Carlee A. Baker, Oregon State University
Amber Buck, The University of Alabama
Angela D. Mack, Texas Christian University
James Chase Sanchez, Middlebury College
Jennifer Wingard, University of Houston
Moderated by José Luis Cano Jr. and Daisy Levy
Political rhetorics flood our local, state, and national spheres. Their presence in national outlets, quotidian interactions, and digital mediums provide a continually evolving and perpetually urgent situation that requires constant examination. Given the last eight years of volatile national and local elections, we wanted to create a digital space where cultural rhetorics scholars could engage with each other on the current political landscape. Recognizing that political rhetorics can elucidate complex issues but also dilute them to sound bites, we invited participants to give readers a look into how studying this aspect of contemporary life can open dialogue and thought. We thank our participants for their honesty, insight, and wit as they delved into the topic:
- Carlee A. Baker, MA student, Oregon State University
- Amber Buck, Assistant Professor, The University of Alabama
- Angela D. Mack, Visiting Lecturer and Community-Engaged Public Scholar, Texas Christian University
- James Chase Sanchez, Assistant Professor, Middlebury College
- Jennifer Wingard, Associate Professor, University of Houston
From the beginning of the conversation, folks were eager to discuss the landscape of political rhetorics—to offer their insights, but especially to connect with their colleagues on these same issues. It was exciting to watch common threads such as power dynamics, emotional toil, and campaign strategies emerge as the conversation unfolded. Every couple of minutes, someone chimed in with an emphatic “YES, AND …,” an “Ooof,” and brief articulations of solidarity and encouragement. The conversation felt like a scholarly potluck—a group of sharp, engaged people sharing their ideas, while building a community marked by relations and care.
And humor. For sure, the ideas offered here are serious and weighty—James Chase Sanchez’s identifies “power brokers” in leveraging institutional authority and interests, while Jen Wingard explains that “it is often more difficult to access the actual roots of power and rhetorical practice.” But too, the entire conversation holds plenty of space for participants (and for you, the reader!) to chuckle, sigh, or perhaps sit back and enjoy some more of that delicious peach cobbler.
Our participants highlight the influence and density of political rhetoric. Carlee Baker describes “a central feature of coalition-building, campaigning, and solidarity” and highlights “TikTok as a campaign tool,” and Angle D. Mack shares a story about how Fort Worth’s mayor tapped into “nostalgia rhetoric of moving towards times no longer here but longed for.” Each of the conversants brought their particular commitments to bear, and in those particularities, we see the connections between our own professional and personal lives. When emotions emerged, participants regularly hailed the others—a “we see you” gesture that added to the collective force of the whole and marks this conversation again as a group of thinkers who see their own experiences as part of larger ones. Amber Buck recounted feeling “abandoned and angry that the national party was earning money off the backs of my friends and neighbors” after she received a text message asking for donations to counter the Supreme Court’s Roe V. Wade overturn. The responses and discussion that follows travel a path that builds on Amber’s initial point to examine rhetorical misfires in political spheres, and again, ones that have repercussions for real, live people. These connections remind us that politics and political rhetorics are not only about the consolidation of power but also about the manner in which people are collateralized in that consolidation.
We hope you approach this conversation in the spirit in which it unfolded—as an invitation to a community gathering, a picnic. Make yourself a plate, get comfortable, and take a listen to the expansive approaches and insights shared here.
As with all matters rhetorical, political rhetorics are hard to define. How would you define political rhetorics, how did you arrive at studying them, and what role do they play in your own work?
James Chase Sanchez: I think many people come to political rhetorics from individual politics or the ways that certain politics integrate into our collective lives. However, I think of this from an institutional perspective. How are power brokers who represent certain institutions or maintain certain institutional identities and frameworks making their political identities and values public? How do these institutions use power via political acts? These are the questions I often ask myself in my research.
I got to political rhetorics from epistemologies of white supremacy and lenses of whiteness—thinking about how white people like to maintain power–but I think we see political rhetorics not just play out on a national scale; they constantly work in our everyday lives as well. A good example would be the way that Chris Rufo has co-opted critical race theory and transgender discourses to make power plays for conservative agendas. The issues have appeared in local school board meetings all across America. All of this to say: the political arguments we are often making and seeing are in fact institutionally constructed and maintained. We are the pawns for larger power structures.
Jen Wingard: Ooof! This right here: “How are power brokers who represent certain institutions or maintain certain institutional identities and frameworks making their political identities and values public? How do these institutions use power via political acts?” And I would add: How do we untangle our assumptions of why these folks are doing what they are doing? Lots of discussion on social media and independent press often discusses Trump’s savvy rhetorical strategies, and I am not seeing that. I think he’s often erratic, but then that in and of itself presents as a strategy . . . maybe??
I used to say that all rhetoric is political because it has to do with power—those who have it; those who don’t; those trying to maintain it; those trying to intervene and change it. But as I have moved into more focused work on U.S. Politics, I am less confident in that definition as it plays out in the media and current political structure. I think after the rise of Trump, who is really the apex of the work being done by the GOP for the last three decades, political rhetoric is much less grounded in discussions of the realities of power. Instead, it seems to be grounded in spectacle, affect, and the maintenance of a very small ruling class (which is of course monied, skews male, and is often white.)
This is not to say that the first definition of political rhetoric no longer exists, but due to the circulation of particular memes and the speed at which news media and the internet exchange stories or sound bytes, it is often more difficult to access the actual roots of power and rhetorical practice. I know there are folks like Trish Roberts-Miller and Ryan Skinnell working on mapping demagoguery onto today’s political rhetoric, and I do think that is productive. But I often see what is happening in politics today as more scattershot than systematic. And that is where doing rhetorical work on contemporary political rhetoric and practice becomes less about our traditional models of persuasion. And this is where I am now. How do we understand rhetorical practices that are staunchly not democratic or rational?
José Luis Cano Jr.: Guau!!! What a great point about it being “more difficult to access the actual roots of power and rhetorical practice.”
James Chase Sanchez: I agree that any definitional work or understanding of political rhetorics must begin with understanding and locating power. I might argue that power is often a construct in rhetorical studies that gets left out of much of the discourse. At the end of the day, all rhetorical acts are about power on sometimes large and sometimes small scales.
Jen Wingard: This is a great point. Scaling is certainly needed. Because not all power is circulated or understood in the same ways.
Carlee Baker: You make such an interesting point about the scattershot nature of politics and our understanding of them in the Trump and post-Trump era, Jen. I think, to some degree, that the response to the Trump era, especially during his candidacy and in the early days of his presidency, was also pretty scattershot because we were all attempting to make sense of an event that was unfolding and evolving in front of us, literally, as we’re trying to analyze it. I think this is sort of a hallmark of working with political rhetoric as a subject, the challenges of understanding something as it changes.
