The Power of Words


In social movements we often create phrases, songs, or chants that continue to influence, even after a protest is over, through the power of the public lexicon. These words move beyond the power of the words themselves and grow to encompass the state of the world where they were developed. The mood we were in as a nation, a community, a people.

Think of the power of the phrase “the 99 percent”. It has grown past the simplicity of its three words and come to encompass our feeling as a nation last year. When we hear that phrase we also hear bank bailouts, high unemployment, and home foreclosures. We imagine the country’s economic inequality, the concentration of power and wealth, and Congress’s apparent inabilities to not only practically address these issues, but their inability to compromise at all. “The 99 percent” became the mobilizing idea that launched the Occupy movement.

Think of other powerful phrases in the American lexicon.

“We shall overcome.”

“Hell no, we won’t go!”

These phrases have the ability to bring you back to a place, a feeling, or an idea. I read those phrases and I see rows of people, Black and White, arms linked, marching through the streets. I also see an enraged youth attacking the pointlessness and cruelty of preventable death in a far-away war.

Words have power – just as much in what they say as what they don’t say, in what they assume and in what we imagine.

Latin America has its versions, its own power phrases, which accompany social movements, be they songs, slogans, or speeches. Through a series of blog posts, and starting with this one, we’ll look at examples of powerful words in Latin American social movements and send the question out to you as well:

What songs, what speeches, what slogans do you think have defined the various social or political changes in Latin America?

Tell us about them.


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