Sometimes, all it takes is a few words to spur the hearts and minds of a generation to change the world.
In honor of Dr Martin Luther King, Jr, who with his words and deeds inspired a monumental shift in the way the United States treated it’s citizens, we decided to take a look at some of the short-yet-powerful turns of phrase that have motivated people to move political mountains.
In no particular order, here are ten awe inspiring slogans that really rocked the world, and not all for the better.
I Am A Man
Civil Rights Movement. United States, 1955 – 1968.
On February 12, 1968, nearly one thousand African American sanitation workers refused to report to duty, demanding better wages, safer work conditions, and recognition of their union—all rights already granted to their White counterparts.
The signs they wore during their demonstrations bore one simple phrase “I Am A Man” which said it all, and while their first large demonstration, 5,000 strong and led by Dr Martin Luther King, Jr, ended in violence and looting, their slogan became a rallying cry for the entire civil rights movement. Subsequent actions were more successful and the workers demands were eventually met, though not without great sacrifice. It was during a trip to Memphis that Dr. King delivered a breathtaking speech declaring that he had “been to the mountaintop,” and then was tragically assassinated the following evening.
We Are the 99%
Occupy Wall Street (And Everywhere Else) Protests, Worldwide, 2011.
These words need no introduction, but in case you’ve been hiding under a gigantic rock for the past few months, “We Are The 99%” is the rallying cry behind Occupy Wall Street, a leaderless movement of people who, feeling financially taken advantage of by the corporate banking system, took to the streets, occupying a small park in New York’s financial district in September, 2011, and living there, against all odds, for months before finally being ousted by the city.
Inspired by these “everyday people,” the 99%ers have emerged everywhere, staging protests from as far afield as Tel Aviv and Sydney, Australia, fighting against, in their words, “the corrosive power of major banks and multinational corporations over the democratic process.” It is a movement in its infancy and we’re watching it grow with great interest.
Patria o Muerte (Homeland or Death)
The Cuban Revolution, 1953 – 59.
While he was not the first to use it, this phrase was made famous by Ernesto Che Guevera during the Cuban Revolution in the late 1950’s. Fighting alongside Fidel Castro to free Cuba from the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista, this slogan inspired a band of revolutionaries to overthrow a powerful and repressive government and to set up one of the only Communist states in the West.
Make Love Not War
Vietnam War Protests, United States (Mostly) 1964 – 73.
Beginning with demonstrations in Europe in 1963, the American led opposition to US involvement in Vietnam grew to become a social and cultural phenomenon, peaking (in more ways than one) in the epic 1969 Summer of Love in San Fransisco.
With cultural superstars like John Lennon and Joan Baez at the helm, there was no stopping the counter cultural movement that inspired a generation to value holding hands and hanging out over throwing bombs, while slogans like Make Love Not War and Give Peace A Chance became part of the cultural vernacular.
Yes We Can
Barack Obama 2008 US Presidential Campaign.
These three little words inspired more art, videos, and political action than the United States has seen in a long time. And when the dust settled in November 2008, an African American man was holding the most powerful seat in the political universe.
It is a far cry from the Jim Crow world of the back-of-the-bus riders of 50 years before. And while we still have a long way to go as far as race relations are concerned, not to mention the political and economic future of this country, the election of Barack Obama gave hope to many who thought that they had none left, and engaged a population in the democratic process that they had all but given up on.
Give Me Liberty Or Give Me Death
The American Revolution, 1776 – 84.
While addressing the Virginia Convention of 1775, in an effort to gain support for arming the militias against British troops and, in effect, to begin the American revolution, Patrick Henry spoke these famous words: “Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!” after which the whole convention erupted in shouts of that now famous phrase, and the war was on.
The rest, needless to say, is history.
Ein Volk, Ein Reich, Ein Führer (One People, One Empire, One Leader)
The Rise And Fall Of The Third Reich In Germany, World War II, 1939 – 45.
Of course, stirring phrases have not been used only to promote goodness and light. Perhaps one of the most famous leaders in modern history, Adolf Hitler, used propaganda, rousing speech, and plain old brute force to come closer to taking over the world (cue: maniacal laughter) than anyone else in modern history. And he almost wiped out an entire ethnic group while he was at it.
The western world is still reeling from this massive force of destruction.
Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité (Liberty, Equality, Fraternity)
The French Revolution, 1788 – 1804.
The three simple yet profound words that would eventually become the national motto of the French Republic began as just one of many slogans tossed about in the tumult of the French Revolution. Lady Liberty was a favorite icon and, inspired by the Americans just a few decades before, the idea of equal rights under the law was a concept whose time had come.
The Revolution itself marked the beginning of a new era in the old world and signifies the victory of democracy over tyranny, of capitalism over feudalism and of the modern state over absolutism.
Which ain’t nothing to sneeze at…
Workers Of The World, Unite!
The Communist Manifesto, Germany, 1848.
The Communist Manifesto, by Karl Marx and Frederick Engles, is generally considered to be one of the world’s most influential political documents. It begins with a simple declaration: “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles,” and ends with a rallying cry that can still be heard around the world today: “Workers of the world, unite!” Spurred on by this political philosophy, Russia became the USSR, and the capitalist world lived in constant fear of the red menace crouching behind the iron curtain.
While Communism as a form of government seems to be fading from the modern political landscape, the tension between the haves and the have-nots continues to motivate political action and unrest all over the world.
Just ask the 99%.
Free Nelson Mandela
Free Nelson Mandela, United Kingdom, 1984.
This song, originally written and performed by The Special AKA in 1984, became the anthem for the anti Apartheid movement and has since become one of the worlds most well known (and upbeat) protest songs.
Nelson Mandela, the South African visionary and revolutionary about whom the song was written, was released from prison in 1990 and, four years later, became the first black president of South Africa, ending almost five decades of the oppressively racist and separatist Apartheid rule.
What are the slogans that have gotten you up off your couch and into the streets? Or are there any? We’d love to hear what you all are thinking about so drop us a line in the comments!