Angela D. Mack: In a general, broad stroke kinda sense, I think of political rhetoric as the constructed knowledge systems by which one or a group of ones, lol, sway people and policies. It’s not simple or objective or without some motive toward power. It’s much more complex, but this is the way I begin with it in my own head.
Jen Wingard: This is a great point—how are people “moved.” I think this is something rhetoricians are just starting to delve into with affect studies. But I think because so much of rhetorical work on political rhetoric is attached to democratic discourse this point gets clouded. That’s why we are so often at a loss when people act against their best interest or irrationally in their voting.
Amber Buck: I would define political rhetorics as how individuals talk about issues of identity, power, and civic institutions. As Jen mentions, it’s about power in a broad sense and how individuals and groups interact with institutions (both government and NGO’s) to persuade and take action.
I came to studying political rhetorics in a roundabout way; up until this point I have studied individuals’ literacy practices on social media and the ways that they communicate their own political beliefs and actions to different audiences. I’ve always been involved politically as an individual myself, and as I’ve done more community-based and politically-engaged work, I’ve begun to see places where the work I do outside the academy can intersect with my research. I’m starting some new projects now on grassroots activist groups and how they use digital media.
Carlee Baker: I think, like all definitions of rhetoric that political rhetorics are very difficult to pin down. It is necessarily public, for one. I really like what Jen has to say about how power intersects with political rhetoric. All rhetoric is laden with and influenced by power, but the stakes feel higher and the power feels heavier when dealing with political rhetoric in particular. I think that political rhetoric looks and behaves differently depending on those who engage in it, the power that they wield and the privileges they enjoy. I also think that the definition is particularly hard to nail down because of the conflation between rhetoric and falsehood in political spheres (e.g. “empty rhetoric”). Most of my current research focuses on political rhetoric of some variety—recently, I’ve been looking at the ways in which science is operationalized in explicitly political spaces—but I came to the study while I was in college preparing to be a professional writer for the nonprofit and tech industries. I went on to work for a nonprofit shortly before being accepted to graduate school, and my experience there very much informs the work I currently do.
Angela D. Mack: I agree, Carlee, I think the definitions are very hard to pin down because rhetoric is “laced” with powers, lol.
James… power brokers! Political rhetoric is definitely a social currency that yields its own dividends to those who are vested in the systems remaining as is or in being dismantled.
Amber Buck: I really like what James is saying about power brokers and institutions; I think that’s a huge center for political rhetoric. And Jen is right that power has to be considered differently—who has power and how? In a political system like the United States, where structurally our system is turning to minority rule, this question will become more and more central. Who has political power? How do they maintain it? And how do they communicate that their positions are popular (even if they’re not)?
Jen Wingard: Amber, that’s a SUPER good point. The shift in demographics creates impending change. We often see “think pieces” about 2030, and when the White majority will fade and what we are seeing now is the GOP’s response to that. But I think we may need to broaden our perspective as rhetoricians to expand beyond the content of the message to how it’s best to deliver that message? Maybe?
Stories are one of the ways in which we encourage participation in the political process in this country—whether it’s encouraging people to vote to process election results, etc. Can you share a story—by politicians, the media, individuals, and/or activists—that has struck you as particularly compelling at local, state, and/or national levels?
Amber Buck: I would point to the story of Lucy McBath, the Congresswoman from Gwinnett Co., Georgia. She was first elected in 2018 in the wave of first-time Democratic women candidates, particularly women of color, who joined Congress that year. She ran on a gun control agenda; her son was a victim of gun violence, and she became an activist after his death. So I think her political life is emblematic of many women who are impacted by personal tragedy and then decide to run for office. Her seat in Congress used to be held by Newt Gingrich, so her election was also a symbol of how the South and particularly Georgia were changing politically. But in 2021, the Georgia legislature gerrymandered her district (GA-6) and combined parts of it with the GA-7 district, and so she had to run against another Democratic incumbent in the primary in 2020. She won, but I think her story showcases a lot of the trends we’ve seen the past few years: Democratic women of color and their success sometimes in getting elected, but also the ways that structurally, they’re held back by the undemocratic parts of our political system.
James Chase Sanchez: I love when we harness the power of the personal. I feel like those are the political stories that often move the most. Yet, I also think those are the stories Republicans are best at defending against, the anecdotes.
Angela D. Mack: I will share a local political story that’s relevant to where I live right now. Currently, in Spring 2023, my city of Fort Worth, TX is in an election cycle for the city council. Now, the council seats, including the mayor’s seat, are all nonpartisan. However, partisan members are elected to these seats, so much so that Fort Worth is the largest Republican-led metropolitan city in the state of Texas. The interesting story of the previous election that is being recycled is how the mayor is the youngest elected mayor of a major city in the US, or at least one of the top three. In the last campaign, it was all about a new change and direction and new blood for leading Fort Worth out of its recent murkiness with increased violent crime and police brutality. In this election cycle, the mayor is running a campaign referring to her leadership as innovative and hinting towards some of the pre-COVID nostalgia about getting “back.” Back to work, back to “respecting the police,” back to normal… which, for many city folk, it will never be. There is this almost utopia-like nostalgia that she didn’t usher in, nor is she responsible for, but her campaign taps into the willful forgetfulness (or perhaps ignorance) of the majority to pander towards “feelings.”
Now, why is this compelling to me? It’s because it harkens to what I see overall, this movement towards going “back.” This nostalgia rhetoric of moving towards times no longer here but longed for is what I see locally, state-wide, and of course nationally. This kind of nostalgia carries with it the power of fear, and it is brokered into how someone can keep certain changes from taking place or change what is needed to maintain the status quo. To me, it’s interesting how it is playing out at a local level in politics because my city in particular draws a lot of interest even though supposedly… allegedly… the city council is nonpartisan.
Carlee Baker: Oooh, yeah, the nostalgia for an imaginary, fabricated past is such a hallmark of the Republican position these days. I read a really fantastic article the other day, “White Lies: A Racial History of the (Post)Truth” by Robert Mejia, Kay Beckermann, and Curtis Sullivan. It talks all about this fabrication and how it empowers the construct of whiteness.
Angela D. Mack: Oooh, Carlee, I need to check that out!
Carlee Baker: I would highly recommend!
Amber Buck: Oh yeah! That is such a great article.
James Chase Sanchez: So much of the Republican imaginary consists of stories of “the good ol’ days.” I think those stories work best because of the innocence of childhood. Unless you had a traumatic childhood, those childhood memories are precious because of your adolescence, lack of understanding, with no priorities, etc. They were *perfect* for many people. But they were only perfect because we were kids!
Angela D. Mack: Oh, and since we’re name dropping, lol, the mayor’s name is Mattie Parker y’all.
