Abstract

At the 2017 Women's March, Shepard Fairey's We The People posters generated a great deal of excitement for their patriotic depiction of a diverse “people.” But the posters’ success exists in tension with the broader critiques of the Women's March. This essay argues that our current understanding of constitutive rhetoric is ill-equipped to explain this tension. Using the ideas of Danielle Allen and feminist scholars Aimee Carrillo Rowe, Karma Chávez, and Alyssa A. Samek, I perform several readings of the posters to explicate the fractures within our theories of constitutive rhetoric. I demonstrate that our current understanding of “the people” through oneness is hampered by a unity/difference binary that limits our ability to understand heterogenous collectives. Instead, I argue that an approach of wholeness better captures the complex collective life of contemporary coalitions and better attunes scholars to the intricate ways “the people” come into being. I argue that shifting the key terms of constitutive rhetoric to solidarity, vision, and health can help critics develop a more nuanced understanding of diverse coalitions. Overall, this essay offers scholars an opportunity to rethink our theories of “the people” to better account for the emerging strategies, needs, and values of contemporary collectives.

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