Over time, the standard chants and slogans used on picket lines and in demonstrations, protests, and marches, become stale and cliche. The content gets lost and the music becomes sing-song. The chants have no impact. The whole experience becomes disempowering. (This has been true for so long that even complaining about it is stale and cliche!)
This activity takes one chant form -- What do we want? When do we want it? -- and "reverse engineers" it to open up a discussion of the goals and expectations of individuals and groups. After all, these are the big questions: What do we want? When do we want it? How can we have an impact?
Good for: warming people up, speaking up, rhythm, repetition of simple phrases; also good for starting discussion of goals and strategic vision.
Set-up: circle-game, sitting or standing, walking (like on picket line)
Number of people: enough for a "we"
Materials: none (could be interesting to have people generate slogans for placards and picket signs as well)
Time: 15 mins. for chanting, 30 mins. for discussion (depends on how you follow it up)
Flow: Explain the activity and the motivation for using it. Set the context -- this is a typical chant used in many types of protest. Can get stale, but asks important questions.
Clap the beat and introduce the rhythm. Then introduce the words: What do we want? _____
When do we want it? _____
See if anyone can fill in the blanks, maybe someone knows the chant. If not, you can fill in the first terms.
Once you get an example, like "What do we want? Union!" "When do we want it? Now!" do it several times, until everyone is confident and smooth, chanting with energy. Try variations like call and response, with one or two people doing the "What do we want? When do we want it?" and the rest chanting the answers.
Then, have people substitute their own demands, taking turns, without losing the beat. "What do we want? Equal pay!" etc.
End with high energy, loud and vibrant.
Debrief in a conversation circle:
- Feelings: how did people feel? Did their feelings change? (e.g., shy-->excited?) Did they feel comfortable? Awkward? Happy? If you felt awkward, why did you feel that way? Did the chant feel stale? Why? Did it make you feel powerful? Weak? Why?
- Observations: what did you notice about others/the group? How did the chant change?
- Analysis: In the chant, we said we want _____, ____, and _____. Are those things really our priorities? Why? What else do we want? Do we all want the same things? Some things seem more personal -- a new apartment -- how do those match up with the other more social goals?
- We said we want everything "now." (unless someone suggested different timeframe). What does that mean? When do we want what we want? (long term, medium term, short term) Should we say "now," or something like "in five years" or "before we die"?
Watch for: If people try to fill in the blank with a demand of more than four syllables, it is hard to stick to the original beat. Help them find shorter alternatives (a salary increase --> more money).
Other chants: "We are the union, the mighty, mighty union....", "The workers united will never be defeated", "This is what democracy looks like," etc.
Expand this to include a deeper discussion of the goals and needs of the group, and their vision of when and how they can be achieved.
Discuss what makes for effective slogans and chants, share ideas and practice new variations. Organize a chanting "slam." Start a chant-leading squad of people to spread the best chants and protest techniques...Explore the musical possibilities as well...
Comments: This would be a great way to lead into a discussion of goals, at any level. Also a good way to lead into strategic planning. I like the way it takes something stale and boring and tries to recover the content and purpose.