José Luis Cano Jr.: I like how you capture such complex politics into the phrase “getting ‘back.’” And yeah, I definitely see its reach across local, state, and national scales.
James Chase Sanchez: As someone who works with counterstory—shout out to the queen, Aja Martinez—and autoethnography, I think back to what stories moved me politically and which ones didn’t. For instance, I remember getting fired up to vote after Sandy Hook, angry that Republicans again would be doing nothing to prevent future gun massacres. That was 2012. Here we are 11 years later on the heels of another gun massacre, and I think about how unmoved I am by the story. Of course I have empathy and I hate hearing this news ad nauseam, but as we know as rhetoricians, the repetition of such stories make us desensitized. Kairos is key, making the right argument at the right time, but I think that’s an important factor in storytelling and the circulation of news too: When do we have to change the structure of our stories to have a different impact on people? Once the newness of a tragedy wanes, how can we tell stories that will lead to action and not apathy? How can we make sure that we aren’t stuck in the same political cycle over and over and over?
I don’t have an answer but it seems like we need to work toward different ways to tell stories when the problem still persists.
José Luis Cano Jr.: Fuuuuuuck!!!! Yeah, that’s such a poignant insight into being moved and unmoved surrounding death/massacre.
Jen Wingard: That kairos comment is so important. I got into a conversation about Trans rights and medicalization with a rhetoric scholar on FB because they were discussing writing an article about the detrimental practices of medical care for trans youth. And I said, “Please don’t. Not now. We are not in a moment for devil’s advocate conversation when real kids, parents, and doctors are under fire.” That didn’t go over well. A whole conversation about what we are “allowed” to discuss ensued. But I was frustrated. Aren’t we supposed to do no harm with our work?
Amber Buck: And that idea of kairos gets weaponized too. When is it not the time to talk about change (political or otherwise) and what role does the urgency of the moment play? And how? I think this applies to both James and Jen’s comments here.
Jen Wingard: That’s a really good point, Amber. That kairos works two ways. Here in TX at a public institution that is advocating for more state funds, the institution is quite silent on the Higher Education bills and anti-trans bills coming to a vote. Again, it is the timing that is invoked.
James Chase Sanchez: I often say, Amber and Jen, that arguments against kairos are kairotic arguments nonetheless. Republicans know the best time to argue not to talk about gun control is when Democrats are “politicizing” gun deaths. The cyclical nature of gun-massacre discourse creates a built-in defense.
Amber Buck: Great point. It’s also hard to overcome that growing sense of apathy you mention too. It’s a terrible cycle.
Carlee Baker: I know that young folks are also really working hard to balance the sense of urgency to act with the complete and total despair that comes with fighting the power, so to speak. It’s really troubling and makes for difficult organizing.
Jen Wingard: So, I typically research and analyze top down structures, though I try to complicate that. So my story is a bit different. Because of where I am in Houston and the work I do, I know (for better or worse) big donors to the democratic party. So this story is from someone who was one of the top 10 donors to the Obama campaign and financed Wendy Davis’ campaign for governor. And when she lost, it was upsetting. But not to these folks. They said to me, “It’s a numbers game in Texas. We don’t have the numbers quite yet, so these campaigns are just meant almost as advertising for when we do.” That was startling to me. The instrumentalist nature of the process. Like in 10 years, we will be good. And right now we are just trying to be in the conversation. Which I suppose I understand, but OMG! If it’s all just about money and numbers, how does rhetoric and democracy fit in? I have been asking myself this question ever since. It has changed how I think about my work.
Angela D. Mack: Jen, I heard some of the same type of chatter–about it being a numbers and money game–in Fort Worth’s last mayoral race between Mattie Parker and Deborah Peoples. Peoples rallied with less than half of the funding that Parker had, but “per capita”, if you will, she turned out more people to vote than expected. And that vote was diverse, much more coalitional, and more “urban” than what was projected. And when that happened, the fear mongering began because now, it wasn’t just the financial backing that was making a difference. The message for being seen and heard was making a difference, and it was scaring those who wanted to keep everything as is. So, that type of talk does get around a lot, and it’s startling to hear indeed.
Jen Wingard: Angela, this makes me think of the DNC and their response to Bernie’s campaign. Dems have a need to control those seats for corporate support. Sigh.
Angela D. Mack: Jen, a soul sigh indeed.
Daisy Levy: Damn. You said it. Almost like there are fundamental differences in what the “story” even is, with regard to politics—for politicians, for lobbyists, for donors, for voters, for … rhetoric scholars. LOL?
Jen Wingard: Right? It’s so cynical. And here we are trying to extend hope, and the response from those who seem to have the money and power is that it’s a game of strategy and numbers and not making the best argument or … It’s like you said, Daisy, we are all telling different stories.
James Chase Sanchez: I feel like I have heard the “just ten more years!” story from liberal Texans for 15 years (I say as a former Texan who misses Mexican food very, very much).
Carlee Baker: As a child of the internet, a lot of my scholarship and research interests center on social media and activism/community organized on social media platforms. There are a couple of really, really interesting political organizing strategies that have emerged as the internet has come to be a central feature of coalition-building, campaigning, and solidarity, especially on TikTok (which is especially fraught in the current moment). I’m thinking back to the midterm elections here in the U.S., when I saw politicians—local and national—adopt the platform as a way to reach a younger demographic, especially in red states. As a particularly notable example, I think about Ken Russell, who was running for Florida Senate seat in 2022 as the Dem candidate who really bought hard into social media trends, which set him apart from other candidates who were often too slow to the trends to make the most impact out of them, given the speed of information exchange and trends that change almost as fast as they arise. He really dove into a progressive agenda and presumably handed the reins of his social media strategy off to an intern or young staffer (or he was just really with it, who knows) but this was something that other politicians just aren’t willing to do. It was pretty remarkable, even though he didn’t wind up winning. It’s hard to quantify exactly, but I think he’s sort of blazed the trail for other politicians to use TikTok as a campaign tool.
Jen Wingard: I think that social media is a HUGE shift that many of us don’t engage in. I am guilty of that, too. Over the years, I have found that students don’t really watch serial TV. It’s short form from instagram or TikTok or YouTube. And there’s a vast amount of advocacy happening there that I for one need to spend more time with. It’s not just computers and writing anymore. Some of this is fundamental to our work.
Carlee Baker: I’ve found a lot of depth working with political rhetoric in online spaces. There is some fascinating and absolutely crucial organizing happening there currently!
James Chase Sanchez: 2008 when Obama used celebrities to sing the song “Yes We Can” had a similar effect on me in college. I think of him as the first social media president, and we see now how storytelling on social media (sadly Trump is good at this too) can be weaponized.
Carlee Baker: No kidding.
