Free speech has been critical to social movements throughout history. It has consistently been used as a powerful tool for marginalised groups to articulate their grievances and demand to be heard.
But today discussions surrounding “free speech” have unfortunately been dominated by a small number of people who seek to use it primarily to curtail the rights of others and spread hate, leading many to question it as a value.
However, when the principle of free speech is abandoned, those who already face oppression are hurt most: including people of colour, religious and ethnic minorities, and those who campaign on sex and gender issues. Free Speech is for Me aims to show how freedom of expression furthers democracy and individual liberty and benefits everyone. If we allow free speech protections to be weakened, we lose our greatest tool in advocating for change.
We are now supporting these advocates in reclaiming free speech as a fundamental right that must apply to everyone by offering training and mentoring on freedom of expression issues. This will include one on one support from leading free speech experts plus media, communications and public speaking training. They will end the programme with a clearer understanding of the challenges of censorship and the tools to overcome them.
See what this year’s American intake have been doing as part of their programme.
See updates from the first intake of the programme, featuring interviews with mentors and advocates.
Through training and mentoring, Free Speech is for Me is equipping people from all backgrounds and beliefs to speak out against censorship. The mentors will work with the 13 advocates to help them defend and champion the issue of free speech.
Jodie Ginsberg is the CEO of Index on Censorship. Prior to joining Index, she worked as a foreign correspondent and business journalist and was previously UK bureau chief for Reuters. She sits on the council of global free expression network IFEX and the board of the Global Network Initiative, and is a regular commentator in international media on freedom of expression issues.
Will Gore is the head of partnerships for the National Council for the Training of Journalists and former managing editor of The Independent, i, Independent on Sunday and the London Evening Standard. He writes on a wide range of topics, including politics, the media and cricket, and writes a weekly column for the Independent on memorable journeys.
Kiri Kankhwende is a Malawian journalist and political analyst based in London who writes primarily about politics and immigration. She has worked in human rights campaigning and is a member of Writers of Colour. She is also a member of Index on Censorship’s board of trustees.
Meera is an accomplished senior journalist with experience in Europe, Asia and Africa, currently the Director of the Journalism Fellowship Programme at the Reuters Institute. She joined the Reuters Institute from Handelsblatt Global where she had been working out of Singapore, having helped launch the digital daily business paper in Berlin in 2014. Her previous experience includes several years as a London based correspondent for the Associated Press, and three years as Africa correspondent for the Independent based in Nairobi, along with stints in business journalism at a range of publications including the Daily Telegraph.
New York Law School professor Nadine Strossen, the immediate past President of the American Civil Liberties Union (1991-2008), is a leading expert and frequent speaker/media commentator on constitutional law and civil liberties, who has testified before Congress on multiple occasions. Her acclaimed 2018 book HATE: Why We Should Resist It with Free Speech, Not Censorship was selected by Washington University as its 2019 “Common Read.”
Kenan Malik is a British writer, lecturer and broadcaster. His main areas of interest are the history of ideas, philosophy of science, religion, politics, race and immigration. His books include The Meaning of Race (1996), Man, Beast and Zombie (2000) and Strange Fruit: Why Both Sides Are Wrong in the Race Debate (2008). He writes a column for The Guardian and the New York Times.
Xinran is a British–Chinese author, journalist and activist. Her first book, The Good Women of China, was published in 2002 and became an international bestseller. She has written two novels, Miss Chopsticks (2008) and The Promise (2018) and four other non-fiction books: Sky Burial, China Witness, Message from an Unknown Chinese Mother and Buy Me the Sky. She is an advocate for women’a issues and is a contributor to Index on Censorship magazine.
Konstantin Kisin is an award-winning Russian-British comedian, podcaster and writer. In 2018 he refused to sign a university “behavioural agreement form” which banned jokes about religion, atheism and insisted that all humour must be “respectful and kind”. He is also the creator and co-host of Triggernometry, a posdcast and YouTube show where comedians interview economists, political experts, journalists and social commentators about controversial and challenging subjects.
Emily Knox is a professor in the School of Information Sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and teaches on information access, intellectual freedom and censorship. She is also the author of Book Banning in 21st Century America and recently edited Trigger Warnings: History, Theory, Context. Knox serves on the boards of the Association for Information Science & Technology, Beta Phi Mu, the Freedom to Read Foundation, and the National Coalition Against Censorship.
