COM 377
Assignment 2
For this assignment, you need to read both of the week’s assigned texts. Once you have done so,
please address the following prompts in a word document. These prompts will help you comprehend
and synthesize your readings. Rather than seeking right or wrong answers, you should aim to
demonstrate your reading comprehension, critical thinking, self-reflection, and, of course, high-caliber
writing skills.
Each response should be approximately one paragraph (about 100-300 words) and you should refer
to the texts as necessary, citing in-text with the author’s last name. You may be tempted to
extensively quote the readings, but do your best to offer concise, summative responses that capture
the authors’ overall meanings in synthesis with your own interpretations.
1. Both of these case studies use a rhetorical lens to study a particular event within a social
movement. How does each case define social movements? How does each case define
rhetoric? Note that there are not necessarily explicit or straighforward answers spelled out in
these chapters; to some extent, you will need to interpret and summarize the authors’
2. In each case, what were the rhetorical tactics or strategies exercised? How were these tactics
effective or ineffective?
3. Izaguirre and Cisneros (chapter 2) aim to “disrupt the oversimplications of the march as a
rhetorical tactic.” What are the three characteristics they say contribute to the complexity of
this rhetorical strategy?
4. What does Johnson (chapter 6) say were the effects of the “confrontational rhetoric” of the
5. These case studies highlight some different ways of thinking about rhetoric. Did these
depictions challenge or affirm your previous ways of thinking about rhetoric? How so?
6. What did you find interesting about one or both of these case studies?
Chapter 2
The Assembling of a March
When the cadre of roughly 200 men, women, and children began the nearly 300-mile march to
Sacramento on March 17, 1966, in the name of the farm workers’ cause, the “pilgrims” were tapping
into and adapting a long-standing tradition of marching in social movement rhetoric. César Chávez,
President of the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA), spoke to this tradition when he wrote in
a letter to sympathizers that the farm workers’ march from Delano represented a
meeting of cultures and traditions; the centuries-old religious tradition of Spanish culture conjoins with
the very contemporary cultural syndrome of ‘demonstration’ springing from the spontaneity of the
poor, the down-trodden, the rejected, the discriminated-against baring visibly their need and demand
for equality and freedom.
(Chávez 1966)
Chávez’s letter articulated a complex and intersectional perspective on the march that he hoped
would increase its persuasive appeal. The march from Delano, the movement’s headquarters, to
Sacramento, the state capital, was envisioned as something between a civil rights march
(“demonstration”) and a religious pilgrimage (in the “centuries-old tradition of Spanish culture”).
True to this framing by Chávez, farm workers carried a variety of different objects with them as they
made their “pilgrimage” across California. Marchers carried a banner of La Virgen de Guadalupe at
the head of the procession as well as other meaningful items, both sacred and secular, both symbolic
and instrumental. “One man carried a large wooden cross,” wrote Frank Bardacke (2012: 283),
another [carried] a Star of David, and one hosted an oversized photograph of Emiliano Zapata. Once
on the road, the pilgrims either walked together in small groups or spread out single file, their flags
and banners making a dramatic silhouette against the blue and cloudless Central Valley sky. A small
fleet of cars and trucks followed: a lunch wagon, a flatbed truck for evening rallies, various vehicles to
carry supplies or give rides to the sick, injured or exhausted, a press truck and finally, a portable toilet
nicknamed “The Mayflower.”
Support and publicity increased with each step; on their journey, farm workers stopped in dozens of
towns to hold rallies and celebrate Catholic mass, and they received aid and support from those
sympathetic to their cause. Marchers might have suffered injury, blistered feet, and sore muscles
(Levy 1975: 207), but the multiplicity of races and religious denominations coming together to
reinforce the movement (in a figurative and literal sense) demonstrated the emerging appeal of the
farm workers’ journey (Davies 1966). By the time they reached Sacramento on Easter Sunday, with
about 8000 waiting to attend the final celebratory rally (“Protest March Stirs Up New Boycott, Wine
Grower to Talk Union” 1966), the farm workers were ready to tackle their next boycott target: Di
Giorgio Corporations.
The pilgrimage typified the movement’s robust, multimodal, and “intersectional” (Wanzer-Serrano
2006) rhetoric in both focus and form, emerging from the energy and tumult of NFWA’s recently
launched grape boycott and strike, yet assembled and composed as a rhetorical impetus for changing
the social and political conditions of farm labor in California. The march was rhetorical movement that
crossed space(s) and time(s). Indeed, the march’s status as a rhetorical performance (a march) and
as an act of composition (to march) illuminates the link between this particular, rhetorical act of
mobility and the rhetoric of social movements more broadly. Although it certainly appeared to have
certain hard and fast boundaries (i.e., a beginning and ending destination) as well as symbolic
dimensions (i.e., naming it a “peregrinación” instead of a “protest” march), each of which came
together in conscious (as in Chávez’s letter) and unconscious ways, analyzing the rhetoric of the farm
workers’ march across California escapes the boundaries of any one of these discrete lenses.
Following Nathan Crick’s definition (see his “Introduction”), we view a social movement as a
networked assemblage arising in response to shifts and changes in a social ecology that is always
and already in flux. A movement, consequently, is always and already immanent, emerging out of
social networks to form new “social assemblages” over time. Social actors, already connected to other
actors in some way, form new relationships with others as they congregate and form a “movement.”
Social motion supplies the potential energy for movement. At the same time, the precise moment at
which movement might become discernible within the social fabric is indeterminable, contingent, and
circumstantial. A movement, therefore, is always and already imminent as well. A “movement” is
always on the cusp of emerging, as a constitutive feature of a lively, active, and energetic social life.
As social actors experience life together or even in loose associations with one another, a multiplicity
of factors might encourage the formation of a movement (e.g., a pothole in need of filling on a busy
neighborhood street or an incident of police brutality).
Nevertheless, it is the inventive work of agents that infuses visibility, purpose, and pragmatic force into
social motion to make movement manifest. Viewed in this sense, a movement becomes eminent as
rhetorical actions intervene in the social ecology, fashioning social motions into discernible,
meaningful forms. Movement is composed and tactically construed, a product of agents and situations
that, whether separately or corporately, assemble and thus invent coordinated movement from
(within) the social motion always and already occurring (Edbauer 2005). There might be a latent
concern about safety in a neighborhood, for example, but it is a turn toward rhetorical actions that
makes that concern visible to and for others, and it is through rhetorical interventions that the
ramifications of a lack of safety on individual actions can be made known. A social movement then is
influenced by and construed as an influential force by rhetorical acts, working within and against
social conditions.
Bodies amassed in public space, chanting, holding signs, and collective movement from one location
to another, the march is perhaps the most iconic rhetorical act performed in social movements. And
yet, even taking into account the added complexity of social movement we have outlined previously,
the rhetorical nature of a tactic as quotidian as a march can often be overlooked because of its
semblance to the social motion that induces its emergence. Recognizing the complexity inhering in
the march, we suggest, requires viewing it from a more expansive point of view, one in which
“discourse” or “symbols” are simply a part of a broader rhetorical moment fueled by social energy. The
term we use to capture this complexity is to say that the march is eventful, a conceptual approach we
use to “highlight the fact that rhetoric always thrives in a certain eventful environment whose totality is
always beyond our powers of representation, an environment in which events are surprising,
unanticipatable, and always entail a reversal of a relationship of forces” (Crick 2014: 254). As we
describe in the following, approaching the rhetoric of the march—and that of social movements more
broadly—as an event allows scholars to assess the contributions of a variety of different subjects and
objects to a tactic’s composition, appeal, and configuration. Doing so encourages methodological
reexaminations about how and what features of a “march” might be necessary for capturing the
“rhetorical” in “social movement rhetoric,” particularly in perennial tactics used in social movement
contexts such as a march. Our approach encourages scholars of movement rhetoric to recognize the
complex interplay between what is “social” about “movement rhetoric” and what is “rhetorical” about
“social movement.”
In this chapter, we analyze the rhetorical tactic of the march through a closer study of the 1966 farm
workers’ march from Delano to Sacramento, an inaugural and one of the most iconic marches of the
Chicanx movement of the 1960s and 1970s. Although borne out of unique circumstances and social
forces throughout their respective histories, Chicanx and Latinx movements have consistently
deployed the march to mitigate political weaknesses and affirm their political identities—from the
farmworkers’ “pilgrimage” march from Delano to Sacramento in 1966, led by César Chávez, to the
2006 “Great March” of over a million people (many Latinxs and Latinx immigrants), marching in
downtown Los Angeles in opposition to proposed restrictive immigration legislation. Through a
consideration of one of these marches, this chapter invites further reflection on the tactic of “the
march” and its bearing on the concept of a “social movement.” We argue that understanding the
material nature of the march as both event (a march) and tactic (to march) reframes our
understanding of the rhetoric of social movements more broadly. A march is an assemblage of
bodies, behaviors, affects, objects, texts, and forms of movement that makes demands, performs
publicity/presence, composes a collective body politic, and enacts transformation. Furthermore, the
material rhetoric of the march as tactic underscores the duality of social movement as eventful,
because marches assemble and redirect ongoing social motion into a transformative rhetorical event.
In short, the march illuminates the rhetorical assembling of social, political, and rhetorical forces
inducing the manifestation of movement but is inseparable from the immanent social motion that it
harnesses and channels. In examining the farm workers’ march as a process and product of rhetorical
intervention, we hope also to demonstrate how the eventfulness of the march calls for an adjustment
of the concept of social movement itself. Thus, our chapter has two interlocking yet distinct purposes.
We put into focus the complexity of a common tactic to social movements, whose rhetoric on the
surface appears to be self-evidential. However, we also deploy that renewed and more complex
perspective on a quintessential social movement tactic to exhibit a fresh way of approaching social
movement rhetoric itself.
