There have been a number of rallies, protests, and marches lately, which has gotten me thinking about Charles’ Tilly’s delightful acronym WUNC: worthiness, unity, numbers, and commitment. As Tilly writes:
The term WUNC sounds odd, but it represents something quite familiar. WUNC displays can take the form of statements, slogans, or labels that imply worthiness, unity, numbers, and commitment.
The combination of tactics used and WUNC displays, Tilly argues, is what gives a campaign its distinctiveness.
Consider the Pussyhats of the women’s march: the sea of pink emphasized the march’s impressive numbers and indicated participant’s unity. Importantly, this type of display operates on both an external and internal level. That is, observers note participant’s numbers and unity; while participants get energized by the event’s numbers and unity.
This internal effect is particularly important because rallies often serve primarily as a mechanism to energy loyal participants, rather than as tactic to achieve a direct outcome.
When I was headed to yesterday’s protest against President Trump’s anti-immigrant legislation, I was thinking about this piece in particular. Would there be some visible element that would make a person’s participation in the rally clear? Probably not with such short notice.
There was a group on my train with their protest signs out. Another passenger stopped and started asking them questions; where was the rally today? What time did it start? What exactly did the targeted executive orders do?
On my way home following the rally, I got a lot of reactions to my own protest sign. Had I been protesting at the airport? How was the crowd at Copley? One woman just honked enthusiastically as I walked by.
There are so many things going on right now; so many ways that the pluralism of our society is under attack, it seems nearly impossible to come up with a single symbol that could encompass all we stand for and all we believe.
But maybe we don’t have to. A WUNC display doesn’t need to be as tidy as matching hats or colorful pins. Perhaps a miscellaneous smattering of signage is enough. Perhaps these varied messages – some funny, some sad, some angry, some simple, each subject to the peculiarities of its maker – perhaps each of the signs are indeed united under a single banner: resist.