Rhetoric of Protest

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“THIS IS WHAT DEMOCRACY LOOKS LIKE!” That chant rang out throughout the day from protestors at the recent Women’s March on Washington, a reminder that part of the argument made that day was visual argument. Many of us who were there had no idea how large the crowd really was until we got back to our buses and started seeing news coverage on our cell phones. Aerial shots showed the estimated 1.3 million people who, simply by their presence, were making a statement. President Trump’s response to the size of the crowd shows that that statement was heard. In spite of Indiana Senator Jack Sandlin’s claim that the march was a bunch of “fat women out walking,” democracy that day looked like women of all sizes, ages, colors, sexual orientations, and religions, but it also looked like men and children. One of my favorite signs, worn by a young boy, said, “Now You’ve Pissed Off My Mom.” A thirteen-year-old boy on our bus who was attending the march with his mother told a reporter, “I’m here to make history.”232099_pastedImage_3.png

Some people said that before the march they didn’t quite “get” the silly pink hats being knitted by people across the country, many contributed by women who couldn’t attend. Some of those same people admitted the impact, though, of the sea of pink that day. Okay, maybe wearing a pink cap with cat ears is a bit silly, but it worked as another part of the visual rhetoric, as did all of the signs stating, “Keep your laws off my . . .” followed by a silhouette of a cat or those showing the image of a pink cat attacking the blue Twitter trademark. No one could claim that pictures taken that day were really taken at some other time, because when else has a group looking like THAT covered the mall and all surrounding areas in our nation’s capital? Of course, there were groups with their silly pink hats marching on every continent on the globe.


As we traveled the long hours to and from Washington, our pink hats became a sign of solidarity, as did our official t-shirts for the march. At gas stations and rest areas along the Interstates, marchers from different states saw kindred spirits and greeted each other with words of encouragement and excitement. As we neared the rally point, masses of buses from all over the country backed up traffic around the city.


There was the overall statement made by simply attending the march, but no one would argue that everyone was there for exactly the same reason. Critics afterwards wrote that the women didn’t know what they were there for. A written mission statement that put into words what the organizers believed was the reason. Each individual person knew, though, what he or she was there for. Each person who arrived on one of the buses registered with the march was given a paper bib to pin on his or her clothing that declared, “Why I March,” followed by a blank space for writing down the reason(s). (We were also given a form to record our emergency contacts to carry on our person and were told we might want to write our emergency information in Sharpie on our arm. We were also told any signs could not be on sticks that could be considered weapons and that any backpack had to be clear.)


Those statements and the statements made on thousands of signs are the subject of another blog post, one about the verbal arguments expressed during the march.

Photo Credit: Donna Winchell


About the Author
Donna Haisty Winchell directed the first-year writing program and codirected Digital Portfolio Institutes at Clemson University before her retirement in 2008. She edited several freshman writing anthologies and continues to write about argumentative writing and about fiction by African-American women. She is the author of The Elements of Argument and The Structure of Argument with Annette T. Rottenberg.