Protest literature is the art of expressing values, concerns, and emotions. It can take any form and protest any topic. Different types of protest pieces can articulate the same argument, but in varying ways always for the same purpose: to convince its audience of the argument. Whether it be visual art, music, documents or political theorists, protest is expressed by many platforms. Ai Wei Wei’s art, Hamilton, The Declaration of Independence, and John Locke’s Social Contract all are examples of different forms of protest aimed at a common subject. Each of these pieces protest essentially the same argument but the difference in rhetoric conveys the argument in unique manners to engage each audience most effectively.
Ai Wei Wei is a Chinese artist who has become extremely controversial and has grown into one of the most influential artists of his time. In 2011 he was arrested for alleged economic crimes against the Chinese state. Wei Wei has used his art to protest the corruption of the Chinese government and the neglect of human rights. In Wei Wei’s show So Sorry in Munich, Germany, he constructed his installation, an exhibit called Remembering, out of nine thousand children’s backpacks. It spelled out “She lived happily for seven years in this world” in Chinese characters. Wei Wei used his backpack exhibition to protest the government’s negligence that lead to tragedies such as schools collapsing during the earthquake. Wei Wei engages the everyday Chinese citizens by making his work noticeable and bold. Not only does Wei Wei create large displays of his artwork in order to capture citizens attention but he also sends his messages in an alternative and accessible way: blogging. Wei Wei posted all 5,212 names on his blog, which resulted in it being shut down by the government. His message however, was received by the Chinese citizens and his art provoked thought regarding the Chinese government.
The Broadway musical Hamilton by Lin-Manuel Miranda contains its own protest. The musical is the story of Alexander Hamilton, the American Revolution, and the Founding Fathers. Throughout the story the Founding Fathers rally against the British Crown for their freedoms. In the song “My Shot,” the colonists are opposed to the way that the British were governing the colonists, specifically regarding taxes. The song says: “Essentially, they tax us relentlessly then King George turns around, runs a spending spree he ain't never gonna set his descendants free so there will be a revolution in this century.” In another song “Farmer Refuted” Hamilton is complaining about taxes. He says “Don’t modulate the key then not debate with me, why should a tiny island across the sea regulate the price of tea?” The colonists throughout the entirety of the musical are fighting for their freedoms, fighting against the Crown, and fighting for a better life. This musical protests government differently than Ai Wei Wei’s art, but is still conveying the same argument. Hamilton, conveys protest of government in a different time period than Ai Wei Wei, but it also engages a different audience than the Chinese artist. The musical has captured the attention of many different ages, young and old, and reached people of different social classes and races.
The Declaration of Independence is another piece of protest literature that has similarities and differences to Ai Wei Wei and Hamilton. The Declaration of Independence was an official act declaring independence from British rule by the thirteen American colonies. The Declaration was a document, which differs from art and musicals as its points were made crisply and cleanly. The establishment of the protest in the paper is done early, convincing the reader of the rights of all humans. The document starts with the offenses committed by King George, and an appeal to men closes it, pleading for acknowledgement of the new American government. The rhetoric in the Declaration is forward and easily understandable, unlike art and musicals, which can be subject to opinion.
John Locke’s Two Treatises of Government establishes its own political theories and ideas about government. Locke’s philosophies regarding government approach the ideas of government protest that have been mentioned in Ai Wei Wei, Hamilton, and The Declaration of Independence. The ideas are evidently not the exact same, as Locke’s philosophies were in an earlier time period as well as having a different purpose. According to Locke, political power is the natural power of each man collectively giving into the hands of a designated body. In Chapter II: Of the State of Nature, he states “To understand political power right, and derive it from its original, we must consider, what state all men are naturally in, and that is, a state of perfect freedom to order their actions, and dispose of their possessions and persons, as they think fit, within the bounds of the law of nature, without asking leave, or depending upon the will of any other man”. Locke’s ideas are that a community can protect each man’s rights better than a man can alone, therefore government exists solely for the well being of the community. Locke’s Second Treatise had a significant and deep influence on the American Government which can be found in his ideals of mixed government and separation of powers. In Chapter VII: Of Political or Civil Society, Locke states, “And herein we have the original of the legislative and executive power of civil society, which is to judge by standing laws, how far offences are to be punished, when committed within the common-wealth; and also to determine, by occasional judgments founded on the present circumstances of the fact, how far injuries from without are to be vindicated; and in both these to employ all the force of all the members, when there shall be need.” Locke created his Treatises and his theories in order to spread his ideas about how people should form governments through social contracts in order to maintain inalienable rights. His style is not as approachable as a musical, but it is just as effective.
All of these types of protest literature have similar overall arguments however each one of them do so in a different way, all of which are equally effective to each specific audience.
- “Declaration of Independence,” 1776. The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.
- Locke, John, and Peter Laslett. Two Treatises of Government. Cambridge University Press, 1988.
- Miranda, Lin-Manuel. “Hamilton: An American Musical.” Hamilton: The Revolution, edited by
- Jeremy McCarter, Grand Central Publishing, 2016
- Wei Wei, Ai. Remembering. 2009-2019, Haus der Kunst, Munich, Germany