Lots of times, organizations will put weeks or months of effort into mobilizations and actions, preparing for different scenarios and developing leadership, but on the day of the action we use the first chants that come into our heads and try to force a fit. This makes the go-to chant at so many protests: “Hey hey, ho ho [something’s] got to go.” This chant lasts the whole protest, doesn’t communicate our message well (and it’s the first and most-reinforced message anyone hears!), doesn’t communicate what we want, overshadows the good planning we did for all the other pieces, and ends up draining the energy and enthusiasm of participants.
I believe that spending even a half-hour in chant development can transform the feeling of your protest into something vibrant, fun, energizing and on-message.
To develop great chants, we need to start with our message. At the time of this writing, there is a political effort to ram through approval of the Keystone XL Pipeline, so let’s go with that. Talk about your message as a group and write it across the top of a big piece of paper. You can have multiple messages.
The Keystone XL Pipeline would sell off the environment, our neighborhoods, our health and safety to fuel our oil addiction. It’s time for solidarity on a massive scale and direct action to stop it in its tracks!
It’s really important you start with your message, no matter how complex, because if you don’t you are not likely to clearly convey what you’re fighting for.
Now, we’ll take the key words (and synonyms) from these messages and write them on the left hand side of the paper. Let’s also include words that are related to these key words and ones that are important to our organization, committee, campaign and culture.
Let people free associate words/ phrases that rhyme with any of them. You can always add more words to the original list. Encourage creativity and stretching rhymes! Things that make people laugh should definitely end up in some chants. The more words you get out of the brainstorm, the more raw material you have for great chants) For example:
Keystone: (this is a hard one to start with!) flea-prone, free phone, unknown, re-grown, re-sewn, kneebone, tree cone
KXL: excel, Nextel, repel
Ooh! Just noticed that KXL looks like “X-tra Large”—let’s riff on that:
Extra-large: oil barge, Marge, sarge, What’s extra-large? Well, it’s an Extra-large problem: topple ‘em, optimum, cobble ‘em (together)
Oil: boil, coil, doily, foil, goil (girl), loyal, royal, spoil, woild (world).
Note that for this one, we’re basically going through the alphabet and trying letters with the “oil” suffix. And stretching it a bit.
Pipeline: not the right time, lifeline, nighttime, fight mine,
Trans-Canada: Plan spanning the, hams spamming ya, The Man’s plannin’ the, hands fanning the (flames) Now go off of this last one—playing their games, taking names, looking for fame, we can’t settle for more of the same!
Lobbyist: hobbyist, robbery twist, floppiest, gloppy kiss, Fabio tryst
Politicians: gone fishin’, on a mission, wishin’, kissin’, something’s missin’
Representatives: tentative, anal retentive
Senate: win it, spin it, end it
Politics: dirty tricks, flicks, make me sick
Environment: liar sent, a mired tent, tired and spent, tryin’ to pay rent, timely sent
Neighborhoods: a bill of goods, a waiver could, should, would, save our woods
Health: wealth, stealth, filth
Safety: don’t mistake me, it’s chafing, wakey-wakey
Addiction: affliction, restriction, conscription, prescription, good diction
The People: equal, sequel
Organize: eyes, prize, flies, ties, whys, size
Fight Back: under attack, catching flack, move from the bottom to the top of the stack
Rights: fights, nights, tights, lights
Direct action: gain traction, satisfaction, fraction
Just put everything up, without judgment. Next, break up into small teams and give each group a short amount of time (20 minutes or less) to combine these words and phrases into chants. They can always add more words. The only rule is, when we combine these rhymes into chants, we want them to reflect our message(s). For example, ”Fabio tryst” doesn’t really have anything to do with Keystone, unless you encourage riffing off the idea to make it relevant, like: “Politicians hot for oil like a Fabio tryst.”
Bring everybody back and perform!
Please feel free and encouraged to use any of these rhymes for your own actions. Especially the Fabio tryst one.
Here are my contributions:
Only loyal to oil
Listen boils and goils
They’re tryin’ to spoil the woild
Foil their plans
Stop ‘em with our bare hands
Take a stand!
(Style: the classic couplet—2 line chant)
KXL’s got an extra-large problem
Are gonna topple’ em
(I tried to get a little too clever with this last one and have it be “100,000 activists are optin’ in to topple ‘em” but that gave no space to take a breath. Breathing=important).