The Power of Collective Word
Rally Chants at the BLM Protests and their connections to the Civil Rights movements of the past.
Written by: Halle Elder
On May 25, 2020, George Floyd was murdered by an officer of the Minneapolis Police Department. His death created a shockwave of social movement and a reemergence of the Black Lives Matter protests, often referred to as BLM. The BLM movement originated in 2013 with the death of Trayvon Martin and gained national attention after the deaths of Michael Brown of Missouri and Eric Garner of New York. At the forefront of this movement were the founders of the project — Alicia Garza, Patrisse Khan-Cullors and Opal Tometi — which began with a simple hashtag, #BlackLivesMatter. Together, these three women created a space for Black empowerment and strength, which reached a worldwide stage after the devastating death of George Floyd.
In the U.S. alone, Civics Analytics reported that roughly 23 million people showed up to over 550 BLM protests in 2020. The power of this movement included a worldwide call to action, with over 60 countries joining in protest against social inequality and police violence. All of this coincided with the height of the global COVID-19 pandemic. Protesters took to the streets in masks, trying to stay as safe as possible, while also trying to protect themselves from violence from police and counter-protesters.
There were many differences from protest to protest, especially when it came to how different countries responded. However, there was one thing that linked the protests, no matter where they occurred: rally chants. Whether it was the streets of Minneapolis or Seattle, Belgium or London, those gathered at protests could be heard far and wide, chanting together, using the power of word to accomplish a united goal. Communication is something that unites people, and words, especially when they hold a powerful meaning, have the ability to change the world.
Single Line Chants:
These simple, yet powerful chants are spoken in unison by protesters or repeated back to leaders.
“Black Lives Matter”
“I Can’t Breath”
“Take Your Knees off Our Necks!”
“The People United!” “Will Never Be Divided!”
“No Justice, No Peace” “No Racist Police”
“Hey Hey! Ho Ho! These racist cops have got to go!”
Many of these chants, such as “I can’t breathe” and “Take your knees off our necks” sprung up in response to Floyd’s murder. These chants were direct representations of the events, and their truth and rawness allowed for a deep connection among protestors.
Not only do these chants provide a means of connecting the people at a protest and protesters across the world, but they have created a powerful connection to the past. Some of the BLM chants that gained popularity during recent protests have roots that reached deep into the 20th century.
Chants From the Past
Caller: “What do we want?”
Caller: “When do we want it?”
Caller: “Say it Loud!”
Response: “I’m Black and Proud!”
The use of “Freedom Now” and “Black Power” at protests was first documented in the 1960s during the Civil Rights movement. These chants stood the test of time and continued to be heard in the BLM protests of 2020. This powerful connection shows that despite the progress that has been made, there is still a long way to go when it comes to social equality. However, it also demonstrates once again the power that single-line chants hold when said by people banding together for a worthy cause.
Another chant that was present in 2020 was one that had origins in the 1990s, surrounding the death of Malice Green. This chant was “No Justice! No Peace!”, which has taken on many variations over the years, like the one mentioned above. Green was yet another African American man who was killed at the hands of police officers. His death is strikingly similar to that of Floyd, showing a connection both between the chants themselves and the roots of their usage.
The chants mentioned above are just a few of the many that have spread across the world to aid in the power brought by protests. These chants are simply tools used by masses who are trying to have their voices heard after so many years of being silenced. However simple they may be, they carry undeniable power when you listen to them with your own ears. Those feelings brought to life can be a catalyst for the changes that the protesters seek.
The “Say Their Name” chant bears a deeply personal weight during protests. In this chant, a caller would shout “Say His Name” and the group would respond with a name of someone that was lost such as “George Floyd!” This chant was heard nearly everywhere BLM protests took place, even across oceans. The response was changed depending on the location and brought awareness to those who lost their lives because of police brutality. This chant is not only one that united protesters, but it also forced anyone listening to pay attention to those whose lives were lost. Everyone must pay attention to the social issues occurring in our world and Say Their Names, so that those lost may never be forgotten.
For more in-depth information on the Black Lives Matter organization, visit their website at https://blacklivesmatter.com