In what follows, we first explain the rhetoricity of the march, as an assembly of individuals (and other
elements) engaged in collective motion, and we draw out its relationship to social movement more
broadly. The concept of a march historically has been linked to social movements since the
eighteenth century, and the march’s use as a tactic in political action(s) underlines its link to its
movement making capacity within a social fabric always and already in motion. Taking into account
the rhetorical character of a march, we then discuss the farm workers’ march (or peregrinación) to
Sacramento in 1966. We show how our understanding of this iconic march is expanded through a
more robust understanding of the rhetoric of the march. Finally, we conclude by discussing how our
chapter problematizes and intervenes in rhetorical analyses of social movement rhetoric.
The march is a familiar topic of study to scholars of social movement rhetorics. Most commonly, the
march is approached as a rhetorical discourse, or what we might call text or artifact, which is analyzed
for its symbolic, performative, and consummatory dimensions (e.g., Cisneros 2011; Pezzullo 2003). In
other cases, rhetorical scholars consider marches as fragments within a broader effort to trace social
movement(s) over time (e.g., “the movement of meaning,” see Condit and Lucaites 1993; DeLuca
1999; McGee 1980). Rather than view the march solely as instrumental to or symptomatic of social
movement(s) as such, our goal in this section is to analyze the rhetorical, materialist nature of the
march qua movement. Contra Christina Foust’s (2017) claim that “rhetoric (with or without a
phenomenal movement) moves the social” (60), we understand the march as a vivid exhibition of the
materialist aspects of rhetoric both in form (e.g., corporeality, affect, sensation, physical motion) and
in its manifestations (e.g., posters, megaphones, banners). Understanding the march as a rhetoric,
therefore, is a crucial entrée into thinking of social movements as ecological and eventful, as both
transformative and expressive of social motion. In doing so, we argue that the nature of the march as
material rhetoric parallels the broader nature of social movement rhetoric itself.
The history of the march as a social movement tactic is intertwined with the historical development of
social movements as we have come to know and study them (Tilly and Wood 2013). The word
“march” comes from the middle French marcher, conveying that the notion of march is always and
already constituted by the movement of actors in measured and rhythmic ways. Associated with
military marching, corporate marching has appeared in (what we might today describe as) social
movement contexts since the eighteenth century. For example, social movement theorists Charles
Tilly and Lesley Wood refer to marches as a movement tactic performed in England by the supporters
of John Wilkes, the controversial eighteenth-century newspaper editor, agitator, and free speech
advocate. In 1768, over the course of just one month during which Wilkes was being prosecuted for
his subversion, agitators assembled to block a “passing carriage and force[d] the occupants to shout
‘Wilkes and Liberty!’ ” They then joined Wilkes in his own march “up the Stand and across
Westminster Bridge on his way to prison,” where he turned himself in (Tilly and Wood 2013: 16–17).
Demonstrating a steady and deliberate performance of collective movement, the march seems to
have always been a political and socially important tactic of collective action.
As this etymology suggests, the rhetoricity of a march emerges from the fact that it is an assembly (of
bodies, texts, affects, and objects) put into collective motion to create social movement visible to
publics. Recent studies have noted how the word assembly has a rich resonance in social movement
contexts (e.g., Butler 2015; Hardt and Negri 2017). This notion of the march as “assembly” that we
work from in this chapter resonates with the theoretical concept of the “assemblage” in new
materialism, which is used to describe both product and process of composition consisting of “lines
and speeds,” movement, affects, and objects that are “always coming together and moving apart”
(Wise 2012: 79). While conceptual links between “assembly” and “march” might seem self-evident, we
argue that the rhetorical nature of the march is brought to light when we recognize that marching
assembles, provokes, channels, and gives purposive meaning and form to social motions that
otherwise appear stagnant, sedimented, and stochastic. Marching involves an assemblage of bodies
moving, stopping, straddling or hobbling, interrupting space, agitating through sight and sound. While
none of these “movements” are extraordinary in and of themselves, because they occur frequently as
society churns daily, the application of coordination and form in the action of marching distinguishes
the march as a discernible “eventful” moment that is at once recognizable and unlocatable, visible yet
not firmly defined. To march is to assemble and put into motion people, objects, affects, behaviors,
and texts—diverse in form, content, and purposes—that are constitutive of the motions of collective
life in a social world.
This materialist sense of the march as a mobile assemblage engaged in literal “movement” hearkens
back to the “old” materialism of nineteenth-century sociological works, such as those by Lorenz von
Stein. For Von Stein (1964), whom many credit with coining the term, “social movement” was more
than an analogue for asserting claims or political resistance. Because “life is motion” at the level of the
individual and of the society, he argued, “social movement” was an expression of and intervention into
a dynamic interplay between “social motion” and “social order” (51). Building on this notion, Thomas
Nail (2015) explained that social movement is “defined by a continuous or free oscillation outside the
limits of the dominant regime of social motion,” adding that “social movement is always trying to move
freely in a continuous oscillation, detaching form the state, while the state is always trying to subdue
this motion into its own regime” (158–159). Although Nail usefully draws attention to the mobility
baked into the concept of social movement, we want to move past the dichotomy of mobility and
immobility that marches imply (i.e., to march or not) and underscore instead that the transformation of
social motion into movement involves rhetorical processes of invention that reconfigure social motions
for visible and practical effect(s). Without social motion, there could be no social movement. But, in
the use of strategic forms of mobility (or agitation) and immobility (interruption, occupation), rhetoric
converts social motion into “social movement.” Rhetoric transforms the immanence and imminence of
social motion into an eminent form. From social motion, social movement is born. The midwife is
Thus far we have emphasized the relationship between social motion and social movement. This
relationship, however, suggests an additional way to conceptualize the march as “social movement
rhetoric.” That is to say, the march is not only an effect of rhetorical intervention; the march also
constitutes a locus of rhetorical invention. Even after the physical movement of an assembled group
ceases, this rhetorical tactic in particular invites further rhetorical interventions. Marches assemble
bodies, but they also pull in objects (e.g., posters, megaphones), affects (e.g., rage, joy), behaviors
(e.g., chanting, drumming, yelling), and textual fragments (e.g., pamphlets, banners) into a discernible
rhetorical “situation.” The use of the language of assemblage here refers not just to the final product of
a march—a collectivity on the move—but to the active rhetorical process of composition involved in
marching, “the process of arranging and organizing heterogeneous materials to hold together for
some time and create new actions” (Müller 2015: 414). A march is an “intersectional rhetoric” in this
sense: a multi-modal combination of verbal, visual, embodied, and performative rhetorics, which
“intersect organically to create something challenging to rhetorical norms” (Wanzer-Serrano 2006:
191). Admittedly, there is a tendency among some theorists to read intersectionality and assemblage
as competing perspectives for understanding the production of identity categories and material
experiences of oppression (Puar 2007, 2012). However, we use the concepts “assemblage” and
“intersectional” here to evoke an anti-essentialist and fluid understanding of rhetoric that is attuned to
complexity, dynamism, materiality, and “interactionality” (Chávez 2013: 58). The rhetoric of a march
inheres in the purposive assemblage and interaction of rhetorical performances it induces, all of which
cohere into an aggregate of integrated, embodied, and sensorial rhetorical performances. The march
appears as an effect and expression of rhetorical movement; in turn, the march induces rhetorical
movement as well.
Viewed processually, this rhetorical transformation made possible in the march underscores its
political resonance as an assembling event. Communication scholars have used the concept of
“assemblage”—drawn from the process philosophy of Gilles Deleuze as well as critical ethnic studies
and queer scholars like Jasbir Puar—to describe communication technologies, governmental rhetoric,
or the power of social space and mobilities (Crofts Wiley, Sutko, and Becerra 2010; Packer and Crofts
Wiley 2012; Keremidchieva 2013; Rowland and Simonson 2014). We use the term “assemblage” to
describe the march as both the product and process of drawing together heterogeneous elements into
a collective body that expresses particular characters and performs particular functions within the
social fabric from which it stems (Slack 2012). As with Wilkes’ eighteenth-century English supporters,
the social movement march engages mobility and immobility (stasis and motion, interrupting space,
causing agitation) instrumentally and as a consummation of rhetorical intervention(s). The march’s
movement—bodies assembled, marching and stopping, shouting and chanting—not only provides
form to political claims (see the following) but, more fundamentally, it assembles and creates an
appeal in the assembly. As Judith Butler (2015) writes, an “assembly is already speaking before it
utters any words” (156, emphasis in original). In other words, a march is not only a claim (or
assemblage of claims) on behalf of specific assembled bodies; it is also a performance of a collective
body and a collective life, which includes diverse bodies from across the social fabric. The march
contests imagined presumptions about the “body politic” that exist in day-to-day (inter)actions, whose
bodies count and whose do not, who can participate in political life and who cannot. In the
assemblage of bodies moving through and inhabiting space(s), marches puncture an apparent
equilibrium across spaces and times through an unruly yet marked collective movement that makes
perceptible and sensible forms of becoming and movement otherwise unrecognizable (what Rancière
[2001] would call a moment of politics). The performance of the march need not assume a finished,
final, or predictable form but, in the rhetorical act of marching, the performance brings into being the
social body for which it speaks as well as the implements used in the speaking.
