FOR RADICALS: A Handbook for Twenty-First Century Activists
have important messages to deliver but are too often caught up in
the passion of their causes that they lose sight of effective communication—which
is their biggest tool. Crucial to the cause is the ability to speak
with clarity and intelligence and not to underestimate the challenge
of breaking new ground and winning new converts.
Activists often suffer from a credibility gap because of their lack
of a coherent message and lack of strategic delivery. Rhetoric for
Radicals addresses and helps solve these problems. It provides the
all-important communication skills necessary to be effectively heard.
If you accept that communication creates the social world, then you
will agree that changing the way we communicate can change the world.
Rhetoric for Radicals provides practical guidelines for public speaking,
writing, conversation, persuasion, political correctness, propaganda
analysis, street theatrics and new languages.
• Streets, Rhetoric,
• A Call for Rhetorical Action
• Skills for the Multitude
• The Power of Language
• Body Rhetoric
• Twenty-First Century Radical Rhetoric
One situates rhetoric as a communicative labor. While rhetoric is
an ever-present issue, “good rhetoric” is labor intensive.
It takes time, thought and energy. Bypassing this labor contributes
to the rhetorical crisis discussed in the above excerpt. But we can
improve our rhetoric and traverse this crisis. This mending process
begins with a conceptual overview of rhetoric for radicals. Chapter
One provides three different but related definitions of rhetoric,
situates rhetoric at the center of social change, connects rhetorical
practice to activism and organizing and asks us to approach our activism
through the lens of rhetoric. Activism, as the conscious act of changing
society, is inherently rhetorical. Political campaigns, social movements,
direct actions, petitioning, lobbying, demonstrations, rallies and
parades of resistance are rhetorical constructions. But Chapter One
goes deeper and agues that all human realities are rhetorically constructed.
Such a framework depicts the world as a pliable process and our activism
as a communicative labor for recreating realties. If this is true,
then our activism isn’t about changing but about creating the
world. This insight is foundational to rhetoric for radicals.
Chapter Two is a hands-on chapter, providing plenty of guidelines
and suggestions for developing your rhetorical skills. It begins by
addressing two basic skills: public speaking and writing. These skills,
while not what everyone wants or needs, easily transfer to other activist
related issues, e.g., designing websites, running public campaigns,
creating T-shirt and poster images, developing visual art, petitioning
on street corners and having everyday conversations. In each case
we need to develop a clear message that can be effectively communicated
to other people. This chapter tackles that concern head-on. The chapter
also provides instructions for creating a “rhetorical package,”
which includes a message, audience, strategy, situation and goal.
The chapter then addresses different rhetorical approaches, like persuasion,
argumentation, storytelling, and invitational rhetoric. Understanding
how to use these approaches is important, but we must also develop
our rhetorical knowledge. This involves using current events, history,
and self-knowledge to your rhetorical advantage. Chapter Two provides
a solid starting point for improving your communication skills, your
rhetorical skills and your rhetorical knowledge.
Chapter Three discusses the power of language, particularly how language
shapes people’s perceptions and understandings. Mainstream media,
political strategists and advertising and marketing agencies understand
this all too well. Activists need to take heed and consciously consider
the wording of every slogan, sentence and demand. Language, thus understood,
becomes a tool for radical social change. Deploying the right language
can mean the difference between success and failure. This chapter
helps you understand how language shapes people’s views, how
it is used and abused, how it relates to issues of self-identity and
propaganda, how to appreciate political correctness without being
stifled by it, and how to utilize the rhetorical power of new words
and languages. By the end, you’ll understand how language not
only shapes consciousness, but also, and more profoundly, how it shapes
reality. You’ll see how changing your language helps change
Chapter Four expands the scope of rhetoric by addressing body rhetoric.
At the very least, body rhetoric involves the look, feel, and style
of your physical gestures, the messages of your nonverbal communication
and the meanings and effects of your bodily actions. And just as you
can improve your verbal rhetoric, you can also improve your body rhetoric.
Since your body is the site of your everyday living, you can cultivate
it into a site of radical activity and rhetorical engagement. Chapter
Two helps you accomplish that by looking at three things: embodied
argumentation, rhetorical style and the human vibe as bodily emanation.
The chapter provides examples of and guidelines for improving these
forms of rhetoric.
Chapter Five, the last chapter, summarizes and extends the purpose
of the entire book: it provides guidelines for building twenty-first
century radical rhetoric. The chapter begins with ten observations
of contemporary activist rhetoric. Understanding our current actions
helps pave the way for future actions. The chapter then discusses
“network rhetoric,” which is a paradigmatic figure of
today’s activism. We discuss some examples of network rhetoric
and then ways to improve as well as move beyond this rhetorical form.
The chapter ends by proposing a new approach to radical thought and
action. This approach, called neo-radicalism, sets forth a new orientation
toward activism that is based on the immaterial and communicative
labors of the twenty-first century. Neo-radicalism is a rhetorically-centered
activism that encapsulates the nature and purpose of Rhetoric for
Why Rhetoric for Radicals?
century activism advocates for a single world composed of many realities.
Different types of organizational structures, communicative approaches
and ways of living are explored as we try to change the world without
taking power. Swarms of people, identities, orientations, wants and
needs are linked by desires for social justice and more meaningful
ways of being in the world. Our political actions are grounded in
our experiences of hunger, discrimination, unemployment, bombing,
occupation, brutality and empire. Diverse movements rise up in opposition
to these conditions and we insist that another world is not only possible
but absolutely necessary. We improvise, strategize and experiment
as we organize local and global resistances, rebellions, revolutions
and liberations. Our methodology of revolution is individualist and
communal, supportive without suffocating, and expresses a non-reductive
and non-universalizing solidarity. Such twenty-first century radicalism
is beautiful and handsome, exciting and invigorating. But there is
an unintended residual effect: our twenty-first century radicalism
suffers from a rhetorical crisis.
We continuously work, act and communicate for better realities, and
we undoubtedly succeed in many of our efforts. But the general population
lacks a widespread sense of the urgent need for action, which means
that our movements lack the critical masses necessary for profound
social change. This is standard for most radical projects and most
sociopolitical eras. We’re always working with limited resources
and reaching beyond our presumed capacities. But each project is unique
and each era is different. We must look at our own situation and evaluate
the efficacy of our efforts. For instance, our ideas, words and arguments,
while widely circulated among our own communities, are often absent
from the wider sphere of public talk. Our activism and organizing,
while helpful in altering micro-relations and alleviating immediate
situations, seem to fall upon too many deaf ears and too many blind
eyes. Our direct actions, while promoting worldwide justice and individual
self-empowerment, are easily obscured by the media’s decontextualized
accounts and easily dismissed by political pundits. And our political
philosophies and ideologies, while thought-provoking and heart-felt,
struggle for wider exposure, acceptance and mobilizing force. Basically,
there is a communicative gap between our efforts and the public’s
reception of those efforts. This gap is a rhetorical issue needing
attention and redress. If we are to change the world, we must remedy
this situation. That remedy can begin by rigorously attending to the
communicative aspects of our twenty-first century radicalism.