Each election unleashes a wave of rhetorical moves across media and person-to-person interactions as the political machine tries to sway voters to their side. Can you tell us about one rhetorical strategy–good or bad–that strikes you as noteworthy?
Carlee Baker: This is maybe a little bit more behind the scenes, dealing largely with rhetoric production, but I spent time between college and grad school working as a communications professional in the nonprofit sector in Montana, and a large part of my job was gathering people willing to share their story about the impact of legislation in the state and helping them formulate it into testimony to give before the legislature. I attended a professional development event about this idea of “ethical storytelling.” Like our conversation above, there are a lot of considerations about power, privilege, and danger that you have to carefully account for when cultivating political rhetoric towards a particular end (be it a policy, etc), and they outlined a number of things to consider: boundaries, which ultimately came down to telling only as much of the story as does not cause harm to the speaker, agency (the careful consideration of how power dynamics are framed in the retelling of the story), language (the careful construction of the story so as not to perpetuate or reify existing power structures), and honesty (emphasizing the retelling of the story in ways that are powerful and true to the experiences of the speaker).
José Luis Cano Jr.: I’m very interested in hearing about a particular story, if you could share.
Carlee Baker: There are so many interesting ones that I could choose from. I worked for a public labor union that also took part in a lot of progressive coalitional work in a state that has a pretty significant indigenous population. Asking indigenous teachers to share their experiences as teachers, both underpaid in their work and marginalized at the hands of the state, made for compelling and devastating testimony about the compounding intersection of race and class.
James Chase Sanchez: We never talk about the ethics! I have made that central to my documentary and autoethnography work and storytelling classes I teach. We need to better understand what are right and wrong stories to tell and what are ethical ways to tell them.
Jen Wingard: Ethics are so important, and I see that getting lost in the political and sometimes in rhetorical work too. So good that you are foregrounding ethics, James. Reminds me of that Linda Alcoff essay “The Problem of Speaking for Others.”
Amber Buck: Carlee, this is so interesting. I’ve attended a lot of training sessions on relational organizing and deep canvassing, and those seem to be the things progressive groups point to right now as being effective, but they often don’t address any of the issues with stories that you raise.
James Chase Sanchez: I think one tactic that stands out is how politicians, especially conservative ones propagate various aspects of whiteness to envision a better USA. So many appeals to heteronormative whiteness to be specific. Anti-CRT arguments, anti-transgender arguments, anti-immigration arguments, all of them, are often politicians just arsking, “Why don’t more people act, dress, have sex, hold the same values as me?” All of these are built around fear that heteronormative white people in particular are disappearing.
Angela D. Mack: OOOOOhhhh!!! James!!!! A better USA! I recently heard that Ron DeSantis campaigns on a 1950s version of America, and not a current one. And it’s the longing for that Leave It to Beaver suburban Americana that is what about 76 percent of Republican voters want right now. And I also agree about the ethics in storytelling. As someone who engages in culturally specific storytelling and also in autoethnography, ethics are everything!
Jen Wingard: James! The implicit whiteness is key through all of these discussions. I think back to the rise of gated communities in CA in the 1990s because of the demographic shift in the state. Now we are seeing this writ large across the country. And the GOP is doing a damn fine job making “gated states” with these anti-gender, anti-race based initiatives. And Angela: Ugh that statistic is heartbreaking. The GOP has done such a fine job invoking a spector history to try to calm those who are getting less for working more in their base. It’s heartbreaking.
Angela D. Mack: I’ve already mentioned my last local mayoral campaign, but I will go into some detail here about one rhetorical strategy. I think one that I’ve seen as “boots on the ground” is the ol skool mailer being used to appeal to those who wax nostalgic.
(So, as y’all can tell, I’m dialed into my local politics because of who sits in the nonpartisan city council seats as actual partisans. The city council seats decide a lot of city partnerships and perceptions, especially with law enforcement, the DA, and the county judges.)
So… getting back to my point, the last city election, mailers were used. And on one side, it was the candidate and the reason why you would vote for them. On the other side, it was the opponent, and usually they were smeared with being anti-police, or pro CRT, or whatever fear pulpit was being preached. And this is why I thought it was effective. Here, not everyone is as digitally attuned as perhaps I would assume, so those mailers went out to the older, dominant community members of the city. And, without the context of television or the internet, the older voters came out because these mailers were addressed to them personally. Had their names and addresses on it. It wasn’t just general circulated flyers. And that touch, that this was a direct message to be acted upon, got a whole buncha people to come out and vote that previously never concerned themselves with local politics. Those mailers were used in a vicious smear campaign that ultimately worked in favor of the mayor and the county judge here.
Amber Buck: Angela—it’s interesting to think about mailers; they’re so expensive from a campaign standpoint! But especially for local races and for places that are local media deserts, they can be really effective to reach people, especially those less connected to the internet.
Angela D. Mack: Amber, I agree, they are expensive, but the money spent to smear is incredible!
Amber Buck: It sure is. It also points to the importance of PACs and dark money. Do you know who funded those mailers?
Angela D. Mack: I’m not sure, except that one mailer was funded by the fraternal order of police here. And those mailers were the most effective ones in their impact.
Carlee Baker: Man, oh man, do I have some stories about election mailers. It’s amazing how much those things cost! I lived in Montana in 2020 and the Club for Growth Action spent millions of dollars sending these absolutely outrageous campaign mailers to voters in swing districts. I saved all of them, because they make for interesting sites of analysis, so I have an archive of absolutely wild conservative mailers from 2020.
Jen Wingard: Carlee, I have a whole file of Mailers from North Houston I can send you. They are so crazy. Talk about saying the quiet part out loud.
Angela D. Mack: Carlee, I would love to hear some of those stories one day. And Jen, golly! I would like to see some of those mailers too! That quiet part out loud is screaming in Texas!
James Chase Sanchez: Angela, as a former Texas and Fort Worth citizen, I was shocked by how few mailers get sent out here in Vermont. I have actually learned that the discourse surrounding local politics here is that anyone who attacks loses. Vermont voters don’t vote for them. This happened in a recent cycle where one person running for our open house seat did a very light attack on another candidate. Vermonters turned their back quickly on this candidate. I love it…but it ain’t common.
Angela D. Mack: James… wow.
Amber Buck: I’m going to talk about texting: good and bad. I was absolutely incensed that the first text I received after the Dobbs decision came down was one from the DNC that had Nancy Pelosi’s name attached to it, asking me to donate $10 because Roe v. Wade had just been overturned. As a woman in Alabama and as a friend of the person running the last open abortion clinic in the state, I felt abandoned and angry that the national party was earning money off the backs of my friends and neighbors—some of whom would probably die as a result of this decision. The automatic text messages (for political engagement or to solicit donations) make me want to throw my phone in the river. On the other hand, I was also a volunteer on Sen. Jon Osoff’s texting team during the 2020 special election. The care with which all of the volunteers responded to voters’ texts and questions about the issues, about voting, mail-in ballots, drop boxes, etc. was so great to see and participate in. Each time a volunteer had a particularly good and successful response, it went up the campaign communication chain and then eventually became a standard response in the text messaging system. It was a great example of ways that folks cared about communication and were responsive to both voters and the volunteers donating their time to help people vote.