In this respect, the march is a process of rhetorical composition, “an event of embodied technique”
that is “concerned less with attitude … and more with its potential as a practice to mobilize social
bodies” (May 2013: 8, 19). The march is more than an “event” or “thing done” in this sense; it is a
doing, a process of making, and a method (Madison and Hamera 2006), which again evokes the
double usage of march discussed previously (a march and to march) and also the inventiveness of
rhetorical action on what might otherwise appear to be entropic features within the social fabric. Thus,
the rhetoric of the march is intersectional not only in an instrumental sense but also in the ways in
which the march makes manifest the broad range of collectivity, a “people” and the multiplicity of
values, interests, and concerns. Indeed, marches continue to move long after their termination,
through circulation and trans/remediation, which in turn illuminates how marches continue to
assemble intersecting interests and identities, mobilize claims and demands, and generate
rhetorical/social motions that are pivotal for the fabrication of social movement and social movement
In this section, we have delved into the rhetoricity of the march as a quintessential rhetorical tactic of
(a) social movement. We have argued that the rhetoricity of the march is analogous to the rhetoric of
social movement(s). The march is a rhetorical assembly engaged in collective social motion that is
eventful. Like social movement itself, marching applies purposive (which is to say rhetorical) force to
immanent motions of collective life in a way that asserts presence, makes instrumental claims, and
enacts a form of collective life. In other words, the march literally makes visible and performs
processes of social movement becoming. The march is an exemplification of the broader rhetoric of
social movement because of its literal, material forms and because of its multivalent, performative
purposes. This robust and multimodal understanding of the rhetoric of the march, we suggest, helps
scholars and students to understand social movement rhetoric in general. In the next section, we
return to the 1966 farm workers’ march, or “peregrinación,” from Delano to Sacramento, an iconic
event in the broader Chicanx social movement of the time, to illustrate and extend this account of the
rhetoricity of the march. We show that this more robust understanding of the rhetoricity of the march
challenges and extends previous scholarly accounts of the farm workers’ pilgrimage.
Because of its central role in the Chicanx mobilizations of the 1960s and 1970s, the 1966 farm
workers’ movement has been analyzed in a number of ways. Mirroring the discursive and contextual
approaches to “social movement” described previously, these understandings and assessments of the
farm workers’ rhetoric tend to gloss over the significance and rhetorical nature of the pilgrimage’s
literal “movement.” From a contextual point of view, scholars analyzing rhetorics associated with the
farm workers’ movement focus on the increased social and political support the movement received
during the 1966 march as the key element that lifted the movement to its success in the later 1960s.
From this vantage point, their 1966 march must be understood within its broader movement context,
because, without this added support (which had eluded farm workers’ resistance prior to the 1960s),
the farm workers’ mobilization—including their literal movement in the march and boycott—would
have likely dissipated shortly after its rise (Jenkins and Perrow 1977). In contrast, a second way to
explain the success of the 1960s farm workers’ movement, the strategic view, primarily privileges the
“rhetorical” work of movement actors and leaders. Marshall Ganz (2000), a former farm workers’
activist turned academic, argued that the bringing together of diverse and varied leadership
contributed to the “strategic capacity” of the movement, which in turn resourced the 1960s movement
in unique and formidable ways. From this angle, the textual contributions of movement actors take
precedence (Hammerback and Jensen 1998; Sowards 2012). Both points of view enable scholars to
make sense of the march as a rhetorical event, but, in the latter case, greater significance is given to
the rhetorical/textual productions of the movement’s leaders, and, in the former, the broader context
(e.g., institutional backing) are the primary objects of analysis. Both contextual and strategic
approaches to the farm workers’ movement posit different deus ex machina lying either outside the
farm workers’ movement or within it.
The farm workers’ “peregrinación” from Delano to Sacramento in 1966, however, had no single origin,
motive force, or performative mode, and while it might have had a starting location, time,
predetermined route, and final destination, the pilgrimage’s rhetorical lineaments extended well
beyond these single points. Attending to the rhetoric of the “peregrinación,” the farm workers’ march
typified an interanimation of agencies, motivations, affects, grievances, and novice and expert
activists, none of which were the sole energizing force behind the success of the farm workers’
movement but all of which preceded, were co-occurring, or radiated from the farm workers’ protest
journey. The farm workers’ “movement” emerged in events, tactically and socially performed, within a
social fabric in flux, which the farm workers’ journey exemplified concretely (Izaguirre 2020). The
approach to the farm workers’ march we offer here puts into view how the march made manifest the
intersections and assemblage of (1) the social and political forces inducing the formation of a “farm
workers” movement in a nominal sense, (2) the multi-modal expressions constituting the farm
workers’ movement in an actional sense in the form of tactics, and (3) the material and immaterial
composition of the farm workers’ appeals.
By the time leaders in the NFWA decided to perform a march from Delano to Sacramento, California,
in the spring of 1966, farm workers had already been energized by both oppressive and favorable
circumstances. On the one hand, depressed wages, dilapidated housing, racial oppression, and
political weakness were all social ills that motivated farm workers to come together to air their
grievances. Each of these weighed on farm workers as a marginalized social group, intersecting in the
farm workers’ experience laboring for agribusiness in California. On the other hand, workers had been
on strike for nearly six months by the time of the march in early spring 1966. New partnerships were
being formed between farm workers, as the NFWA joined the Filipino-led Agricultural Workers
Organizing Committee in their strike and merged with them organizationally to amplify their collective
powers (Nelson 1966). The conclusion of the Bracero (Mexican migrant labor) program in 1964, which
assured growers that they would always have a consistent stream of farm hands, compounded the
impact of the farm workers’ agitation. Moreover, the farm workers’ grape boycott magnified the
economic pressures of the strike (Garcia 2013), which drew the attention of the Senate’s Migratory
subcommittee and other sympathetic Senators (e.g., Robert F. Kennedy). With the support of activists
associated with the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, the Student Committee for
Agricultural Labor, and Citizens for Farm Labor, as well as the public’s participation in the boycott, a
definable assembly in support of the farm workers had already been forming up to the deployment of
the march. The confluence of these negative and positive forces showcased social motion around
farm worker concerns.
Marching created more tensile physical lineaments within the social fabric in California and beyond.
Although the march had symbolic and pragmatic force to be sure, the conversion of social motion into
physical, kinetic energy illuminates the assembling capacity of the march as rhetoric. That decision in
and of itself reached through assembling opinions and voices and democratic negotiation among the
members (Levy 1975) directed the farm workers’ ongoing agitation both symbolically and materially
toward the state capital (where Governor Brown could intervene in their behalf) and into the public
sphere (where public opinion could calcify against the growers); at the same time, it did so through the
framing of a Catholic religious pilgrimage and civil rights march, which composed the very unique
body politic of the farm workers’ movement into a body of marchers, pilgrims who walked physically
along a route. The march, after all, required at the least bipedal movement in concert with others.
Without the presence of multiple walkers, there could be no march. Chávez, the accepted leader of
the movement, was prevented from walking the full route because he injured an ankle during the
march (Levy 1975), but even without him, the march continued because there were others who did.
Moreover, the march also called forth physical resistance, as police officers in Delano tried delaying
the beginning of the march because of the lack of a parade permit—a physical document authorizing
their movement (Bernstein 1966).
Just as important as the physical motion of the protestors, the march induced a broad range of
physical activities that, while performatively valuable in function, reinforced the transformation of
social motion into social movement. Marchers, as Chicana/o historian Luis León (2007) describes,
were initiated by rituals, which involved listening to dramatic readings of the farm workers’ manifesto
El Plan de Delano, participating in Eucharist ceremonies, and the singing of corridos or folk protest
songs. Skit performances by Luis Valdez’ Teatro Campesino valorized farm workers and vilified
opponents, and these performances required physical presence in the form of props, a stage, actors’
voices, and listening audiences (Ferris and Sandoval 1997: 108–112). The march was comprised of a
series of performative movements, discretely rhetorical, communal, and rhythmic, all of which,
assembled together, made manifest social energy in physical forms. These movements even made
socials ills visible physically. Indeed, it might better to describe the farm workers’ march as an
aggregating force. The march produced an assemblage of physical practices and performances that
converted motion into an event of collective social movement. Viewed in this sense, the physical and
performative aspects of the march were one in the same.
This intersection of the physical and performative dimensions gestures toward the multimodality
inhering in the eventfulness of the march’s composition. The march was productive of rhetorical
modalities, a site of multimodal rhetorical practices that, while analytically useful to examine
discretely, were not discretely packaged or even meaningful apart from the march. The eventfulness
of the march was constituted by an assemblage of rhetorical productions, each of which was
intersectional in its functions and forms. These assemblages were also appealing in their
constructions, inviting interactions from their physical environments. The symbols, for example, used
to publicize the farm workers’ march (like the NFWA’s black eagle, El Plan de Delano, and the Virgin
Mary) were all multi-modal in their delivery, oftentimes positioned together, despite apparently
disparate realms of meaning. As can be seen in the following photograph from an issue of the NFWAassociated newspaper El Malcriado: La Voz del Campesino—dated April 10, 1966, the “conclusion” of
the march—the banner, carried by a pilgrim in the background of the photograph, combines the
NFWA lettering, the Union logo (the black and red eagle design), and a prominent image of the Virgen
de Guadalupe. The banner literally assembled both the sacred and the secular, but it also combines a
visual rhetoric with a verbal rhetoric with a material rhetoric without acknowledging the limits of either.
All of them bleed into each other on the banner (Figure 2.1).
As this photo suggests, the rhetoric of the banner cannot be reduced to its symbols. Recognizing how
the banner interacts with its environment illuminates the eventfulness of the march as well. Although
the banner was a “thing” carried by a pilgrim (in a way similar to Christ carrying His cross on His
back), the perspective of the photograph implicates the banner as an object that ignites hostile
intentions. With a holstered gun, an officer of the state, a kind of Roman centurion, appears to oppose
the march through the threat of violence, as in the Christ narrative. The photograph, however, frames
this “stand-off” between the officer and the banner and not the “pilgrim.” This image, wittingly or
unwittingly, highlights how the banner, as part and parcel of a wider assemblage, with symbols
sutured together into a discernible “whole,” asserted its own presence during the march with its own
appeals. The banner invited contest, as it traveled across California on the backs of its pilgrims. It
garnered and harnessed its own rhetoric in this sense. And yet it is the assemblage of protestor and
banner that infuses this event with rhetorical force—one so menacing that it evokes the threat of
violent repression by the state. Viewed apart from the march, the banner qua object loses this
rhetorical salience. The rhetoric of the banner emerged in this moment.
