In his TED talk, Dave Meslin attempts to answer the question “What’s the Antidote to Political Apathy?” with the conclusion that political apathy stems from a perceived lack of political agency. This course examines the role of rhetoric in discussions surrounding political inactivity as well as the burgeoning activism of today. Quintessential to our investigation of the rhetorical modes of activism is our exploration of varied and often contesting definitions of “democracy” and “civic engagement.” In addition to theoretical conversations pertaining to civic engagement, we will consider the rhetorical strategies of activist groups such as Black Lives Matter, Occupy Wall Street, and Love Can’t Wait.

Students are given the opportunity to research a topic of their choosing pertaining to rhetoric and activism. Some possible research topics include: an investigation into why a particular movement (like Occupy Wall Street) fades away without substantive impact, how/why activist efforts are sometimes cyclical across time (civil rights or Women’s rights), differing theoretical approaches to activism (the violence of Malcolm X versus the nonviolence of MLK), or perhaps the relationship between activism, policy, and the implementation of new laws (Love Can’t Wait, Obergefell and Hodges, and marriage equality). By examining and evaluating the efficacy of rhetoric within activist efforts, students will sharpen their own persuasive communication skills. In addition to the rhetoric, writing and research skills students learned in PWR 1, this PWR 2 course makes an important shift in focus toward embodied rhetoric through oral delivery of research.

A Stanford PWR 2 Course