Short messages work
Short and punchy messages are important to successful protest. They help frame issues and raise awareness. They can get to the core of an idea and make it real and raw.
My favorite short-form medium is the bumper sticker. As I try to organize and focus my concerns, my mind quickly turns to formulating a bumper sticker. When I gave up my 1990s Honda CR-V, it was covered with the names of my favorite candidates and messages about causes that mattered to me. I was disappointed during this election cycle to discover the bumper sticker was no longer a critical part of electoral politics.
Another low-tech approach to protest is the poster. I have a photograph from the Memphis garbage workers strike, the last protest that included Martin Luther King Jr. In the photograph, garbage workers make a simple plea for respect with matching placards that read, “I am a man.” This is the art of brief messages at its best.
I am happy to see a resurgence of this personal communication tool. Rallies, protests and marches are on the rise. Protesters communicate through their personal witness (by showing up) and their hand-held signs.
Both at the Women’s March in Washington and a recent local protest of the nomination of Betsy DeVos for secretary of education, I was buoyed by the wisdom, humor and creativity of the poster carriers. Their thoughtful choice of words and evocative images captured the human dimension of these issues and inspired outrage and support.
One placard used children’s literature to communicate: “Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do you see? I see senators failing me.” Another beauty: “Don’t Devostate our schools.”
Sustaining the energy to resist is going to be hard, but when I need an infusion of energy I’m going to review some of these handwritten messages from the Women’s March:
- Justice is what love looks like in public.
- Respect existence or expect resistance.
- Quality men are not afraid of equality.
- Our rights are not up for grabs. Neither are we.
- Regulations are protections.
- I am no longer accepting things I can’t change. I am changing things I can’t accept.
- Be vigilant but not afraid.
- Freedom is equality.
- Black lives matter.
- You can’t repeal physics.
- Science is not fake news.
- Hate does not make America great.
- A just America is a great America.
- My body, my business.
- Make America think again.
- President Tweety Bird doesn’t sing for me.
- Tweet others as you would like to be tweeted.
Donald Trump has made the tweet a new-technology bumper sticker. He uses this short message media to stir up despair, spread falsehoods and control the narrative. He goes to his constituents and dodges scrutiny. It is a propaganda tool.
I’m not ready to tweet but I keep formulating my bumper sticker. Last night I came up with this one: Don’t make the common good uncommon.
Susie Kaeser is a longtime resident of Cleveland Heights and former director of Reaching Heights. She serves on the national board of Parents for Public Schools.