As we see with the photograph of this banner, it would be reductionistic to view verbal and visual
rhetorics as separate forms of rhetoric rather than as constitutive of and constituted by the farm
workers’ pilgrimage. Media of various kinds, such as paper pamphlets, fabrics, moveable banners,
and, not surprisingly, bodies, circulated verbal and visual rhetorics together (e.g., dramatic readings of
El Plan de Delano). Rhetorical modes intersected with one another continuously during the trek to
Sacramento, which suggests that distinguishing any modality involved in the farm workers’
intersectional rhetorics is a fraught task and not easily resolved without rupturing the performance of
the whole. Studying the use of the icon of La Virgen de Guadalupe is a useful and valuable exercise,
for example, but without attending to its mediation (i.e., whether the Virgen was put on banners,
paper, candles, etc.) or its modality (i.e., visual, bodily), we risk flattening the rhetorical inventive work
constitutive of the march. The march was, in concrete ways, eventful, and supplied a site for an
intersectional social movement to become manifest.
This eventfulness is also evinced in the march’s inextricable link to corporeality and temporality. The
march was composed of and assembled by an array of material and inanimate bodies, each of which,
as claimed previously with respect to the banner, played a role in assembling the march as event. As
a rhetoric, the march drew together an indeterminate number of bodies, of diverse races, ages, and
genders, to walk corporately from Southern to Northern California. Senators, students, and activists
from all over the country assembled and marched together. This diversity comes from the energy of
the social fabric, subjectivities, physiques, and agencies that all were willing and able to come to
California and offer their own bodies to move over a three-week period. Each person’s step advanced
the movement of the assembled bodies spatially, advancing the group from one region of California to
another with each step, and while we might not be able to distinguish individual velocities of each
person’s steps, the march as event moved over time at a steady enough pace to assemble in
Sacramento on Easter Sunday 1966. Without the assembling power of the march, its capacity to
convert the potential energy of the social fabric into kinetic energy in the march, social motion would
have occurred but would not have been visible. The march as rhetoric, in a literal sense, would have
We cannot, of course, make more of the movement’s physicality than would be analytically useful.
However, that the march induced physical movement from Delano to the capital of California suggests
the need to consider how the march negotiated physicality in the display—a prominent negotiation in
Western histories of rhetoric as well (Hawhee 2004). No marcher, after all, walked 24 hours a day for
the three weeks. Nevertheless, the march as rhetoric transformed physical constraints into
opportunities to erupt the boundaries of the highway and transfigure mundane spaces into “march”
spaces. Pilgrims entered into homes at designated stops for rest and refreshment (Adair 2009: 4).
While at these stops, the quotidian spaces they inhabited became constitutive of the march’s route,
the people they interacted with were either supporters or opponents. And, in all this, the marchers
continued to be marchers. Taking into account how the march entails physicality keeps us from
conceiving of the march purely in linear terms or each marcher as robotically moving from place to
place, as if marchers never needed to visit bathroom facilities or sleep at night. The march can be
understood more rhizomatically in this sense, comprised of rhetorical “tendrils” that extended and
contracted as the event progressed forward in space and time. In these interruptions, these
transformations, the eventfulness of the march becomes even more pronounced. The march’s
capacity to transform the daily motions of the social fabric into social movement is seen in how it
negotiated the physical constraints and capacities of its “marchers.”
Attending to the corporeal nature of the march in this way, in turn, also allows us to see how the
rhetoric of the peregrinación was also constituted by the presence of inanimate objects that mediated
the movement’s eventfulness. Media, of course, form a crucial aspect of movements and can even
catalyze their emergence. Viewing a movement’s media from the perspective of eventfulness, we can
see how even mundane materials like papers, cups, candies, hats, megaphones, wooden planks in
picket signs, and plastics all compose the rhetoric of the march and its appeals. See Figures 2.2 and
2.3 from the same issue of El Malcriado dated for the conclusion of the march.
Although it might be tempting to discard the rhetorical use of the physical implements pictured, none
of these objects can be discounted when considering the rhetoric of the march. Each played a part in
sustaining the march’s eventfulness. Each candy distributed, cupped dipped into the bowl, hat on a
marcher, and pitcher used to pour water were all integral components to the march’s performance. Of
course, as we unpacked in our brief reading of the preceding photograph, this image highlights once
more the religious undertones that the objects made possible. In both images, we catch a glimpse of a
Eucharist ceremony in the Catholic tradition that also gave meaning to the Virgen de Guadalupe.
These inanimate objects do immeasurable rhetorical work in the march. Not only do they sustain the
physical capacities of the marchers, candies and refreshments constitute the symbolic world that the
march creates. Without any of these inanimate materials, as with marchers themselves, the march
could not be sustained, which means that without these sorts of objects to parlay into advancing the
movement of the march, the rhetoric of the movement would have dissipated. The rhetoric of the
march is material in a robust sense, physically and through the use of objects used that empower the
march’s eventfulness. It is in this kind of materialization that the rhetoric of the march came to life.
The march from Delano to Sacramento was movement rhetoric produced by the farm workers through
the assembly of heterogeneous bodies, texts, objects, and movements. The peregrinación, however,
became part of a broader social movement of the decade. As historian March Simon Rodriguez
(2015) explains, the farm workers’ march was pivotal for ensuing Chicanx activism in the latter half of
the decade,
Rodriguez’s insight demonstrates the broader point that, just as the farm workers’ march rhetorically
assembled and directed social motion into discrete and powerful social movement, the march itself
became a form of social motion that was both the impetus and resource for further rhetorics of social
movement by Chicanx actors. Although space limits a full consideration of the circulation and impact
of the 1966 farm workers’ march, this rhetorical event undeniably rippled throughout the ensuing
decade, creating waves of social motion that themselves spurred movement rhetorics.
This chapter has sought to explore the rhetoric of the march in and through one of the most iconic of
social movement marches, the 1966 pilgrimage from Delano to Sacramento led by the National Farm
Workers Association. Reconsidering the rhetoric of the peregrinación has not only nuanced our
understanding of the farm workers’ march but also has allowed us to add more theoretical weight to
the concept of the march, the most iconic of social movement tactics. Our reconceptualization of the
rhetoric of the march has pointed to a broader reconceptualization of the rhetoric of social
movement(s). In this conclusion, we trace each of these sets of insights through a review of some of
the chapter’s key arguments.
First, we have tried to disrupt oversimplifications of the march as a rhetorical tactic. Although a march
might, on the surface, appear mundane, we hope to have shown in our analysis its complexity on at
least three levels. First, marches make manifest social motion but are not reducible to it. Movement
might, indeed, be imminent but marches require rhetorical interventions to make that motion eminent.
That the farm workers’ march labeled as peregrinación puts in stark relief how rhetoric outlines what
otherwise might appear amorphous. Without rhetorical intervention, we suggest, there would be no
“march.” Second, marches are formed by an assemblage of material and inanimate subjects and
objects. Bodies in space (i.e., marchers or “pilgrims”), tools of amplification (e.g., posters, banners),
and objects of physical sustenance (e.g., candies, waters, toilets) all compose the march. Neglecting
their interactions or interplay radically reduces the rhetoric of the march to a point of unrecognizability.
In turn, the march itself composed a social body and social movement in a number of ways: through
the transformations it wrought on the farmworker communities and in the cultural and rhetorical
movement it spurred throughout the social agitation struggles of the 1960s. Finally, marches, though
discrete, are temporally and spatially diffuse. Although marches certainly have start times, stops, and
destinations, its reach went beyond a designated path from point A to point B. The marchers hoped to
walk from Delano to Sacramento, but they did not only walk from Delano to Sacramento. Indeed, the
fact that they traveled outside the path shows just how pliable and malleable the “march” can be.
Through this understanding of the rhetoric of the march, we have provided an invigorated
interpretation of one of the most iconic marches of the twentieth century. Recognizing the
eventfulness of the 1966 peregrinación helps us to understand both its artistry (in a rhetorical sense)
and the way the march is rooted in and transforms a material world of social motion into directed
social movement. Rather than see the march solely through the context in which it occurred or
through the strategic choices of its most visible leaders, our analysis has focused on the 1966 farm
workers’ march as a mobile assembly of bodies, behaviors, objects, texts, affects, and mobilities; we
have emphasized not only the multi-modality of the march, that is, as an intersectional rhetoric, but
also the ways that it engendered multiple forms of social movement (i.e., making claims, enacting
presence, and composing a collective body and way of life). Going beyond appreciations of the
context of the march or the rhetorical leadership of movement figures, our assessment of the march
has taken seriously its material forms and its act of assembling a host of bodies, discourses, affects,
and textual fragments. We have showed that the march was more than an instrumental appeal. The
march enacted social movement within and outside its communities of address and long after its
formal end in the spring of 1966. Our analysis, in short, has opened a window into a way to think of
social movement as neither text nor context but in a fuller, material sense (as is discussed by Crick in
this volume).
The rhetoric of social movement assembles and channels social motion into movement. Analyses of
marches, therefore, invite a recognition that social movement(s) consist(s) of a plethora of rhetorical
processes. Methodologically, this means that, at best, an analysis of a march, like ours in this chapter,
can only result in punctiliar assessments of a processual and evolving event. Any examination of the
rhetoric of a march, like an analysis of the rhetoric of social movement(s), entails bracketing out
rhetorical elements that feed into, undergird, and, quite possibly, induce itself. Whatever moment we
choose to “freeze” in our analysis will inevitably fail to capture elements that came into and out of
“frame” prior to, are co-occurring with, or precede after our frame of analysis, regardless of the
concepts we use to unearth the richness of our artifact. This, we would say, is ok. Our chapter only
humbly suggests that scholars accept and acknowledge this limitation, that we tune our attention to
finding a consistent aggregate of rhetorical elements that illuminate the intersectionality and appeal of
the march (or of social movement rhetoric more broadly) at any one time. Recognizing these limits on
our analyses enriches our understanding of the marches in particular and allows us to appreciate the
robust rhetorical work that goes into rhetorical crafting a “march.” And, in this sense, we position
ourselves as curators of a phenomenon that, in many instances, is used to capture attention. We
allow ourselves to attend to the many ways that the march speaks—even without words.