Carlee Baker: The invention of Hustle made a huge, huge impact on the way that progressive orgs were able to disseminate information. I’ve organized and run a number of Hustle campaigns, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say that, especially among younger people, there is just some fatigue about the sheer amount of messages and information they receive. We must’ve received the same message, because I remember being absolutely incensed that I was receiving a fundraising text minutes after the decision, especially because I knew that my home state had a trigger law in effect.
Amber Buck: In all seriousness, whose call was that? Like, who thought that was a good idea? And then Biden didn’t have a response ready to go either when literally everyone knew what was going to happen. It felt like we were all on our own.
Carlee Baker: Right? I literally unsubscribed from the Pelosi emails and text messages after that. The abortion debate has been such a flashpoint in partisan politics that I genuinely think, on some level, that D.C. politicians didn’t expect it to actually happen. All of us on the ground, we knew it was coming!
Jen Wingard: This invocation of nostalgia predicated on the false narrative of “wokeness” is just maddening. The lack of history in all these claims is key. And it makes me wonder when did we let go of history? I mean, I know there’s the desire to control what histories are told—I do live in Texas after all. But there seems to be a movement to strip any historical memory and replace it with fear and fantasy.
Jen Wingard: I have an example of a strategy used in bad ways . . . Trump and Fox News pundits implement branding of opponents or things to fear well. It’s that repetition we talked about earlier. I remember when the NYT published the sheet of insults Trump invoked during his campaign. It was a HUGE list. And it was consistent: Elizabeth Warren was “goofy,” immigrants were “dirty criminals.” And these terms were picked up by Fox news and Tucker Carlson and other outlets. And when articles countered these representations, they had to use the terms. Even the “lock her up” chant was circulated ad nauseam. See, here’s where I think Trump’s business background really showed. He was branding his opposition and creating slogans that attached to them regardless of whether they were fact-based. For better or worse, this short handing of terms and attaching them to opponents or groups is effective. Just a note: We did see this at work with the Dems when Obama invoked, “Yes we can,” so the left can do this too. It has just become an artform with the right. Because they would rather brand and sound byte than talk policy.
One of the dominant rhetorical strategies in political and election rhetoric features repetition across a wide variety of modalities–memes, ads, billboards, text messages, speeches, and other forms of communication. What rhetorical effect do you think repetition has on voters’ and individuals’ perceptions of the issues?
James Chase Sanchez: Why consider many different political issues when Fox News can tell me the single issue I should be worried about right now???? On a serious note, repetition is the name of the game for the institutional power brokers. If we are not fighting for a true democracy and are more concerned with winning than discourse or dialectics, the power play would be to latch on to a single point and hit that point home endlessly. It works often, but it fails often too. I also think, though, that repetition is used by power brokers who know they don’t have the most compelling broader platform and values for the public. If I feel like my broader views on healthcare and education aren’t well liked, why wouldn’t I try to turn any single election into a symbolic referendum on a singular subject?
Jen Wingard: James, repetition is key. And it does work. People remember those slogans and
soundbytes. It does work. And I completely agree with the shift away from policy and platform. I mean, I suppose that says something about successful “rhetoric” but not how we’ve all defined it. Sigh.
James Chase Sanchez: Jen, I think sometimes repetition doesn’t work, though it often does. Like I don’t think the repetition of trying to turn Biden’s pulling out of Afghanistan into his version of Benghazi worked so well. But that’s also maybe the point. The repetition stops when they see it isn’t working.
Jen Wingard: James, good point. There were often “trial balloons” that the Trump administration would float during his presidency. And when there was no uptake, they would shift. This is an important point and leads to something we should consider as scholars—what “sticks,” to use a Sarah Ahmed term, versus what does not. What does that process look like?
James Chase Sanchez: The stickiness is always key. But this is just reminding me that Republicans seem far better at repetition than Democrats. Or, maybe more likely, they know it plays better with their base than it would for Democrats.
Carlee Baker: It absolutely does. Political scientists have known that repetition works for decades. One very strong predictor for success in presidential elections is name recognition. And how does one get name recognition if not by bombarding voters with your name for months leading up to an election?
Jen Wingard: I think that it allows for voters to be incurious. If you are busy and overworked and stressed by the myriad of things which impact the day to day, these repetitions allow politics to become passive. It’s about viewing the news, getting notifications on social media, and those mailers. Newspapers are going out of business and hard news is difficult to find. So the memes and shorthand and pundits on the left and right help determine the discussions. I do think the impact leads to what we were discussing above—nostalgia and a false memory of history and lack of curiosity. It’s like with the internet we have all the information in the world, but we passively consume it.
I remember a book I read in graduate school James V. Wertsch’s Voices of Collective Remembering that discussed history education during the fall of the Soviet Union. It was a study where the researcher interviewed people in school during the fall and those who were in school post the reorganization of Russia. It was very telling that those who went to school during the fall remember textbooks being blacked out of unfavorable history while they were in class. Those students remembered history FAR more than those who had a somewhat “stable” history education. I always remember that—when the stakes are higher you will remember. When the information is just there, you can become disengaged.
Amber Buck: Jen’s point also makes me think about one of the goals of repetition—to have this ambient idea of a particular issue. With enough repetition, people just absorb it and it becomes a kind of commonplace about the issue. The 2003 Iraq War marked the beginning of my political consciousness, and the ways the Bush Administration repeated claims about “weapons of mass destruction” made people think, “well, something has to be there, right?” That was one of the first times I remember recognizing that strategy.
James Chase Sanchez: Sometimes it can be more about feeling. I don’t necessarily need to know the ins and outs of what is being repeated at some point in the future. BUT, I need to remember that this still is an issue for me.
Daisy Levy: I keep thinking about how intricately repetition and accumulation are linked. For various effects.
Jen Wingard: It’s that stickiness again, Daisy. What sticks, what moves us, Ahmed describes it as having a “toward or away from disposition” about something. I like that.
