To “send them a message” is a call to action from a politician telling supporters to use their political capital to voice their opinion.
This can be performed in many ways. A protest can be sending a message, because it shows large support for or against an issue. The same goes for political donations. The most typical call for a message to be sent is through voting. A politician may call on the people to “send them a message” to America by voting for them, and showing that a majority of people support a certain policy.
Politicians, especially those running for political office, often ask their supporters to “send a message” through certain actions.
This “message” can take different forms. Supporters might send a message about a particular issue by turning out in droves to vote against a ballot initiative. They might send a message by protesting or going on strike. Or, most commonly, they can send a message by turning out to vote for the candidate.
Today, the phrase is innocuous, not particularly charged. But “send them a message” was originally closely linked to Alabama Gov. George Wallace and a firebrand speech he gave in 1963. After being inaugurated for his first term as governor, Wallace told a crowd:
Let us send this message back to Washington, via the representatives who are here with us today,” Wallace said. “From this day, we are standing up, and the heel of tyranny does not fit the neck of an upright man.
Let us rise to the call of freedom-loving blood that is in us, and send our answer to the tyranny that clanks its chains upon the South,” Wallace declared from the podium. “In the name of the greatest people that have ever trod this earth, I draw a line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny, and I say, segregation now, segregation tomorrow and segregation forever.”
Decades later, in 2002, Barack Obama was a state senator from Illinois who was quickly making a name for himself as an opponent of the Iraq war. He spoke to a crowd of protesters in October of that year and called on them to “send a message” to President George Bush by rallying against the war:
So for those of us who seek a more just and secure world for our children, let us send a clear message to the president today. You want a fight, President Bush? Let’s finish the fight with bin Laden and al-Qaida, through effective, coordinated intelligence, and a shutting down of the financial networks that support terrorism, and a homeland security program that involves more than color-coded warnings. You want a fight, President Bush?
In January 2021, Donald Trump Jr. addressed a crowd of his father’s supporters who had rallied in Washington, D.C. Trump Jr. told the crowd that their presence would “send a message” to those in the Republican party who did not support President Trump:
It should be a message to all the Republicans who have not been willing to actually fight, the people who did nothing to stop the steal,” Trump Jr. said. “This gathering should send a message to them: This isn’t their Republican Party anymore. This is Donald Trump’s Republican Party.
Of course, voters aren’t the only ones who can send messages. In 2016, then-vice president Joe Biden talked about “sending a message” to the Kremlin. The vice president didn’t specify how, but said that the US was going to retaliate against Russia for alleged hacking. “We’re sending a message. We have the capacity to do it,” Biden vowed on Meet the Press.