Chapter 6
Confrontational and Intersectional Rhetoric
Black Lives Matter and the Shutdown of the Hernando De Soto Bridge
Andre E. Johnson
On July 10, 2016, more than 1,000 people took to the Hernando DeSoto (I-40) bridge
connecting Arkansas and Tennessee in an act of mass civil disobedience to disrupt and shut
down traffic. These activists were protesting the killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile,
whose shootings by police officers caught on viral videos caused another round of trauma
and pain in the minds and bodies of African Americans. Television stations in Memphis broke
away from regularly scheduled programming to cover the protest. The local newspaper
provided live updates on its website, while other media outlets offered “live” coverage of the
event through social media.
While protesters celebrated their efforts at “shutting down” the I-40 bridge, city officials, on
the other hand, had a different view. While claiming that he understood the protesters’
frustrations and promising an open dialogue toward effecting change, Interim Police Director
Mike Rallings remarked that a “bridge shutdown was not the proper way to protest.” Claiming
to stand with the protesters, Rallings commented, “I don’t want us to shut down a bridge, I’m
with you; I’ll march with you. But we need to do it together; we need to have a dialogue, we
need not to be shutting down bridges” (Callahan).1
Shelby County Commissioner Terry Roland said that while he was “proud we didn’t have any
violence, a lot of those people weren’t even from Memphis, and they should not have blocked
the roads, especially a federal highway” (Woke, Memphis Flyer).2 Memphis Mayor Jim
Strickland, while appreciating the fact that the protest “remained peaceful,” cautioned that
“citizens must protest in a legal way. Stopping traffic on the interstate is not legal” (Woke,
Memphis Flyer).3 A day before the I-40 bridge takeover and protest shut down a major
highway, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed proclaimed, “We’re the home of Dr. Martin Luther King.
The only thing I ask is that they not take the freeways. Dr. King would never take a freeway”
When speaking of protest, many critics of direct social actions continue to use the “right
way”–“wrong way” dichotomy in policing activity. This dichotomy is especially applied by
critics when it comes to Black Lives Matter activists, including some well-meaning and
sympathetic supporters who police the movement’s strategies. Oprah Winfrey even
questioned if BLM had any leaders that could affect “real change” (Robertson, Oprah Says).5
Others such as Rev. Barbara Reynolds, who was active within the Civil Rights struggles of the
1960s, went even further in her essay published in the Washington Post (I Was a Civil Rights
Activist).6 She wrote: “baby boomers who drove the success of the civil rights movement
want to get behind Black Lives Matter, the group’s confrontational and divisive tactics make it
difficult.” She remembered that activists in the 1960s “confronted white mobs and police with
dignity and decorum, sometimes dressing in church clothes and kneeling in prayer during
protests to make a clear distinction between who was evil and who was good.” She further
wrote that activists in her generation were
trained in the tradition of Martin Luther King Jr., we were nonviolent activists who won hearts
by conveying respectability and changed laws by delivering a message of love and unity. BLM
seems intent on rejecting our proven methods. This movement is ignoring what our history
has taught.
Reynolds’ comments are instructive. While she wants to get behind the Black Lives Matter
movement, she speaks of the group’s “confrontational and divisive tactics” that hinder her
participation. In her mind, when she protested, they “confronted” those in opposition to their
cause with “dignity and decorum”—unlike Black Lives Matter protesters of today. By
mentioning their style of dress (church clothes) and their posture (kneeling in prayer),
Reynolds not only highlights that the body and its position within protest she finds credible,
but she also at the same time critiques BLM activists for not presenting their bodies in the
“right way.” Her mentioning of the body politics of her movement allies stands in stark
contrast to the tatted, no shirt, sagging jeans, loud and profane BLM activists. Reynolds also
connects her training with Martin Luther King Jr., who taught them the merit of “winning
hearts and minds” by demonstrating “respectability” as they protested. For her, that’s how
they were “able to change laws,” along with delivering messages of “love and unity.” In
contrast, BLM activists are not capitalizing on Reynolds’ and her allies’ hard work. For
Reynolds, the method to produce change is dressing nice, having the right posture, being
respectful, and providing rhetoric wrapped in love and unity. By not doing this, she argues,
BLM is “rejecting” their “proven methods” and “ignoring what our history has taught.”
However well-meaning that Reynolds and those who think like her, these historical
descriptions are just not accurate. Instead of rejecting the “proven methods” and the “history”
of the Civil Rights movement as Reynolds suggests, BLM participants understand and
articulate “their movement in their own times similarly to past Black liberation movements”
(Edgar and Johnson, 3).8 Moreover, BLM activists, I argue, despite their contestations to the
contrary, are participants in the tradition of Martin Luther King Jr. While they reject Reynolds’s
notion of respectability, BLM is made up of nonviolent activists whose aim is also to change
laws. Therefore, instead of “ignoring the history,” BLM seems intent on taking what is best
from that history and implementing that in their place and time. One way they do this is that
BLM practices a confrontational rhetoric.
While the movement is confrontational, BLM activists also participate in intersectional rhetoric
that squarely fits within the Black Liberationist tradition. Moreover, this method of
confrontation and intersectional rhetoric also follows the mandate of King, who, in the last
year of his life, called for this type of action. I attempt to demonstrate this by examining the
July 10, 2016, protest in Memphis, Tennessee, that led to more than 1,000 citizens shutting
down the I-40 (Hernando-De Soto) bridge that connects Arkansas and Tennessee. While
Sterling’s and Castile’s murders were at the forefront of the protest, the atrocities and
injustices that happen daily in Memphis electrified the air on the bridge as well.
I divide this chapter into two parts. In the first part, I examine the rhetorical form of
confrontation as applied to social movements by drawing heavily from the work of Robert S.
Cathcart. For Cathcart, it is “confrontation that gives social movements their special place as
noninstitutionalized, illegitimate collectives.” He writes, “It is the rhetoric of confrontation that
produces the counter-rhetoric which in turn produces the awareness of a social movement”
(73).9 Second, I turn my attention to Black Lives Matter as a social movement. As we note in
our study of BLM proponents, “despite the critique that proponents of BLM do not have a
platform that includes goals and demands, BLM proponents continue to offer goals and
demands” (Edgar and Johnson, 17).10 The Vision for Black Lives is by far the most precise
understanding of the goals of BLM. Drawing from the Black Panther Party’s Ten Point Plan in
1967 and the Black Radical Congress’ Freedom Agenda in 1998, Dani McClain notes that
BLM’s Vision “emphasizes the movement’s independence from party politics and its desire to
prioritize solutions that address root causes over the incremental or bipartisan proposals
more likely to win a presidential candidate’s support or move through an obstructionist
Congress” (McClain).11
In the second part of the chapter, I examine the action on the bridge. I do this in two different
ways. First, by way of reviewing media accounts of the direct social action, I attempt to tell a
narrative of what happened that evening. Second, drawing from the Facebook Live video I
took, I examine the march that occurred after protesters left the bridge. Not covered by the
media as much as the bridge shutdown, I argue that the march is important to share because it
symbolized for most protesters a reclamation of agency (Enck-Wanzer).12 In short, many
people felt as if “they did something that night.” They felt empowered. Many celebrated the
fact that the protest was “peaceful” in that police did not arrest anyone, but more importantly,
police did not kill anyone that night either.
The Rhetoric of Confrontation
Traditionally, the study of rhetoric has been concerned with establishing good order, civility,
decorum, and persuasion. However, with the seemly breakdown of order and decorum during
the turmoil of the 1960s, several rhetoric scholars began to examine the idea of confrontation
in the study of rhetoric. One of the first studies was Robert L. Scott and Donald K. Smith’s
“Rhetoric of Confrontation.” In their essay, they argued that scholars needed a “broader base
for rhetorical theory” for the times in which they lived. They called for rhetoric scholars to
“read the rhetoric of confrontation, seek understanding of its presuppositions, tactics, and
purposes, and seek placement of its claim against a just accounting of the presuppositions
and claims of our tradition” (8).13
While some scholars took the call seriously from Scott and Smith to study the rhetoric of
confrontation (Heath; Ritter),14 one scholar took a different approach to social movement
theory and the rhetoric that helped explained them. In his essay, “Movements: Confrontation
as Rhetorical Form,”15 Robert S. Cathcart argued that there are two different forms of rhetoric
and rhetorical acts used in movements. The first one he calls managerial, which includes
“rhetorical acts which by their form uphold and re-enforce the established order or system.”
For Cathcart, these rhetorics keep the existing system viable: they do not question underlying
epistemology and group ethic. In his research on social movements within the then existing
literature, he argues that much of it calls for an “adjustment to the existing order.” He writes
that managerial rhetoric “is primarily concerned with adjusting the existing order not rejecting
it.” Further, he writes about this type of movement:
[It] stays inside the value structures of its existing order and speaks with the same
vocabularies as do the conservation elements in the order. The reform must not seem to be a
threat to the very existence of the established order, or the reformers may be forced out of the
common value system. The reform movement uses managerial rhetoric because to some
degree it must have a modus vivendi with those in power if it is to exist.
The second form of rhetoric and rhetorical acts used in movements, according to Cathcart, is
confrontation. Seeing movements as “ritual conflict,” Cathcart defines confrontation as the
“symbolic display acted out when one is in the throes of agony” (362–363).17 Arguing that
confrontation contains the rhetoric of “corrosion” and “impiety,” Cathcart asserts that the
“dramatic enactment of this rhetoric reveals persons who have become so alienated that they
reject ‘the mystery’ and cease to identify with the prevailing hierarchy” (366).18 He further
asserts that “through confrontation, the seekers of change (the victims) experience a
conversion wherein they recognize their own guilt, transcend the faulty order, and acquire a
new perspective” (367).19 Confrontation is not, as Cathcart reminds us, “an act of violence per
se; nor is it a method of warfare. Rather it is a symbolic enactment which dramatizes the
complete alienation of the confronter.” Further, he writes:
As a rhetorical act it is more consummatory than instrumental. It takes the form which
prevents the receiver from construing its meaning as an expression of personal
dissatisfaction or as a prod toward more rapid responses to grievances. Confrontation
demands a response that goes beyond that actions of confrontation itself. It is a dramatization
created by the force juxtaposing of two agents, one standing for the evil erroneous system
and the other upholding the new or “perfect” order.
