Take a Knee, Burn a Bra

Famous Calls to Action

Phrases like “sit-in” or “bra burning” might not currently mean much to you. But, we’re here to help you sort out the top 10 most famous calls to action, so you don’t accidentally find yourself taking out your nemesis’s knee. Or igniting your frontside.

1. Taking a Knee

“Taking a knee” has become a buzz phrase capable of stirring heated conversation. But, the history of “taking a knee” started out as something other than what it means today.

Athletes have long used “taking a knee” as a way of showing a team’s unity when a player is injured during play. In 2016, however, the NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick became troubled by the deaths of a number of young, unarmed black men at the hands of police around the country. Kaepernick decided to sit during the national anthem at his team’s (the 49ers) games, when players traditionally stood, to show his concerns about the country. Kaepernick soon began kneeling instead of sitting, after meeting with a former Green Beret who suggested taking a knee as way of continuing to show protest while honoring the military who fight and die for the country. It seemed like “taking a knee” had transitioned from an expression of team solidarity to one of protest. Until recently, when the NFL showed their team unity by banding together as a whole to protest presidential criticisms about players who were “taking a knee.” Unity and protest join hand-in-hand, or knee-on-knee.

2. Black Lives Matter

The phrase “Black Lives Matter” is many things: a rallying cry, a statement, a loosely structured organization, a movement. It began in 2013 as a social-media hashtag after teenager Trayvon Martin was shot to death by George Zimmerman (who was later acquitted of second-degree murder). Three black women began the hashtag/movement in response to concerns that black lives were suddenly devalued. While some Americans responded with “All Lives Matter,” “Trans Lives Matter,” and “Blue Lives Matter” (for law enforcement), the core message about the value of black lives in the U.S. continues to resonate. (Would you consider these words that divide us? Read more about divisive words from our current climate here.)

3. Taking to the Streets

One of the oldest and most effective means of pubic protest is, of course, the march. “Taking to the streets” has been a way for labor movements and civil-rights groups to both draw attention to issues and to bring about change. For example, the anti-Vietnam War marches culminated in more than a half a million people converging on the national mall in 1969, which was a record at the time.

The 2017 Women’s March, a response to the election of Donald Trump, stressed the importance of women’s rights, immigration reform, health care, and more. It was a march reminiscent of the first group to take the streets in large numbers: the women in the 1913 Women’s Suffrage March. The 2017 march drew a half million women to D.C. alone. Some 400-plus marches also took place around the states, with over 80 in other countries. An estimated five million people marched worldwide on January 21, and the event is considered the largest one-day protest in U.S. history. Proof that women’s standing power is timeless and unstoppable.

4. Sit-In

“Sit-ins” are often an effective means of protest, intended to be non-violent. A “sit-in” brings people to a pubic space to protest that entity’s policies or bring attention to social injustices, in order to effect change. Originally launched by civil-rights activists to correct injustices, such as segregation, “sit-ins” eventually became a standard method of protest for college-campus students, and they are still used on campus’s today. “Sit-ins” are often used as a call for change to a college’s curriculum, administrative policy, or investments.

Rosa Parks led one of America’s most famous “sit-ins” in 1955. It should be noted that other black Americans protested bus segregation in the same manner as early as the 1940s, and that these actions were extremely dangerous during that time. Through the 1960s, civil-rights “sit-ins” often resulted in tragically violent reactions by both law enforcement and citizens. It took real bravery to protest in this way.

5. Raise a Fist/Black Power

The 1960s were also the time of the Black Panthers and the rise of the “Black Power” ideology. The phrase “Black Power” was meant to inspire black Americans to rise up and take action against the systemic racism of the early 20th century. At a 1968 Summer Olympics medal ceremony in Mexico City, two black track Olympians shocked the country when they raised black glove-clad clenched fists, mirroring the “Black Power” salute, during the national anthem. (One athlete later said it was a “human rights salute.”)

John Carlos and Tommie Smith, who won bronze and gold medals respectively, raised their fists on the podium in protest of ongoing civil-rights injustices in America. The silver medalist was Australian Peter Norman, who supported Carlos and Smith by wearing a badge for the Olympic Project for Human Rights. He suffered widespread condemnation at home for that support.

Nearly 50 years later, the stenciled image of a raised, clenched fist became part of the nascent “resistance” tableaux by those who oppose the presidency of Donald Trump. It first made a widespread appearance at the massive 2017 Women’s Marches after President Trump’s inauguration. The raised fist has some inarguable staying power.

6. Occupy/We Are the 99%

The “Occupy” movement sprang out of “sit-ins” that occurred across the University of California campuses in 2009 and 2010 in response to tuition raises and budget cuts. The banking crash and mortgage crises of the time had done damage to the middle class all around the county, and the response was the “Occupy” movement. Protesters called for banking reforms and focused on the wealthiest 1% of Americans, fighting for the rest of the population (“We are the 99%!”) who were struggling to make ends meet.

Encampments of protesters sprung up in Manhattan (Occupy Wall Street started in September 2011), and soon protests were taking place in more than 80 countries and in over 600 American communities. Shortly after the encampments emptied several months later, discussion of income inequality and minimum wage became front and center in the national dialogue, due largely to the “Occupy” movement.

7. Burn Your Bra

“Burn your bra!” was reportedly the rallying cry of the women’s movement of the 1960s and early ‘70s, but the idea may be more of a collective false memory than anything else. While a trashcan of women’s undergarments burned with some fanfare outside the 1968 Miss America contest in protest of beauty-pageant culture, there is little proof that the “women’s liberation” movement called on women to burn their bras. Many women embraced a bra-free life for a number of reasons through much of the ‘70s, but few actually set them on fire.

8. Burn Your Draft Card

As the Vietnam War got underway, the draft, or conscription, became synonymous with the Grim Reaper knocking on your door, all for a somewhat murky cause. Between 1964 and 1973, the U.S. military drafted 2.2 million American men between the ages of 18 and 26 to fight a war “against communism” in Southeast Asia. Some young men enrolled in college to receive a deferment, some moved to other countries like Canada, and some signed up for the National Guard. Others, who believed in the war or their duty to fight, stepped up and volunteered. Regardless, many men joined together in protest and burned their draft cards, beginning in 1963, to show their resentment about losing their ability to choose. The action was outlawed in 1965, but few offenders were prosecuted.

9. Give Me Liberty Or Give Me Death!

It was 1775 in Richmond Virginia when politician and lawyer Patrick Henry uttered perhaps the most famous call to action that gave birth to the United States. Urging the colonies to revolt, Patrick said:

“Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!”

10. Love It Or Leave It!

Conservative America’s response to much of the social change during the 1960s was encapsulated handily in the slogan and bumper sticker directive, “America: Love it Or Leave It!” It was both a protest-era call to action and a response to all that was being protested.

(Want to learn more terms from the most recent feminist calls to action? Check them out here.)

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