.  As an institution, Speakers’ Corner is protected by a series of codes and case law.  It is virtually woven into the fabric of British political ethos.

Over the years from the mid-nineteenth century through the early twentieth, the topics of discussion were often political.  Intense debate from the likes of Lenin, Marx, and George Orwell.  And from time-to-time political or social topics do still manage to surface on a Sunday afternoon.

But today, most of the speakers are religious.  Religious discussion is fine, but when you get someone who is prepared to spend a couple of hours on a footstool or stepladder, dialogue is not their intent.  Most religious speakers are not looking for consensus or compromise.  They are looking for people who are in total – or near total – agreement.  And they are boring.  And that’s a shame.

Looking at Speakers’ Corner in the context of this century, it would be easy to believe that it has lost some of its “magic” — a bit past its prime.  But from another point of view, Speakers’ Corner is an institution where perhaps the greatest value lies in its potential.  Suffering countless boring religious zealots year in and year out, Speakers’ Corner is prepared to flower at a moment’s notice – a social and political safety valve.

I guess I can suffer the zealots.  They’re keeping the lights on.

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