To communicate the ideas of a movement, one must have a voice for the expression of those ideas. That voice is found in persuasive rhetoric. This art is used to move people to action and convince anybody willing to listen that the opinion of the movement is right. Every revolution has at least one great orator who uses rhetoric to express ideas. But persuasive rhetoric can be as powerful in written form as in spoken form. Both styles follow the same basic principles. The persuasive rhetoric of all revolutions use logical, emotional, and ethical appeals.
Logical appeals are the basis of persuasive rhetoric. Facts and examples provided by orators or writers appeal to a person’s need for concrete evidence. Logical appeals can be structured as deductive arguments, which begin with a generalization or hypothesis and giving examples and evidence to support the generalization. A piece of rhetoric doesn’t even have to have an overall deductive argument. If a speech has more than one facet to discuss, this type of argument may be interspersed throughout the speech. Every paragraph can make a different point, each using a deductive argument, as in Abbie Hoffman’s speech, “Reflections on Student Activism”, to the first National Student Convention at Rutgers in 1988. He addresses topics ranging from domestic institutions to the character of their current movement. Each argument begins with a statement, “we need to be rid of false dichotomies…”, and supports it with reasons for making the statement. This allows many topics to be covered in a short amount of time and keeps the speech moving at an up tempo pace.
Another type of argument organization used is the inductive structure. This begins with examples and draws a conclusion from the evidence. Leonard Peltier’s Pre-Sentencing Statement used a deductive argument in the first paragraph and in the piece as a whole, but each argument as a paragraph is inductive. At the end of each paragraph, Peltier declares that the courts will sentence him to no fewer than two life terms consecutively. Each paragraph makes a point to support the deductive argument, and those points are given support by the inductive arguments behind them.
Emotion is another appeal used by all effective revolutionaries. This gives an orator passion and conveys his or her feelings. Thurgood Marshall, an influential Supreme Court justice during the civil rights movement, spoke at the Annual Seminar of the San Francisco Patent and Trademark Law Association in 1987, the 200th anniversary of the United States Constitution. He surprised and shocked many people when, instead of praising the Constitution, he reminded them that amendments, such as the entire Bill of Rights, and a Civil War were needed to make the Constitution more acceptable to everyone. Marshall criticized the framers of the document by saying that he didn’t “find the wisdom, foresight, and sense of justice exhibited by the framers particularly profound.” His comments made front-page headlines.
Thoreau appeals greatly to the emotions in a passage taken from his book Walden: “I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life…” Thoreau challenges people to live their life as he did, “deliberately, fronting only the essential facts of life…” He poked at a person’s very emotional and moral structure. People took notice of this, and began to realize their own faults in life, because of his challenge to their mode of existence and the way in which they live their lives.
Ethical appeals can also be used in persuasive rhetoric. These call upon the audience’s respect for virtue, rights, and justice. Leonard Peltier relies heavily on an appeal to justice, the idea in his Pre-Sentencing Statement. He criticizes a justice system that he says has failed him, and even goes as far to say that his “criticism has not been harsh enough.” Peltier also attacks the FBI, which also warranted an ethical appeal since the institution meant to uphold rights (in theory) had violated them. Peltier “…now firmly believes that you prosecutors and judges of the court will impose two consecutive life terms solely because that way you will avoid the displeasures of the FBI”, and he openly criticizes the justice system.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton was a pivotal player in the women’s rights movement, and used the ethical appeal heavily in her speech at the Women’s Suffrage Convention in 1868. She was working for women’s rights and trying to convince both genders that women deserve their rights, especially the right to vote. Stanton advocated that women be considered equal to men. She proclaimed that “to keep a foothold in a society, woman must be as near like a man as possible, reflect his ideas, opinions, virtues, motives, prejudices, and vices.” Stanton describes women and men as equal in an ethical sense. Stanton believed that “whatever is done to lift woman to her true position will help to usher in a new day of peace and perfection for the race.” This appeal to the rights of human beings was instrumental in Stanton’s ethical argument.
An informal tone can also make an impact. In speeches, it can work to make the speaker more human and attainable, and is especially used in grassroots campaigns. Abbie Hoffman starts off his speech “Reflections on Student Activism” by talking about his buttons. He also talks about other speeches he’s given or is going to give, and stories about his family life. Hoffman connects with his audience by using language that is not formal. He also used what would be considered by the authorities and older Americans to be vulgar language, turning morals upside down and exposing the hypocrisy of authorities.
Repetition is another style. This is a line repeated and seared into a listener’s mind. Martin Luther King began every thought with the phrase “I have a dream…”, and we now refer to that speech by the same memorable line. Leonard Peltier wants the audience to understand and never forget that a corrupt system sentenced him to “…two life terms running consecutively…” Peltier repeats this line, or one very similar, at the end of each point to punctuate and remind the reader of his fate.
Certain techniques, appeals to ethics, appeals to emotions, and logic are all used in the persuasive rhetoric of a movement. People never forget a great speech or speaker, no matter if they were for or against the speaker’s opinions. In causing one to take action, revolutionary rhetoric is most effective on those undecided or in favor of the revolution. But in spreading the opinions and ideas of a movement, persuasive rhetoric is an invaluable tool.
, Henry David Thoureau
Remarks at the Annual Seminar of the San Francisco Patent and Trademark Law Association
, Thrugood Marshall
Leonard Peltier's Pre-Sentencing Statement
, Leonard Peltier
Speech at Women's Suffrage Convention
, Elizabeth Cady Stanton
Reflections on Student Activism
, Abbie Hoffman