The mourning march

I'm someone who has worked in radio and is averse to what we in the business call "dead air" – silence that stretches too long, giving listeners the idea the station is off the air and it's time for them to switch to another station.

But I'm here today to say there is something quite powerful about silence.

No doubt you've been hearing about these "mourning marches" in Iran.  Supporters of the opposition candidate march silently to mourn the deaths of those who have been killed during previous protests. Mourning marches in Iran were part of the Iranian revolution that started there in the late '70s. 

You've no doubt been part of events where a crowd has been asked to observe a "moment of silence." It may have been at the beginning of a sporting event, a moment in which the crowd stands and honors a fallen hero. Or maybe it was when you were seated in church, invited a pray silently as a congregation.

However, I once observed a crowd walking in silence and it was one of the most memorable events I've ever covered.

It happened back in 1994 in Des Moines, Iowa.  Swastikas had been painted on the walls of a local synagogue. Religious leaders in the community united for an event at the Temple B'Nai Jeshurun on Grand Avenue to publicly denounce the action.  Catholic, Protestant and Muslim leaders stood outdoors, on the north steps of the temple to speak to the large crowd that turned out on a Sunday afternoon.  After the speeches, the crowd was invited to file away silently and walk around the back of the temple to pass by the painted swastikas.  

The river of people.  The sound of shoes hitting pavement and sidewalk, then muffled by grass.  Families clumped together; couples holding hands — all moving silently in reverence, somehow purifying an area that had been defiled.  That silence was not "dead air."  Rather it was alive with thought, purpose, meaning.

Imagine, then, if you will, not the couple of thousand Iowans who walked silently around that temple and back to their cars, but the tens of thousands of people who silently walked through the streets of Iran today proving, perhaps, that actions do speak louder than words.

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About O.Kay Henderson

O. Kay Henderson is the news director of Radio Iowa.


  1. Stella Shaffer says

    Thank you. Broadcasters by nature seek out the soundbite to tell us the story, and it’s nice to be reminded that sometimes the absence of sound is so profound.