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“Hey Joe, rather of saying, No we can’t,” retorted councilor Kamala Harris to Vice-President Joe Biden. “Let’s say, Yes, us can.” through that solitary line, Harris resurrected an Obama-era sound bite ~ above the phase in Houston during the September autonomous debate—a crowded phase with 10 candidates each seeking to acquire in a word edgewise.

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To rise above the fray and generate momentum amongst supporters, political projects have long relied ~ above slogans such together Barack Obama’s “Yes, we can.” much like Harris obtained the slogan from Obama, Obama himself borrowed the words indigenous Cesar Chavez and also Dolores Huerta who supplied the Spanish variation (“Si, se puede”) to mobilize the unified Farm workers in the 1970s.

But Harris’s use of the slogan on the controversy stage in Houston didn’t have practically the same affect it walk in Obama’s stump speeches in 2008. Context and also message resonance have as lot to execute with the efficiency of slogans as carry out the poetic ring that the chosen words.

At the most straightforward level, politics slogans must provide easily repeatable taglines because that campaigns. But for political slogans to truly do an important political work, they have to resonate v a candidate’s larger project message. This is what sets apart Obama’s “Yes, us can” from most of the present candidates’ slogans—including Harris’s usage of that phrase in Houston.

The power of slogans relies not simply on your intrinsic aesthetic appeal—although that is a baseline need for your success—but likewise on a slogan’s intertextual resonance with historical usages and also the campaign’s own main message.

The slogans being offered by the current crop of democratic candidates fall into a couple of different categories. The most mundane incorporate the candidate’s name right into a straightforward tagline—for example, Beto because that America, Cory 2020, man Delaney for President, Julián for the Future, Tulsi 2020, Yang 2020. More monikers 보다 slogans, this descriptive taglines just convey to voters that a particular person is to run for office. The taglines don’t tap into the problem of the project itself or also hint at the factors why the candidate is running.

The simple tagline have the right to be spiced up v poetic devices such together alliteration—for example, Amy for American or Win through Warren. More an innovative yet are the puns, such as Feel the Bern, the play top top words the sound alike but have various meanings.

“Political slogans are designed come by witty, catchy, and most importantly, extremely quotable,” delivering the project message much and wide (Hodges 2014). Come those ends, a specific content bias—a term Nicholas Enfield (2008) provides to talk about a etymological variant’s intrinsic properties—must be met to make a phrase memorable and repeatable. Because that a effective political slogan, this means a certain aesthetic appeal that arises native leveraging the poetic function of language.

More vital than a slogan’s intrinsic very nice is the means it enters into specific contexts that situation, draws native previous contexts, and also resonates v a candidate’s larger campaign theme. Obama’s “Yes, us can” slogan demonstrates every these elements.

Senator Obama first introduced this slogan in a decided to supporters on the night of the new Hampshire major in January 2008. In the speech, that tapped right into the slogan’s rich intertextual background and linked that background to his very own campaign’s emphasis on hope and also change.

We know the fight ahead will be long. But constantly remember that no issue what obstacles was standing in our way, nothing can stand in the way of the strength of millions of voices calling for change.

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For once we have confronted down difficult odds, once we’ve to be told we’re not ready, or that us shouldn’t try, or that we can’t, generations of Americans have responded through a an easy creed that sums increase the soul of a people: Yes, us can. (applause)


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Yes, we Can. cfishy/Flickr (CC by 2.0)


Yes, us can. (crowd chants, “Yes us can”)

Yes, us can.

It was a creed written right into the founding papers that declared the destiny that a nation: Yes, we can. (cheers)

It was whispered by slaves and abolitionists together they blazed a follow towards flexibility through the darkest the nights: Yes, we can. (cheers)

It was sung by immigrants together they struck out from remote shores and also pioneers who driven westward versus an unforgiving wilderness: Yes, we can. (crowd responds in unison, “Yes we can”)

It was the speak to of workers who organized, women who reached for the ballot, a president who made decision the moon as our brand-new frontier, and a king who took united state to the mountaintop and pointed the way to the promised land: Yes, we can, come justice and also equality. (applause and crowd chants, “Yes we can”)

Yes, us can, to opportunity and prosperity.

Yes, we deserve to heal this nation.

Yes, we have the right to repair this world.

Yes, us can.

Obama’s power is significant with parallelism, repetition, and also dramatic pauses, all elements that pat a key role, as Richard Bauman and Charles Briggs (1990) explain, in “rendering discourse extractable.” supporters in the group responded with their own chants that “Yes, us can,” portraying how a text’s intrinsic appeal compels others to repeat it.

More importantly, Obama utters the slogan in the very same breath as historical precedents the struggle and inspiration, alluding to the country founding, the abolitionist and suffragette movements, and also the battle for equality epitomized by young name Luther King Jr. The selection of the phrase itself—the English version of the united Farm Workers’ rallying cry for job rights—further solidifies the slogan’s combination with struggles for society change. That association, of course, is no coincidence; it very closely paralleled Obama’s main campaign theme, codified in project materials v his other slogan, “Change us can think in.”

The “Yes, us can” slogan because of this did an important political work-related by indexing the bigger message that Obama’s project each time the slogan was recurring in the intertextual internet of public discourse. Prominent figures formed a an effective speech chain that driven the slogan—and connected campaign message—into the general public consciousness; musicians will.i.am and also Jesse Dylan carried together several celebrities in a “Yes, we can” music video.

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Obama’s usage of “Yes, we can” illustrates the method slogans do political work. The power of slogans depends not merely on your intrinsic aesthetic appeal—although the is a baseline necessity for your success—but also on a slogan’s intertextual resonance with historic usages and the campaign’s own central message. Although Harris presented a potentially compelling slogan of she own as soon as she introduced her campaign on boy name Luther King Jr. Day earlier this year (“For the People”), she and other candidates have yet to harness the musicality of language in a way that connect those words to a central message in the way Obama did with “Yes, we can.”

Adam Hodges is a etymological anthropologist that writes about language and politics. His brand-new book, as soon as Words trumped Politics: Resisting a Hostile regimen of Language, is now available from Stanford college Press. His previous books include The ‘War top top Terror’ Narrative and Discourses of battle & Peace, and also his posts have appeared in the American Anthropologist, Discourse & Society, Language & Communication, Language in Society, and also the newspaper of etymological Anthropology.

Cite as: Hodges, Adam. 2019. ““Yes, we Can” and the power of political Slogans.” Anthropology News website, October 21, 2019. DOI: 10.1111/AN.1291