I argue that it is this confrontational rhetoric that gives Black Lives Matter “its identity, its
substance, and its form” because, according to Cathcart, “no movement for radical change
can be taken seriously without acts of confrontation” (370).21 The BLM movement uses the
rhetoric of confrontation to cause the established Powers to reveal itself for what it is, thus
provoking the “establishment to respond to the challenge of its authority—which invariably
leads to polarization and radical division” (370).22
Social Movements and Intersectional Rhetoric
In his review of social movement literature, Darrel Enck-Wanzer writes that “most critical
rhetorical heuristics for examining movement discourse do not account for the confluence of
forms in a radically fragmented vernacular rhetoric.” This, he argues, “blocks critics from
interrogating the ways in which different discursive forms (e.g., speech, performance, and
image) combine to build a unique intersectional rhetorical vision.” In short, Enck-Wanzer
argues that
coming to a discourse with the assumption that different forms intersect with each other
equally will help us to see something differently than if we assume that the primary social
work is being done by either verbal, visual, or embodied forms.
In shutting down the Hernando DeSoto bridge and with only their bodies, their voices, and
their signs, Black Lives Matter activists participated in what Enck-Wanzer calls an
intersectional rhetoric—“a rhetoric that places multiple rhetorical forms on relatively equal
footing, is not leader-centered, and draws from a number of diverse discursive political or
rhetorical conventions.”24 It is a “kind of rhetoric wherein one form of discourse is not
privileged over another; rather, diverse forms intersect organically to create something
challenging to rhetorical norms.” This type of rhetoric, he argues, is more “than
words/images/bodies/because those different forms can be present without intersecting and
challenging norms of textual boundedness.” He continues,
Instead, intersectional rhetoric is better represented as three intersecting lines. In their
intersection, one is not privileged over another; they are not ordered hierarchically. In so
challenging rhetorical norms, intersectional rhetoric also functions in a hybrid political space,
exhibiting a kind of incredulity toward the political traditions (e.g., U.S. liberal democracy) with
which rhetorical traditions are bound. Incredulity does not necessarily mean that they reject
those traditions; instead, intersectional rhetoric pushes the boundaries of traditions and
encourages a hybridization or mixing of ideas.
In our moving away from “status quo theories of rhetorical movement efficacy” that tend to
“obscure the full experience of Other rhetorics,” Enck-Wanzer calls for rhetorical scholars to
“our critical heuristics” so that we can “best begin moving beyond a restrictive boundedness
in our own disciplinary spaces” (194).26
Black Lives Matter
While there may still be a lot of misunderstanding around Black Lives Matter, activists have
always been clear on what they mean when they shout, “Black Lives Matter,” and more
importantly, what they mean when they say that BLM is not a moment but a movement. Started
in 2012 by Alicia Garza, Opal Tometi, and Patrisse Cullors, Black Lives Matter grounds itself in
the “experiences of Black people who actively resist de-humanization” (Black Lives Matter).27
As Edgar and I note in our study on the BLM movement,
while definitions may vary by regional and local goals, BLM’s national online platform defines
the movement in terms of both policy and ideals, striving to highlight and dismantle anti-Black
racism and white supremacy and the ways these systems target Black lives.
As they elaborate, BLM “is an affirmation of Black folks’ humanity, [their] contributions to this
society, and [their] resilience in the face of deadly oppression” (Herstory).29
For Julius Bailey and David J. Leonard, BLM is “first and foremost a challenge to the affront of
racial violence and prejudiced policing.” But is also a “challenge to white privilege and
supremacy, and it seeks to disrupt the status quo by forcing America to unflinchingly examine
the ways in which state-sponsored agents treat Black Americans as, at best, second-class
citizens” (68).30 Further, they maintain that “by spotlighting the persistent violence, and
through elucidating the fallacies, hypocrisies, and double standards that anchor white
supremacy,” BLM challenges the “very foundations upon which Americans claim their
democracy is built: that we are all created equal, that all are equally entitled to life, liberty, and
the pursuit of happiness” (69).31
Challenging these very foundations provides BLM a platform that produces actions that are
“far-reaching and broadly applied.” While the hashtag has become synonymous with incidents
of state-sponsored violence, BLM as an organization has always been interesting in
“addressing all structural inequalities as mutually reinforcing and interconnected systems of
injustice.” Recent BLM concerns focus on the prison industrial complex, food security,
transphobia, anti-immigrant policy, health care, wage disparities, education, and reproductive
justice for women of color (Mendez, 97).32
When it comes time to highlight injustices in these and other areas, Glenn Mackin argues, BLM
demonstrates a counter-hegemonic political project through its powerful demonstration of
agency through protest. He argues that BLM
develops a mode of political-aesthetic transformation that is fully imbricated into the sensory
order that it negates. The activists enact modes of freedom and equality that the dominant
order of sense denies—above all, the freedom to engage in practices in which one steps
outside of one’s assigned roles and reconfigures the sensory world.
Thus, it is through demonstrations that disrupt and confront that BLM offers a “sensory vision
that envisions justice through the challenge of traditional hierarchical roles” (Edgar and
Johnson, 7).34
As Sarah J. Jackson reminds us, while the “Black lives matter movement can be traced to the
legacy of the larger Black freedom movement,” it also finds its home in the work of Black
Millennial groups (375).35 This work leads BLM to respond to injustices with “discourse and
tactics both familiar and unfamiliar to members of the old guard” (Jackson, 375).36 Jackson
notes that millennial activists reject much of the “respectability politics” of the 1950s and
1960s and have turned to “new technologies” that nurture a “counterpublic community that
centers the voices of those most often at the margins” (375).37 As the movement grew,
however, that counterpublic community can no longer be “identified with any single leader or
small group of leaders,” despite the role Khan-Cullors, Tometi, and Garza played in giving us
the social movement hashtag. Rather “#BlackLivesMatter represents an ideal that motivates,
mobilizes, and informs the actions and programs of many local branches of the movement”
(Lebron, xi–xii).38 It is a broad approach to racial justice means that the brand is easily
transferable to local or regional groups invested in the fight against structural anti-Black
Taking It to the Bridge
On July 5, 2016, police officers Howie Lake II and Blane Salamoni shot and killed Alton Sterling
in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. A day later, on July 6, police officer Jeronimo Yanez shot and
killed Philando Castile. Their murders, captured on video, were the latest to go viral as many
people saw yet again the killing of Black men by law enforcement officials. The circumstances
surrounding these killings, along with the tragedies being one day apart, angered and
frustrated many Americans. The outrage led many to take to the streets in protest all over the
country. In cities such as Baton Rouge, Minneapolis, Dallas, Austin, New York, Los Angeles,
and several more, many people immediately came out to demand justice in the murder of
Sterling and Castile.
Memphis would join the lists of cities that would also see activists demanding justice in the
deaths of Sterling and Castile. After the death of Sterling, activist, and organizer Devante Hill
created a flyer and shared it on social media that called for people to show up at the Fed Ex
Forum on July 10, 2016, at “6 pm sharp” to protest Sterling’s killing. The flyer read, “DELAYED
JUSTICE IS INJUSTICE,” and Hill reminded people who were coming to “wear black” and “be
peaceful!” The flyer included the address of the Fed Ex Forum and the #AltonSterling hashtag.
However, by the time of the rally, people were also protesting the death of Castile as well.
Although the flyer also included the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag, and many Black Lives Matter
activists participated in the protest, as Wendi Thomas reported, “the demonstration wasn’t
sponsored by the Official Black Lives Matter Memphis chapter” (Take It to the Bridge).39
However, the very fact that Hill could use the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag to call people
together to demonstrate an injustice also speaks to #BlackLivesMatter a social movement
brand that can be picked up and deployed by any interested group of activists inclined to
speak out and act against racial injustice” (Lebron, xii).40
The protest outside of FedEx Forum was to start at 6 pm. By 5:30 pm, however, more than 500
people had already arrived. Interim Police Director Michael Rallings was also there. He spoke
to the people gathered there and after he left, others began to address the growing crowd.
According to Nour Hantouli of the Memphis Feminist Collective, this part of the event did not
seem to be a “really structured situation.” One speaker reminded the crowd that it was “time
for us to speak up.” He then asked, “Can a black man live free?” In call and response tradition,
when the crowd responded, “No,” the speaker then replied, “And until we get a yes, we are not
going to stop.” He continued, “Just like Martin Luther King had a dream, the dream has not
been fulfilled” (Thomas; Mulroy).41
Other speakers took to the megaphone to give impromptu speeches; then the crowd began to
move. Some wanted to march to the city jail infamously known as 201 Poplar. Some wanted to
shut down downtown business at Bass Pro Shop. According to Shahidah Jones of the Official
Black Lives Matter Chapter in Memphis, “people started to move, but we didn’t know where we
were moving to.” As the crowd marched toward the Cook Convention Center, many saw the
bridge in the distance. There had been talk in the activist community about a shutdown of the
Hernando-De Soto Bridge that connects Tennessee and Arkansas. In seeing the bridge, some
began to think that today would be that day. Some even in the crowd started to yell, “Let’s take
it to the bridge!” Activist Keedran Franklin remembered turning to the friend and saying, “We
are going to shut that motherfucking bridge down. We shut that bridge down, and I betcha
they will listen then” (Thomas).42
The word started to spread that people were about to “take the bridge.” Labor and wage
activist Jayanni Webster remembered being at home when she received a text message from a
friend that said “thousands and thousands of people were coming down to the FedEx Forum
and expressing their outrage and protesting.” Minutes later, her friend texted again. This time
the friend sent a picture of people heading to the bridge. It was then that Webster knew she
had to go and see this for herself. She made it on to the bridge before police blocked access
On and Coming Off the Bridge
At the height of the demonstration, estimates place the number of protesters on the bridge at
1,000. People overheard one protester shouting, “We’re trying to get equal rights. We want
things to be fair. We want our voices to be heard” (I-40 Bridge Reopens).44 Activist Shahidah
Jones called the protest something similar to a family reunion. She remarked, “I saw people I
hadn’t seen in years” (Thomas).45 Activist Tami Sawyer reminded onlookers and the media
that what was going on across the country where people “saying enough is enough.” She
I think about this last year. People all over the city and the Commercial Appeal celebrated the
50th anniversary of the Selma march, where Dr. Martin Luther King and hundreds of AfricanAmericans were hosed by water and attacked by dogs and beaten by police during a peaceful
protest for their rights. Fifty years after that, we’re still fighting against the same injustices,
and while it is true that blocking traffic could have some dire consequences, the chance of that
happening here are still much more slimmer than a black person being faced with systematic
racism and injustice.
