The ideal chant for a protest is short, percussive, and meaningful. I attended the anti-Trump protest in New York City that marched between Union Square and Trump Tower on Saturday afternoon, and many of the chants I heard did not meet those criteria. It’s inevitable that a large group of people who are united only by their disgust for one man will have varying goals—I saw people carrying communist banners, anarchist flags, LGBTQ rainbow flags, Hillary signs, and Bernie signs, among many other constituencies. But when people with different interests unite with one goal, they need to figure out what they want to say with their combined voices. “Pussy grabs back”—which is sibilant, nonsensical, and arguably kind of offensive—isn’t a great choice. Then again, there are some oldie-but-goodie slogans that, with a little modification, suit our current political moment well.
Here is a list of all two dozen-plus chants I heard at the New York protest, listed from worst to best.
25. “Lock him up!” Sure, it’s simple and easy to chant, but this is just a terrible message. At least one thing anti-Trump protesters should agree on is that we do not support locking up our political opponents. Is Trump a criminal? Maybe. But let’s give him the benefit of a fair trial before we start calling for his imprisonment.
24. “You’re fired, Donald!” To be fair, the version I heard seemed to be a dry run, but anti-Trump protestors should leave this on the cutting-room floor. The meter requires the speaker to emphasize “–ald,” which is awkward.
23. “Pussy grabs back!” Pussies cannot grab. That’s just an anatomical fact. But even if they could, they would be ill-advised to “grab back,” because we shouldn’t stoop to Trump’s level. (Maybe “pussy” is supposed to be a stand-in for “women” in this chant? If so, I’d rather not be reduced to my genitals.)
22. “Hands too small! Can’t build a wall!” I also heard a version of this one that replaced “hands” with “dick.” Let’s refrain from insulting people based on their physical characteristics, shall we?
21. “If we don’t get it” / “Shut it down!” What is “it” in this case? A call-and-response chant without a clear antecedent needs work. (This chant also plays into the worst assumptions people make about protestors, which are that they’re interested only in tearing society apart, not making society better.)
20. “Popular vote!” OK, I see what you’re trying to do here! But abstract concepts, by themselves, aren’t great slogans. Maybe if you made it a full sentence, as in “We! Want! A popular vote,” it would rank a little higher on this list.
19. “They say ‘yes, Trump’!” / “We say ‘no Trump’!” Eh. A little simplistic.
18. “Donald Trump! Go away! Racist, sexist, anti-gay!” Does anyone really believe that Donald Trump is going to “go away” if we yell a slogan that closely resembles a nursery rhyme about the weather?
17. “Silence is violence!” There’s a little too much privilege baked into this hyperbolic cry, which is only a little better than the thoroughly outdated “Silence is consent.” Yes, speaking out against tyranny is good, but many people have good reason to fear for their safety if they speak out. Protestors should speak on behalf of the voiceless, not shame them for remaining silent.
16. “Not my president!” Honestly, I’m conflicted about the whole “not my president” concept. On the one hand, I understand wanting to clarify that you didn’t vote for this asshole and that he doesn’t represent your values. On the other hand, he is literally going to be your president. Denying reality probably isn’t going to get us anywhere.
15. “Love! Not hate! Makes America great!” A nice, if slightly sappy, twist on “Make America Great Again.”
14. “Hey hey! Ho ho! Donald Trump has got to go!” Even though this chant doesn’t offer enough detail on how we are going to get rid of Donald Trump, it’s got a vintage vibe and a memorable rhythm. Even if you hate this chant formula, it is never going to die.
13. “We! Reject! The president-elect!” This is significantly better than “Not my president!” It acknowledges that Trump is, indeed, the president-elect, and asserts that we, the protestors, are not going to roll over for him.
12. “Whose streets?” / “Our streets!” This call and response offers a succinct reminder that American citizens are entitled to assemble peacefully. Maybe a little too succinct—the pause between the call and the response often causes this chant to lag a bit.
11. “No Trump! No KKK! No fascist USA!” This one has an unassailable message and a catchy rhythm with built-in momentum. Unfortunately, that built-in momentum can make it hard to catch your breath after each repetition.
10. “The people! United! Will never be defeated!” This one might be a little too optimistic. But you can’t have a protest without optimism.
9. “Pay your taxes!” Speaks for itself.
8. “Love trumps hate!” I know this one has some baggage from the Clinton campaign, but it works better as a protest slogan than as a campaign slogan. And cadence-wise, you can’t do much better than three single-syllable words.
7. “Say it loud! Say it clear!” / “Refugees are welcome here!” At this post-election, pre-inauguration moment, before Trump has actually given liberals any concrete policy moves to oppose, a chief aim of a protest ought to be providing succor to those who fear for their safety and lives under a Trump presidency. This slogan accomplishes that aim admirably. (It also works with “immigrants” instead of “refugees.”)
6. “Education not deportation!” Maybe the best three-word policy proposal out there.
5. “Black lives matter!” Simple, powerful, affirming, and increasingly relevant in a country where hate speech and hate crimes seem to be spiking.
4. “Muslim rights are human rights!” Factual, inclusive, and endlessly adaptable if you sub in “immigrant rights,” “gay rights,” “black rights,” “women’s rights,” etc.
3. “My body, my choice!” / “Her body, her choice!” Classic and newly topical, as Trump threatens to appoint Supreme Court justices who will overturn Roe v. Wade. I also kind of love the fact that women chant the call and men chant the response, which makes a protest feel a little bit like a big musical number.
2. “No justice!” / “No peace!” At this post-election, pre-inauguration moment, another chief aim of a protest ought to be promising Trump and his cronies that we will not simply roll over and let them trample our civil liberties. This chant gets the job done.
1. “Show me what democracy looks like!” / “This is what democracy looks like!” The meta-chant, with a syncopated rhythm, emphasizes the fundamentally patriotic nature of protesting and reminds bystanders that democracy is meaningless without the right to peaceful assembly. This is the good stuff.