Angela D. Mack: This harkens back to James’ comment on being moved and not moved. This anti-CRT, shutting down drag queen shows, and all of the shenanigans are responding to … what? What is being shared over and over again in the media? Death, violence, and particularly at this critical moment, a lot of Black death. And death of Global Majority peoples. I use Global Majority instead of “minoritized” or “People of Color” as a much more affirming term for the expansiveness of diverse peoples that may not get named specifically. Well, when we were all home in the pandemic, we were unable to turn away from the horrors of the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor. Folks took to the streets in droves, of all backgrounds, ages, capacities, classes, languages, and so forth. And the swell was in so many ways much more coalitional in its visuality than even in the Civil Rights Movement. What happened? Fear. We were already under the auspices of fear from an unknown virus that if you breathe too much, you could die. But on top of all that,, the need for safety, for law, for rightness was being circulated over and over again as a broken system on top of a broken crisis. And that hotbed of brokenness and fear churned into the need to get back to the idea that we are in control, we are okay, we are civil, and we know how to behave.
And the response, the clapback if you will, was no, no one else can decide that we, as a country, are this bad off. It became Us versus Them, and the Us that got in the streets was threatening to topple over the comfort and the power of those who didn’t want to see things as they are. So this constant repetition of “CTR in skuelz” (a Herschel Walker direct quote y’all) is the pushback that we can’t be this flawed. We had a Black president. We have “minorities” in all these places. We can’t be this bad off. So, CRT is the boogeyman and not the AR-15. The 1619 Project is an inaccurate telling of our country’s history, and yet we hide the other verses of the Star Bangled Banner. It is like a magic trick, a rhetorical sleight of hand to pay attention to what’s closest in the front of the screen and not see the bear on the unicycle in the back.
Jen Wingard: Yes. The idea of how we move people to action. And the GOP has gotten fear down. That seems to be the huge motivator they have latched on to. I mean the whole idea that non-trans kids need to be protected from the trans kids in their communities but not from guns is laughable, but it is effective. And as we know, the anti-trans discourse is not only a part of the GOP discourse. We have feminists who are anti-trans, too. Just look at JK Rowling.
José Luis Cano Jr.: I really like the insight into the “hotbed of brokenness” and use of repetition to display an image of control. I agree that it provides a certain comfort at emotional and psychological levels to have this repetition.
Carlee Baker: There was some really damning information that came out recently that the outrage and response to drag queens and trans rights is almost entirely fabricated. There’s a nonbinary trans hacker (a hacktivist, if you will, who goes by the name maia arson crimew) that published thousands of pages of emails between conservative figureheads, representatives, legal organizations, conservative orgs, think tanks, etc that have been introducing this legislation and stoking this fake fire, providing canned responses to the pushback these bills are receiving, delivering talking points. If people hear the same bullshit over and over and over again, eventually it’s going to start sticking.
James Chase Sanchez: Fabricate the truth and repeat the lie!
Carlee Baker: Exactly.
Amber Buck: The answers you all have to this question make me think about rhetorical commonplaces. The 1619 Project asks some Americans to revise the rhetorical commonplaces they have about our history. And that is always harder than relying on the old ones. What conservatives do in invoking the flag and “how things used to be” allows (mostly white) Americans to rely on those old rhetorical commonplaces they’ve already learned.
Angela D. Mack: Amber, I agree. I think the problem is that conservatives have for so long defined what was rhetorical, common, and what can and can’t be in place that the threat that some other folk can do so without their permission, without their approval, is what churned them.
Democracy relies on a voting majority, which can leave the interest of minoritized groups outside of the conversation. What thoughts or advice do you have for minoritized groups to champion for their own interests in this context of a dominant majority?
Jen Wingard: Well, this is the issue, right? How can so many minority groups who are varied in and of themselves possibly find ways to come together? I mean, that’s the political rhetoric around minority interest. And I think it is really detrimental. I think focusing on identity and demography can get you so far, but eventually it allows for a breakdown in the conversation, yes? My perspective comes from studying a lot about transnational feminism and organizing. I think using issues as the touchpoint becomes important. A famous example is the Basmati Rice Collective that successfully got the Monsanto Patent removed from Basmati rice because it is a subsistence grain. The patent forbade seed saving and charged groups all over the world for the use of their seeds which only lasted one growing cycle. So the group was made up of the Ojibwe in Michigan, Texas farmers in SE Texas, and Indian growers in SE Asia. This kind of collective demonstrates how people with different identities and locations and perspectives can come together and make change. I really think this is the future. I mean, I hate to get all Marxist (actually I don’t) but what if all workers joined together and reformed unions or had a work stoppage—and I mean ALL workers across class, race, national divides. That could make change. But unfortunately, identity, fear of reprisal, atomization of the individual prevents this kind of collectivity like that.
James Chase Sanchez: And we have great examples of this in other workforces, Jen. I think of the coalition Mexican and Filipino immigrants built with the United Farm Workers movement in California.
Jen Wingard: James, that is a great example. Those kinds of coalitions are so important. And I really do think it is such a productive way of organizing.
James Chase Sanchez: I teach a course titled Race, Rhetoric, and Protest and have focused much of my research on protest and activism in different forms (like extremist self-immolation acts). There is always one important point I teach budding activists that I think connects with minoritized groups championing their causes via voting and navigating political circles: Persistence is key. Any establishment—from the police to college campuses from political parties to companies, try to maintain power and their values and ideologies for as long as possible. That’s sort of the point of power. Therefore, breaking that up doesn’t happen overnight and often comes with many, many failures. For instance, the long civil rights movement in the United States would have been viewed as a failure before the mid-1960s. That’s 10+ years of fighting for rights! Therefore, when working towards any goal within a political spectrum, it’s important to note that time actually isn’t neutral and isn’t necessarily on the side of the righteous or minoritized. It has to be harnessed as a tool against an establishment in which, over time, your concerns might just go away because of the lack of persistence. I don’t want to make the argument that we all have to be giving up our lives to do the work for decades. That’s not reasonable. But we need to build and maintain coalitions that can do that work for decades if we want real change.
José Luis Cano Jr.: I like the comment on persistence within the context of failure. Angela mentions exhaustion in her response, so I am seeing these three concepts coming together in the move toward change: persistence, exhaustion, and failure.
James Chase Sanchez: José Luis, exhaustion and failure are why most people have to give up on change. The way in which our world works would rather us fail repeatedly or get exhausted and quit a cause before giving up an inch of power. Only when an institution realizes that a fight isn’t going away on its own will they start to reconsider giving into demands or changing course.
Jen Wingard: James—I think that is very important. The notion of persistence and time. I like to come back to the notion of seven generations. That change takes time, and it is imperative to work together to support one another in the struggle.
