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5 protest signs that changed history

The protest sign. A piece of cardboard or placard that with just a few simple words can pull at our heart strings and empower a generation.

In recent years, protest signs have been at the forefront of our minds more than ever before. Witty, amusing, politically charged statements have been doing the social media rounds, while gut-wrenching words turn into headlines on the evening news.

2017 was a year of many meaningful marches, we saw passionate sign holders voice their opinions and their hopes for the future. Key marches included the Women’s March, March for Life, the #MeToo movement, Black Lives Matter and the Anti-Trump movement.  With many common goals, the Anti-Trump supporters activity peaked during the 2017 Women’s March. Combined, the two movements made history, as the largest single-day protest ever to take place in the US.

Technology and social media have helped protest signs gain momentum and worldwide coverage, but even before Facebook and Twitter, protest signs had power. These carefully worded, hand-written posters are both succinct and impactful. Over the years they’ve changed our viewpoints and helped to transform the world we live in.

Here are just a few of the most significant examples.

I am a man

Image via: The 1968 Exhibit

On February 12, 1968, African American men marched through the city of Memphis with protest signs that simply stated, ‘I am a man’. Most of these men worked as sanitation workers and were protesting for better wages, for safer working conditions and for their union to be recognised. Their signs spoke of basic human rights for all people and prompted Martin Luther King Jr. to travel to Memphis and support their cause.

The ‘I am a man’ protest signs are a testament to change and to standing up for the rights of all men. The sign itself is just four simple words, short, sharp and powerful. Protest signs don’t need to be long and flowery, in fact the very best signs are ones that are hard hitting and straight to the point. These direct messages are easy to read, easy to remember and help us to see the world in a new light.

This signs’ legacy lives on even now, and in 2015 the world saw a similar protest sign emerge in the form of ‘Je Suis Charlie.’ In 2010, an original ‘I am a man’ poster sold for $34,000 at a New York auction.

Votes for Women

The suffragette movement really began to take off in Britain at the beginning of the 1900’s. The group had created momentum by holding meetings, making pamphlets and seeking newspaper coverage – but now it was time to march. In 1908 a mass rally at Hyde Park saw over 300,000 activists attend with protest signs held high. Some protesters even chained themselves to railings. The stakes were high for these women, who had been fighting for their rights for a very long time.

The votes for women protest sign is one of the most iconic signs of our time, and its wording gets straight to the point. This sign doesn’t hide behind lengthy manifestos, it clearly states what the protesters want in just 3 simple words. In fact, even a fleeting glance at this sign would get the message across.

This particular sign clearly demonstrates the power of short, snappy slogans. The words on these posters eventually helped women gain the vote in 1918, as well as paving the way for US women being given the right to vote in 1920.

Make love not war

Image via: 8track

1960’s America was a turbulent time. President Lyndon B. Johnson sent around 500,000 American troops to Vietnam, and many felt they were fighting somebody else’s war. The ‘make love not war’ movement rose around this time, with protesters urging the government to bring their troops home.

Many protesters were young university students who embraced their hippy lifestyle and took to the streets with peace symbols drawn on protest signs – their main anthem ‘make love not war’ appeared on buttons and poster boards. They would chant, play music and sing through the streets, all with the hope that this would bring peace to the country and the world.

Powerful, catchy slogans can spur on a generation and continue to impact us long after their invention. This particular line has been used to protest several wars since Vietnam and was also featured in songs written by John Lennon and Bob Marley. ‘Make love not war’ is an iconic phrase that has continued to thrive in our modern culture.

A woman’s place is in the resistance

Image via: @Rossalyn Warren

Fast forward to modern times, the Women’s March in 2017 started as an anti-Trump movement and quickly established itself as a march for women’s rights, reproductive rights, LGBTQ rights and racial equality. The sign that made the biggest headlines was a picture of Carrie Fisher, who plays Princess Leia in the Star Wars universe. This witty and powerful message played on the phrase ‘a woman’s place is in the home’, as well as paying homage to the new Star Wars franchise. The sign simply said the words ‘A woman’s place is in the resistance.’

The phrase quickly took on a life of its own and was shared across Facebook and Twitter, as well as featuring on different posters for various marches. Both the use of a clever play on words and references to iconic pop culture figures help protest signs stand out from the crowd. Having your words re-tweeted and shared is one of the benefits on our social media generation – your message doesn’t stay at the march, but reaches every corner of the world.

Both Leia and Carrie Fisher were feminists who were fiercely intelligent, strong-willed and powerful. The message of women being in the resistance resonates with us today as more and more women are standing up to inequality and fighting for change.


Image via BBC Canada

2017’s #MeToo movement first emerged because of the sexual misconduct allegations against Hollywood royalty Harvey Weinstein, and soon became a phrase that thousands and women and men were attributing to themselves. As such, the phrase soon became the second anthem for the Women’s March. By 2018 the #MeToo movement had reached fever point, with many prevalent celebrities being accused of sexual harassment and assault. Adding gravity to this, the hashtag #MeToo created a channel across social media in which victims voiced their stories and experiences with harassment. Millions of people all over the world protested in the second Women’s March in January 2018, with many people holding up signs saying #MeToo.

The message on this protest sign is clear – sexual misconduct is everywhere and it needs to stop. The words ‘Me Too’ are short and direct, with the audience knowing exactly what the protester means without saying too much, illustrating the power of short and simple slogans.

Both women and men have had their voices heard in 2017 and 2018 thanks to this iconic two word sentence, but only time will tell if it makes its mark on history by truly changing the world’s attitudes on sexual misconduct.

These five protest signs have helped spread positive messages and unite people together. Such simple words and concise phrases can alter opinions and help change the course of history.

Though the writing we do as a copywriting agency might not be of the protest sign variety, we pride ourselves on offering powerful and persuasive copywriting services, which will inspire your readers to take action.

Get in touch with us today to see how we can work with your company.