Slogans as the Very Very Short Story: Dipika Mukherjee ruminates on writing lessons from the Women’s March, Chicago

"For sale: baby shoes, never worn." A familiar lesson in brevity; a gamut of emotions in a Six Word Story (although this quote is often attributed to Ernest Hemingway, it was possibly written by someone who predates him). For those of us who write, or who teach writing -- or just read voraciously --we all know the power of the pithy phrase or that mot juste that takes our breath away like an unexpected punch to the gut.

The popularity of flash fiction -- twitterature, the Dribble, the Drabble, Micro Fiction, Six Word Story – is growing. Although this can be attributed to a felicity on tiny screens, the genre is old and features in many ancient cultures. SmokelongQuarterly informs us, “The term “smoke-long” comes from the Chinese, who noted that reading a piece of flash takes about the same length of time as smoking a cigarette.”

As anyone who has tried their hand at a Six Word Story knows, the shorter it is, the more challenging to write. What is implied is always more important than the written words. How perfect brevity must be, as one teeters between poetry and advertising copy, encircled by a thin line descending into the banal.

Slogans, when done right, are like fantastic Micro Stories. They rise above the terse to encompass the universal with wit and wisdom. The placards at the Women’s March in Chicago, with a crowd 250,000 people strong, exhibited sarcasm with the thoughtful in short succinct bites.

Here are some choice slogans from the venue, beginning with those telling a story of the Russian connection:

Besides a foreign hand in American affairs, the concerns articulated the threat to the democratic ideals of a diverse America:

Slogans from the campaign were reworked as epigrams about the threat to women's bodies:


Even Jesus made an appearance:

Sometimes, words are unnecessary: 

By now, you are probably familiar with pictures from Women’s Marches around the world, with hard-hitting messages in a micro form. And there are other articles about the Chicago Women's March.

So why am I writing this article? 

I am a writer who has been recording the decline in human rights in Malaysian democracy over the last three decades. As someone who writes political fiction (Ode to Broken Things) as well as Short Stories (Rules of Desire), it is interesting that some of the most persecuted thinkers within Malaysia today are not novelists or academics, but people who draw pictures with very few words. Cartoonists and artists like Zunar and Fahmi Reza are under the threat of imprisonment under sedition laws as the corruption in the current Malaysian government goes unchecked. There is no free press or a truly independent judiciary. 

When an international flight disappears under this current Malaysian government's watch in 2014, it still remains a mystery almost three years later, with no one held accountable. People disappear, money disappears; it is democracy under duress, until only a few intrepid souls dare to make their voices heard. 

I wish we could all live in a world where the Very Very Short Story functions as entertainment; the artistry of wordsmiths distilled into tiny morsels of pure delight. But I expect I'll see a lot more of this genre, on walls and placards, more than on small screens. 

Picture Credits: 
Chicago Women's March: Ravi Gopalan and Emily Clott. 
Zunar & Fahmi Reza's pictures from their Facebook page. 

More about the author at


Bill Kirton said…
Thanks Dipika. One of the very few pleasures associated with that vile man's elevation has been the wit, intelligence and wordsmithery (?) of the banner and placard writers. It's slightly reassuring that there are active, principled people who think clearly and can capture the essence of his many evils in a beautifully turned phrase. I say 'slightly' because, unfortunately, they're relatively powerless while he can enforce his boorish, destructive barbarism unchecked. When the 'sword' is a nuclear button, the pen's not much use, but it's important we keep using it, even if he's too dumb and narcissistic to get it.

Your point about Malaysian politics is well made, too. We should care as much about abuses in the rest of the world as we do about those on our doorstep. We still have a long way to go.
Susan Price said…
Impressive post, Dipika. Thank you.
Anonymous said…
Well done, Dipika! The physical presence of a quarter of a million bodies in one place was a compelling statement in itself, but the slogans captured the reasons why we marched. Actions without reasons behind them are meaningless. I pray that the spirit of that beautiful day will carry us through till the end of this self-inflicted American trauma, and that we will remain vigilant with our bodies and our minds until the country returns to its collective senses.
Umberto Tosi said…
Most insightful and relevant post, Dipika. This is very real for all of us now - as you've so well expressed in bright words and delightful photos! The spontaneous nature and diversity of the women's marches have spawned creative lightning storms that pale the slogans concocted by the usual hacks.

Short-lit is the new black. Thanks for putting it in historic, political and aesthetic contexts. It's not just mobile-tech that favors pithiness, it's the nature of our struggle against oppression. Now I won't feel so guilty about taking time to hone smart-ass utterances where I can: on foot, on walls, in windows and on social media.
Unknown said…
Truly remarkable post! Thank you!
Really appreciate your comments on this (Bill, Susan, Emily, Umberto, Marcella!). It was a bit daunting to write this in such divided (& divisive) times. Very glad to hear it resonated with you.
Sunil Bhargava said…
Insightful read, Dipika... as always!
Enid Richemont said…
Loved this post, especially the images and slogans, but also the appreciation of the discipline it requires to 'write short', as in picture books and poetry.

Advertising slogans do blur into this territory, because the best ones - like "Go to work on an egg" are so very brilliant. And what about newspaper headlines, where in minimal words you have to grab readers' attention? 'TRUMP IMPEACHED' would grab mine.

And re- Malaysia. My best friend is Malaysian, although living in London, and she knows about this little-publicised corruption.
Thank you Sunil! Enid, thank you for such a thoughtful response to my post. I have always maintained that it is easier for me to write about Malaysia from a distance in Chicago; those fighting from inside the country have it a lot worse. I am glad that your Malaysian friend talks about the "little-publicised corruption" even as it goes unchecked. Ode to Broken Things has been republished and re-titled in the seven years it has been in the world, and I am glad that it still continues to find new readers in many parts of the world.

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