Carlee Baker: I don’t feel at liberty to give advice or share many of my thoughts on self-advocacy, since I’ve never really had to do so for myself. But I do think there is something to be critiqued in the way that liberals and progressives talk about deep red states, where governments have an interest and the ability to keep minoritized groups disempowered. I live in Oregon currently, and I cannot tell you how many conversations I have had with self-professed progressives who look at states like Texas or Florida or Alabama and are so willing to write them off because of their election returns. But they refuse to acknowledge the effect of gerrymandering, the effect of voter disenfranchisement, the effect of state politics that make it harder for non-white, queer, poor people to actually take part in the electoral process. That’s without even acknowledging how unjust the electoral process is on the whole! I saw so many people over here making sense of the 2022 midterms by saying, “Oh, but Florida will be underwater in 10 years, you think they’d want to help themselves by voting for the Dems” as though they didn’t try.
Amber Buck: Carlee—this is my pet peeve. People who make those kinds of comments really frustrate me. I grew up in Michigan, and I used to be one of them. It comes from a place of ignorance, but it doesn’t help.
Carlee Baker: It’s interesting to engage people in these conversations. I’ve found that it’s generally really productive to prompt people to interrogate these assumptions they hold about oppression in red states. These comments ignore the people that the government is trying to push out. They ignore the people who are putting in the work to fight back.
Amber Buck: I just want to reference my own positionality here. As a white, cis woman I don’t think I’m the best person to answer this question. Where I live right now in Alabama, my own identity and life experience are not under attack by the state. So I can’t give advice, but I can say what seems to have worked based on my observations on the ground: 1) thinking outside electoral politics; a lot of the progressive, grassroots groups in Alabama find success through mutual aid, through people coming together and helping each other when the more official entities in a place only cause harm. 2) building coalitions, as Jen mentioned earlier. When people who come from different places or experiences work toward the same cause, that can have an impact, either in finally changing the language in the state constitution (which happened here in 2022) or in reducing the harm of potentially terrible legislation by watering it down (which happens all the time in AL).
Jen Wingard: Amber, I agree with all of this. And I am a white-passing CIS woman, so I try to listen. And I try to stand up for those who have to wear these attacks on their body. I think there’s something about showing up for those who are in danger that is really, really necessary right now.
Angela D. Mack: My advice is not to get complacent. Not showing up, not voting, not paying attention could cost people their lives. It’s not just, “Oh, we can roll with it.” It’s exhausting, especially when voter suppression is real. But giving up is not an option for me anymore. Being apathetic is not an option for me anymore either. I used to feel powerless to go through the motions of voting and then not seeing the results I wanted. But knowing that my vote was counted reminds me that I take politics a lot more seriously than I once did. I also believe that the real work is not when an election is about to happen… it’s how one shows up at the meetings, the events that help people get their needs met or celebrate the goodness of their communities. It’s getting involved in the everyday. It’s recognizing that for so many, for folks like me, my engagement is my survival.
Jen Wingard: Angela! Yesss! Showing up is essential.
Amber Buck: You’re both so right. Showing up and showing up for those in danger is really crucial. I have conversations all the time about when and why people leave the South. Sometimes it can be a privilege to leave. Sometimes it can be a privilege to stay and fight for those more vulnerable.
Jen Wingard: Amber, I completely agree about the south. As someone who has lived in Texas for the past 15 years and is originally from CA, I have found my work with students and political groups very productive here. The weirdness that is Texas politics is the subject of my next book so I may be biased, but I do think there are spaces even in the most challenging places to effect change.
Amber Buck: Jen—I can’t wait to read that!
Angela D. Mack: Amber… and also when there’s no danger. A big crowd of folks celebrating goodness and life IS resistance. Joy IS resistance. Living IS resistance. And we have to show up for those too. Especially in the everyday.
Carlee Baker: Love love love. Community is essential. Joy is essential!
Amber Buck: Angela—absolutely! I love that.
James Chase Sanchez: Angela, this reminds me of one of my favorite MLK quotes: “And without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the primitive forces of social stagnation.”
Angela D. Mack: James… Yes!!!! That’s a great one!
In the context of political and election rhetoric, choose one topic or emphasis we haven’t discussed today that you’d like our readers to know about and tell us about it?
Jen Wingard: I think we have to address fear. I know it has circulated many of our previous answers, but I’d like to talk about it a little bit head-on. We are in what Malea Powell calls “Tower Time,” named after the Tower Tarot Card. Briefly, the tower represents mass change. Institutions crumbling or restructuring; knowledge and our understandings of how things work are changing; a shift in how we relate to one another is central to our current experience. Tower Time is a destabilization of everything we have come to know and expect in the world. I think we are really “in it” now, and we will be for a while. Not knowing what the future will look like in the immediate or beyond our lifetimes is a hard spot to be in. And each day there is more and more crisis rhetoric circulating. No wonder we are all tired and a bit desensitized to trauma. The pandemic, global markets failing, our earth is dying, and demographics are changing. Living through all of these shifts is exhausting, anxiety provoking, and confusing. And they are scary.
So this is why the GOP fear mongering is so effective. Why confront the fact we are raising generations of children who intimately know gun violence when you can attack some of the most vulnerable children who are challenging our understanding of gender? Kids get that gender is expansive. Even if they are not claiming a trans identity, kids play with gender all the time. It is a given to this generation. But those in power are scared of it because they don’t understand it. And therefore, the GOP can draw likes, and looks, and votes by attacking it.
Tower time creates a population that is often fearful of the changes they don’t understand. And this fear is amorphous until someone tells you what to be afraid of. And the GOP is cornering the market on exploiting that fear.
Amber Buck: I think we can talk more about the role of social media platforms in political and election rhetoric and discourse. There might be some regulation of TikTok, but American-based platforms do many of the same things. Users don’t have a lot of privacy rights here in the United States, and if we’re thinking about circulation of political messages, harmful or otherwise, social media platforms have a ton of power. I think those of us on Twitter (or who stayed on Twitter) know it’s not the same space it used to be. There seems to be a real paralysis and lack of imagination about regulating these platforms. I wish members of Congress talked to digital rhetoric scholars, but we don’t have lobbyists.
Carlee Baker: Especially with the TikTok censorship talks that are happening right now! Young activists are really scared about what a ban on the social media platform means for their work and their livelihood.
Amber Buck: Absolutely, Carlee!
Jen Wingard: I do think we all need to be more conversant with social media. I think about the kids who have already found alternative words to not have content banned on TikTok and Instagram. The savviness with language is what we all hope our students learn, and here they are just doing that work to ensure their messages are available. This gives me hope.
Angela D. Mack: Though we have discussed it somewhat, to put it out here, I think that we can talk more about the material consequences of political rhetoric. Lives can be lost, professors can lose tenure or worse, police can engage in militarized responses to the detriment of Black, Brown, and Global Majority people, and the list goes on. As it is, political rhetoric ain’t stopped a mass shooting yet. It ain’t restored reproductive rights and choices. It ain’t kept everyone’s drinking water clean. There are material consequences to the deployment of political rhetoric in a myriad of ways. I would also add that a discussion on the visual iconography of political rhetoric would be fruitful because the optics of flags, bandanas, pins, signs, among other stuff, really adds to the impact of the rhetoric being deployed. And finally, I think we can do a much deeper dive into the rhetorical circulation of the uses of “woke” and “wokeness” by those who have NO clue of the cultural etymology, the Black Language etymology, of the term.