As motorists expressed frustration at traffic coming to a standstill, Devante Hill told a
television news reporter, “We waited 400 years to get justice, they’re going to wait — they’re
going to wait — to get across this bridge!” (Thomas).47 Jayanni Webster, who was one of the
last ones off the bridge that night, remarked that taking the bridge so openly was the
only opportunity that they would ever have in their life to even talk to a police officer in a way
that won’t get them killed. People in Memphis never have the opportunity to confront those in
power who represent a failed state of the economy and the politics of this city that continually
oppresses people.
Local pastor and rhetorical scholar, the Rev. Dr. Earle J. Fisher, was one of the ones on the
bridge that night. He told independent journalist Wendi Thomas that he was “happy as shit,”
about taking the bridge because he “knew it would take a moment like that to change the
trajectory of what the movement in Memphis would look like” (Take It to the Bridge).49 Activist
Keedran Franklin noted: “A lot of people were crying together, but it was like tears of joy
because a lot of people were hurt. That’s the only reason why we were up there … Not being
heard, not being felt, not enough resources” (Thomas).50 Porshia Scruggs, who came to the
protest from neighboring West Memphis, Arkansas, said she was part of the movement
because she was “tired of the senseless killings of black people.” She told a reporter that the
“fact that I have two sons, ages 7 and 6, that hits me close to home” (Callahan).51 Stephanie
Cole’s concerns about her son also led her to protest as well. “I have a 16-year-old son,” she
told a local newspaper reporter.
He just got his (driver’s) license. I held off letting him get a license because of the recent
shootings of motorists after being pulled over by police. You’re afraid if he gets pulled over,
he’s not going to act right. Or the officer is not going to act right.
While the protest inconvenienced motorists, some that night showed signs of solidarity. One
trucker allowed demonstrators to climb on top of his truck to hold up signs and raised fists.
Community activist Nour Hantouli told a reporter that the incident was a “very remarkable sign
of solidarity from someone who is caught in the very inconvenient position of that
demonstration,” but further added, “of course, that got turned into ‘thugs trashing property,’
you know, the typical racist narrative” (Callahan).53
According to reporter Wendi C. Thomas, after 45 minutes on the bridge, more police in riot
gear began to arrive. What activists termed a “passionate but peaceful protest” turned tense.
As police began to set up their perimeter and engaged protesters, activists wondered what
was next. One activist noted, “People start getting a little apprehensive, like what they are
doing, what’s in the back. We are here directly as a result of police killings so that instantly
starts to change the energy.” When drones started to appear, Chantel Trice, a fourth-year
student at Meharry Medical College, wondered if the police would “shower [them] with pepper
spray.” Despite consistent denials from the Memphis Police Department that they do not use
drones, many people on the bridge that night did not believe the department’s assertions
As more police began to come, a group of protesters went up to confront the officers. Along
with shouting “Black Lives Matter,” “Hands Up; Don’t Shoot,” activists used this opportunity
to share some of their frustrations with the police. Critiques of the juvenile court system, the
suspension of driver licenses, the problems with the cash money bail system, the temp job
industry, and many more frustrations filled the air that night. Shahidah Jones interpreted the
events of the night, “People are just saying they’re tired. They want jobs. People are saying
that basically, this can’t be life” (Thomas).55
Those on the bridge also protested by sitting down, reminiscent of the sit-in movement of the
1960s. However, while the sit-in movement at lunch counters throughout the South was meant
to be quiet and reserved, the sit-in on this night was not. Protesters started to sing while they
sat in call and response fashion:
Oh, momma can’t you see (momma momma can’t you see), what the system’s done to me
(what the system done to me). Try to take away our peace (try to take away our peace), so we
out here in these streets (so we out here in these streets)
This was one that rang out that night. Frank Gotti remembered this night as one where the
people’s voices were finally heard, while local barber Quentin Patrick remembered the “taking
of the bridge as one of unity and peace” (Memphis Commercial Appeal).56
As even more police officers began to arrive, negotiations with law enforcement to clear the
bridge commenced. Devonte Hill, who initially called for the rally at FedEx Forum, began to
have conversations with interim director Rallings about leading people off the bridge. Reports
have Hill promising to support Rallings in his bid to become Police Director if Rallings would
hold a forum the next day to hear protesters’ concerns. At the time of this action, Memphis
was in the middle of a search for a Police Director. Rallings, while serving as Interim Director,
was also a candidate for the job. Franklin and Fisher were also in contact with Rallings via text
message. After Franklin’s phone ran out of battery power, Fisher continued to text Rallings. In
one text, Fisher wrote, “You have agreed to meet us in front of the FedEx Forum at 9:30 (pm)
to discuss policy changes and criminal justice reform. No arrests. March with us. Please reply
in affirmation.” Rallings responded, “yes sir, let’s move now. I will lead the March.” Fisher
followed up, “You have my full support” (Thomas).57
Others, however, were not ready to leave. Activist Paul Garner lamented that “we had an
opportunity to ask for so much more.” He wanted a national search with hopes of getting
someone, not from Memphis, who would be a reformer. Webster echoed Garner’s concerns.
“Some of us who have been embedded in the activist community for a long time,” she told a
reporter, “No, we’re going to occupy this bridge until we can have some demands met.” She
continued, “It was really an opportunity because, at that point, we had a lot more control than
we would ever have on a normal day in Memphis” (Thomas).58
However, moments later, Hill, Franklin, Fisher, and Rallings were linked up arm and arm,
leading more than half of the protesters off the bridge and back to the FedEx Forum. As the
crowd began to get louder coming off the bridge, Rallings became concerned that riots may
break out. Fisher told him not to be concerned. “That’s not danger, that’s passion. You need to
let the people express themselves. Ain’t nobody in danger” (Thomas).59
From the Bridge to Beale Street
While the majority of the protesters followed leaders off the bridge, several did not. They
stayed. As more police officers came, they formed a line, “holding riot gear in one hand and
black sticks in other.” Hantouli, one of those who remained on the bridge, remembered that
night. “I remember thinking, ‘This is it. We’re going to jail tonight. Those willing to be arrested
wrote emergency contact phone numbers on the arms of those who planned to leave before
police brought out handcuffs.” Police asked the protesters to depart, and after a few more
chants of “Black Lives Matter” and “Hands Up; Don’t Shoot,” the remaining protesters walked
off the bridge (Thomas).60
While much of the reporting of that night focused on what happened before and during the
bridge, not much focused on what happened after these groups of protesters came off the
bridge. As noted earlier, some followed Interim Director Rallings and others to the FedEx
Forum. However, others, still frustrated by what they thought was an early withdrawal from the
bridge, preceded to march through downtown Memphis—leaving the bridge and ending on
Beale Street. In a blog post describing this part of the movement, I wrote
I was tired. I had been up since two in the morning to catch a 5:15 am flight back to Memphis
from Orlando. Once in Memphis, I followed through on all of my obligations I had planned that
day. Once I completed those, which ran well into the evening, I looked forward to having
dinner and going to bed early. However, after receiving several calls and checking my social
media feeds, I realized something was happening in Memphis. Activists and protesters shut
down the Hernando-De Soto (I-40) Bridge, and chants of “Black Lives Matter” echoed
everywhere. When I finally arrived home, I knew I could not stay. As I watched news reports of
the protest, there was no way I could have stayed home. I was tired; I was hungry, but I needed
to be there.
When I finally arrived, many of the protesters were coming down from the bridge and
preparing to march throughout downtown. The people were organized and energized, and the
energy exhibited by these young people somehow energized me. No longer did I think about
my early flight. No longer did I think about all I had to do that day. No longer was I feeling tired,
and somehow my hunger pains left me. What I witnessed and what I was a part of was a
historic day in Memphis. Not since the marches of the 1960s have these many people
protested and march downtown for civil rights in Memphis. With an estimated 1000 plus
protesters, many having nothing but a body, voice and a sign, they found strength in the past;
along with unity, mission and purpose in the present; to join with thousands of others around
the country to march against injustices happening to black bodies all over the country (With
Body, Voice, and Sign).61
As we began to descend the bridge, I decided to start chronicling this event by “going live” on
Facebook (#BlackLivesMatter: Memphis March).62 One of the leaders of the action yelled,
“lock-up, we are going to lock up,” and police joined with protesters and locked arm and arm
as both protesters and police walked down from the bridge together. As activists left the
bridge, chants of “Black Lives Matter,” “No Justice, No Peace,” and “I got my hands above my
head, please don’t shoot me dead” could be heard throughout the night. One protester said
that “this was only the beginning,” while others declared, “Memphis is woke!” As the crowd
continued to come off the bridge, others who had come to the bridge to join them, joined the
group as the march headed downtown (Johnson, #BlackLivesMatter).63
As we continue to walk, some protesters saw I was broadcasting a Facebook Live post and
began to offer commentary on the meaning of the movement. When someone chanted, “no
violence, even to police officers,” one protester responded, “We don’t want to kill them. It is
not our goal to strike at the police. But if you are bad, we want you out of the system.” She
continued, “We want you guys to have full psyche evaluations. We want you to have full
background checks. We are tired of scary men that are afraid of Black men becoming cops”
(Johnson, #BlackLivesMatter).