James Chase Sanchez: Trolling. How much of our political discourse has been hijacked by people who only want to piss off others via trite memes and bad-faith arguments. I think what is scariest about this is thinking how the hell do we ever come back from it? How do we move from people in my hometown in East Texas saying “Don’t Vote for Joe and the Hoe?” How do we find common ground with people who only want to try and piss me off and call that a respectable political attitude? Trolling has seemingly forever altered politics in this country, and the worst part is that we have no way to combat it. I tell people in my conspiracy rhetorics course that one of the things the internet has changed for the worst (though sometimes better!) is the idea of community. Back in the day, if you want to walk around talking about the world being flat, I think folks would be like “what the fuck are you talking about?” and you would be shamed out ofa ridiculous position. But now people construct community out of the ridiculousness! Q-Anon! Trolling! We allowed people to construct entire identities and personas entirely based upon, “I like being an asshole to people as much as possible.” I’m not saying let’s blow up communities or whatever, but we have zero tools to address it. I hate it here.
Angela D. Mack: James…Trolling! The avatars of anonymity! Ooh weee! That’s a whole nutha convo in and of itself!
Carlee Baker: Yet another really interesting and freaky invention of the internet age! The use of automated bots and numerous accounts to harass people on the internet, doxxing, SWAT-ing, you name it, someone on the internet is doing it for political gain.
Jen Wingard: I was just thinking about this! Those bots don’t care. How do we engage rhetorically with machines?
Angela D. Mack: Jen, that feels a little Terminator-ish, lol. I don’t wanna see John Conner or a T-1000 nowhere!
Carlee Baker: Such a good question.
Jen Wingard: OMG! The trolling. I mean it has been said we elected an internet Troll for president. I think you are correct about trying to find ways to understand the practice of Trolling when often it is not even really what these people think. How do we challenge the rhetoric of those who ultimately don’t care and are just shit disturbing?
James Chase Sanchez: I want to end with some positive good news but I ain’t got it.
Amber Buck: Thanks everyone! This was so great!
Angela D. Mack: Thank y’all! This has been a great conversation. So much more could be said, but I’m glad to be part of what has been shared. Thank you moderators for allowing this space and time to happen.
Carlee Baker: So nice to meet y’all! Thanks for a great conversation!
James Chase Sanchez: Love you, great folks. Let’s keep in touch!
Amber Buck: Yes, definitely! It was great to meet you all virtually
Also, James, my students really loved your autoethnography piece from the methodology book. We read it in my research methods class. Just thought I’d pass that along 🙂
Angela D. Mack: Absolutely!
Jen Wingard: This has been terrific. Thank you all. Loved thinking with all of you today.
About the Authors
Angela D. Mack has a newly minted Ph.D. in Rhetoric and Composition from Texas Christian University with a graduate certificate in Comparative Race and Ethnic Studies. With a background in performance poetry, creative writing, and storytelling, her scholarship and teaching span across African American/Black rhetorics and composition, global majority rhetorics, racialized geographies/cartographies, oral histories, linguistic justice, inclusive pedagogies, and popular culture. Her current research situates the rhetorical and compositional dimensions of Black Storytelling among members from the historically and predominately African American neighborhoods in the 76104 zip code in Fort Worth, Texas, along with those who advocate for the life and legacy work of Atatiana Carr-Jefferson. Jefferson was a resident of the 76104 community when she was killed by an on-duty police officer in her home in 2019. Her writing can be found in Dialogue: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Popular Culture and Pedagogy; Women, Gender, and Families of Color; in the forthcoming edited collection, Interminable Rhetorics: Women and Gendered Labor in a Post-2020 Economy; and a forthcoming co-authored publication on photography’s capacity to capture and subvert the carceral optics of Brown and Black communities from the border to North Central Texas.
James Chase Sanchez is an Assistant Professor of Writing and Rhetoric at Middlebury College in Vermont. He recently published two books, a co-authored monograph titled Race, Rhetoric, and Research Methods via WAC Clearinghouse and a single-authored monograph titled Salt of the Earth: Rhetoric, Preservation, and White Supremacy via NCTE Press. The latter draws upon his 2018 documentary, Man on Fire, which premiered on PBS’s Independent Lens and won an International Documentary Association Award. Sanchez is currently finishing production of a second documentary about a decades-long cover up of sexual abuse at two prestigious New England boarding schools.
Carlee A. Baker is a second-year master’s student in the School of Writing, Literature, and Film at Oregon State University, where she studies rhetoric and composition. Her research centers on the rhetorics of politics, activism, science, and the environment, and she has been published in Technical Communications Quarterly. She has also worked with progressive youth advocacy groups and labor unions as a communications professional and organizer. Upon receiving her master’s degree from OSU, Carlee will begin graduate study at the University of Texas at Austin in pursuit of a PhD in rhetoric and composition.
Jen Wingard PhD is an Associate Professor of Rhetoric, Composition, and Pedagogy at the University of HoustonF. She writes about neoliberalism, Texas, Houston, and how the rhetoric of gender and immigration are used to create scapegoats in Political Rhetoric and Legislation. She is fascinated by Houston and exhausted by Texas. She loves all animals, but especially cats. You can see her cats of many colors on Facebook @jenwingard or Instagram @jen.wingard.
Amber Buck is an associate professor of English at the University of Alabama. She is also the Coordinator for the Composition, Rhetoric, and English Studies (CRES) MA/PhD program. Her book, Writing on the Social Network: Digital Literacy Practices in the First Decade of Social Media is forthcoming from Utah State University Press.
About the Moderators
Daisy Levy served on the editorial team of constellations from 2017 through June, 2023. Her scholarship is focused on intersections between cultural rhetorics, embodied rhetorics, and movement education. She is a Senior Professorial Lecturer in the Writing Studies Program/Department of Literature at American University.
José Luis Cano Jr. is a PhD candidate in rhetoric and composition at Texas Christian University. He researches and teaches college writing, immigration enforcement, and digital expression. His work appears in Kairos: A Journal of Rhetoric, Technology, and Pedagogy; Latinx Talk: Research, Creativity, Commentary; and Rhetoric, Politics & Culture. Previously, he worked as a qualitative researcher and a high school teacher.
Copy Editors: Alexandra Hidalgo and Alex Jennings
Photo Research: Yasmine Anderson
Posted by: Alex Jennings
Editorial Assistants: Yasmine Anderson and Alex Jennings
Editor-in-Chief: Alexandra Hidalgo