As we passed the Walter L. Bailey, Jr. Criminal Justice Center, better known to Memphis
residents as “201 Poplar,” some wanted to stop to acknowledge the injustice that happens in
that place daily. However, leaders of this part of the action told us to “keep it moving,”
because if we stopped, the belief was that the police would shut the march down. As we kept
moving, I began to sense the spirituality of our march. Protesters began quoting scripture.
“Count it all joy,” one protester told me. “We face trials of many kinds; it is a testament of your
faith” (Johnson, #BlackLivesMatter).
That people would see this as spiritual or as a call of faith did not surprise me. As we note in
our book, The Struggle Over Black Lives Matter and All Lives Matter, “the historical role of
spirituality in Black liberation movements bubbles beneath the surface of BLM adherents’
understandings of their activism.” In chapter 3 of our book, we specifically focused our
attention on “participant’s use of religious language and their own understandings of religion,
faith, and spirituality that describe their involvement with BLM.” We wrote,
Though BLM arose as a secular movement, we argue that this [did] not mean that participants
were “non-religious” or “anti-religious.” Instead, for many participants, their positions within
the church and the movement were mutually constitutive… . At the same time, though,
participants of faith were often unable to separate their passion for the movement from their
spiritual grounding, and many understood this as a continuation of the historical role of the
Black church within the fight for racial justice. In short, religion functioned as a conduit
between BLM and the histories of racial justice and oppression.
Leaders of this impromptu march were, in the beginning, heading back to where the first
group, led by Hill, Fisher, Franklin, and Rallings, headed—Fed Ex Forum. However, seemly out
of nowhere, another crowd of protesters showed up. They would join the group of protesters
that I was with, making the crowd much bigger. We walked down Danny Thomas Boulevard,
and as traffic came to a stop, something else happened—we began to receive overwhelming
support from the motorists. Instead of being frustrated that they were stuck in traffic, many
applauded our efforts. They honk horns, supported us in our chants, and several got out of
their vehicles and joined the march. As the crowd out of nowhere mingled with the group I was
with, someone guessing that I was thirsty gave me a bottle of water. As I thanked that person, I
began to see that there were others on the sidewalk as we walked down the street who also
shared bottles of water and assisted in any way they could.
As the crowd continued to grow, leaders called for us to “lock up,” arm in arm, side by side.
Our interlocking arms spread across the entire four lanes of Danny Thomas, effectively
shutting down the street. We did not move. Chants of “Black Lives Matter” could be heard, but
we stayed still. As we were standing there, I asked a young protester how she felt by being a
part of this. She responded:
It makes me feel good. My grandmother was a big activist here in Memphis, and so this is my
first march, so I am reflecting on a lot of things. But it makes me feel like I have done a little
bit, but it’s still not enough. We got so much ground to cover, but yes, this is definitely one for
the books.
(Johnson, #BlackLivesMatter)65
Soon afterward, the crowd began to move, and the chants of “BLACK LIVES MATTER” and
“NO JUSTICE NO PEACE” became louder. Then, we turned down on Beale Street.
As we marched down the street, someone at an intersection started blasting Public Enemy’s
“Fight the Power” from his car. Many protesters began to recite the words, while others began
to dance in the street. People who had been on Beale Street already, seeing the crowd walking
down and effectively shutting down business temporarily on Beale Street, decided to join the
protest. Some protesters, as they walked, knocked over garbage cans while others picked
them up as soon as they were knocked down, desiring to prevent anyone from interpreting the
march and protest as a violent one. As we marched, the music from Beale Street blasted
throughout the night, and more protesters found themselves dancing in the street.
As we began to head to the Fed Ex Forum, for the viewers of my Facebook Live post, I
attempted to sum up the night:
Maybe instead of lamenting the fact that Black Lives Matter protesters are out in the street and
shutting down traffic, maybe you should ask yourselves why would a group of people deem it
necessary to shut down traffic and to take drastic measures just to try to get the word out.
Maybe we should be calling our representatives and ask them why are these people out in the
middle of the street? What are you doing to make sure that they don’t have to come out?
Maybe we should be calling our legislatures, and say “what is making folks come out in the
middle of the night in the street … surely, they got others things that they could be doing, but
they are out here because its important.” Maybe we need to ask those questions instead of
trying to blame Black Lives Matter for trying to bring attention to a problem that nobody seems
to really want to solve—other than Black Lives Matter.
(Johnson, #BlackLivesMatter)66
As we continued to head to the Fed Ex Forum to meet with the others, I had to cease my
Facebook Live post—my phone battery went dead.
After the Bridge
Despite its nonconformity, the bridge protest did produce some immediate results. First, after
weeks of trying to get a meeting with city leaders, activists finally met with the mayor and
interim police director, Mike Rallings, in a community forum held at Greater Imani Church on
July 11, 2016. Started with the best intentions of allowing the community to come and share
their concerns, the meeting quickly escalated into a “shouting match and venting session.” As
the meeting went longer than expected, organizers of the event asked community members to
write their concerns on notes cards. The organizers then collected the cards and developed an
action plan. The city did initiate some of those action items, such as extending public library
hours, instituting diversity training for police officers, and increasing minority contracting. The
big action item came on August 7 when Mayor Strickland suspended the national search and
selected Mike Rallings as the new police director. It would be a move that would come back to
haunt activists as Rallings would lead the Memphis Police Department in the illegal
surveillance of activists in the city of Memphis (Thomas).67
Second, new organizations started after the protest on the bridge. One such organization was
the Coalition of Concerned Citizens started by activist Keedran Franklin. In one of their first
actions, they led a protest outside of the Greater Memphis Chamber, which would eventually
lead to several meetings with the then Chamber President Phil Trenary. They would be
instrumental in getting the Memphis Chamber of Commerce to remove language from its
website that invited companies to come to Memphis because the workforce wages were “lower
than most other parts of the country.” The Coalition argued that the “invitation” helps to
perpetuate poverty in the city of Memphis. They also led efforts in gaining major reforms on
how temporary job agencies work in the city of Memphis. They partnered with the Coalition to
come up with a gold standard of agencies that now would include training, employment,
mentoring, and promotion (Thomas).68
Third, the bridge protest helped to spur more activism. For instance, two days later, 50
activists “picketed” outside of the daily newspaper, the Memphis Commercial Appeal. They
protested the headline on the front page of the July 9 edition of the paper. In reporting on the
death of police officers in Dallas that happened on July 7, the Commercial Appeal ran the
headline, “Gunman Targeted Whites.” The protest led to a meeting later that day with
newspaper staff, which led to the editor, Louis Graham, to retract the story and offer an
apology (We Got It Wrong).69 The incident also prompted the already established Memphis
Grassroots Organizations Coalition to begin a campaign that addresses media bias and
A month later, on August 15, 2016, the Coalition for Concern Citizens led a protest at
Graceland during the candlelight vigil for Elvis Week. The protest centered on the city’s
continued resistance in not addressing the economic needs of its citizens—especially in the
Whitehaven area, where Graceland is located. Police not only set up barriers so that protesters
could not disrupt the vigil, but they also denied Black people entry into the event (Edgar).70
In December, in 16-degree weather, activists orchestrated a die-in at the home of Mayor
Strickland (Thomas).71 This led to swift retaliation from the city government. Activists would
later discover in February of 2017 that the city had created a “police blacklist,”—names of
people who were banned from coming to City Hall without a police escort. During the same
time, police also began to unlawfully surveil activists—violating a 1978 consent decree that
prohibited the Memphis Police Department from such actions (Johnson, Shhh … Bob Smith Is
Despite being blacklisted and illegally surveilled, activism in Memphis continued to increase.
Activists for “Fight for 15” became heavily involved in labor and wage issues in Memphis. The
MLK march and rally on April 4, 2017, was one of the largest in recent memory as activists
continued to fight against injustice and inequality. However, it was the efforts of Tami Sawyer
and activists of #TakeEmDown901, which led to the removal of the Confederate statues of
Nathan Bedford Forrest and Jefferson Davis (de Velasco).73 The protest and activism also
helped to launch the political career of Sawyer, who, in 2018, was elected to the County
Commission. From there, she also launched a bid to become the first woman mayor of the city
of Memphis in 2019. While that bid proved to be unsuccessful, many in the activist community
continue to glean inspiration from their efforts on the bridge that night.
Carlos Morrison and Jacqueline Trimble, drawing from the work of Stewart, Smith, and Denton,
argue that it is “important for protest persuaders to seek endorsements from legitimizers for
their cause.” They write,
legitimizers are social opinion leaders such as judges, politicians, business executives, clergy,
sports figures … [or institutions or groups], who can help legitimize an [organization or group]
in the eyes of the public by appearing at rallies, [or] marching in demonstrations.
Because Black Lives Matter, as a movement, is not predicated upon one leader or any
institution to legitimize their efforts, according to Morrison and Trimble, the way they
legitimize themselves is through the “use of confrontation and the spotlight of established
platforms to state their case” (139).74
By these confrontational antics, Morrison and Trimble go on to note the “generational divide
that exists between young protesters of today and their older counterparts of the Civil Rights
era of the 1960s.” Calling attention to the “ideological approaches to protests,” they write,
For the “true believers” in civil rights, the approach will always be a nonviolent campaign that
is well planned and calculated. For members of the “Black Lives Matter” movement, the
approach to protest will also be non-violent, but more of an “in your face”; that is, direct action
orientation that may take the form of more “edgy” tactics like outburst, slogans (“hands up,
don’t shoot!”), interruptions, and so on, coupled with…
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