Will Creeley is a lawyer and senior vice president of Legal and Public Advocacy at Fire (Foundation for Individual Rights in Education). Creeley has appeared on television and radio and has spoken to thousands of students, faculty, administrators and lawyers at events across the country. He is a member of the First Amendment Lawyers Association. Creeley’s writing has been published by The New York Times and The Washington Post, amongst others. Creeley edited the second edition of Fire’s Guide to Due Process and Campus Justice, coedited the second edition of Fire’s Guide to Free Speech on Campus and has coauthored amicus curiae briefs submitted to a number of courts, including the Supreme Court of the United States.
Chris Finan is executive director of the National Coalition Against Censorship, an alliance of 56 national non-profits that defends free speech. Finan has been involved in the fight against censorship throughout his career. He is former president of American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression. He is author of From the Palmer Raids to the PATRIOT Act: A History of the Fight for Free Speech in America.
Emma Llansó is the director of the Center for Democracy and Technology Free Expression Project. Llansó leads CDT’s legislative advocacy and amicus activity around freedom of expression in the USA and the EU. Llansó serves on the board of the Global Network Initiative, an organisation that works to advance individuals’ privacy and free expression rights in the ICT sector around the world. She is also a member of the Freedom Online Coalition Advisory Network, which provides advice to FOC member governments aimed at advancing human rights online.
Ash Kotak is an award-winning playwright & film maker. He is also a curator and journalist. Free speech is at the core of all his work as he is often challenging and questioning popular narratives to illuminate greater truths.
His works as a playwright includes Maa (Royal Court); Hijra (Bush Theatre, Theatre Royal Plymouth, West Yorkshire Playhouse, Theatre Du Nord, Lille (in French), New Conservatory Theatre, San Francisco, USA); No Gain, No Pain (The Other Place, Stratford-Upon-Avon). He is working on a new play entitled The AIDS Missionary. His latest film work includes: The Joneses(Exec Producer, USA, 90 mins, 2017); Punched By a Homosexualist (Exec Producer, Russia, 55 mins, 2018).
He set up an arts curating collective, Aesthesia, in 2014 which works with dehumanised, marginalised and disempowered communities to amplify individual voices through creative art projects.
Athena Stevens is an Olivier nominated writer and performer, a spokesperson for the UK’s Women’s Equality Party, and a human rights activist.
As both a creative and as an advocate she relies on free speech in the hopes that she and others will be able to give language to trauma, tell their story, and create a systematic change that leads to equality
Dan Clarke is a master’s student of international public policy at UCL. He is interested in censorship issues around the world, especially in authoritarian countries such as China and many others in the Middle East and Africa.
Promoting freedom of the media and freedom of expression for all in society, including artists and critics, is vital for a fair, equitable and honest society where social issues can be addressed directly and without fear of repercussion. The protests in Hong Kong and the crackdown on the Uyghurs in China are two of the most important censorship issues for him.
Max graduated from the University of Birmingham in July 2019 and, as a liberal, was deeply alarmed at the student union’s censorious policies. He wants to change the culture of free speech, particularly on university campuses, where he and other students were fearful of speaking freely in seminars and lectures.
He has previously been constituency coordinator for Vote Leave in Rossendale and Darwen and is currently a constituency organiser for The Brexit Party. He would love to advocate for free speech, democracy and other constitutional issues as a future career.
Rhiannon is a researcher and campaigner for human rights and technology. Educated at UCL and UC Berkeley, she trained at Amnesty International in their technology programme. She currently works in the legal sector, working with activists who have been targeted with spyware for their activism. She also works on the #NotYourPorn campaign to end revenge porn.
Her interests are targeted surveillance, spyware, online censorship and the issues that come with free speech on the internet, specifically self-censorship, internet shutdowns and blanket bans on certain types of speech. She hopes her insight into technology and human rights will bring an interesting perspective to the discussion on freedom of expression.
Maya is a third-year history undergraduate at Oxford University, and founder of the Oxford Society for Free Discourse, a group dedicated to countering censorship among students and academics. OSFD’s aim is to promote free speech as a universal value essential to facilitating constructive interaction between polarised ideas.
Maya’s work with OSFD varies from organising speaker’s events and public demonstrations, to informal debates and research. Linking her interest in free speech to her former presidency of the History Society, Maya has also become involved in the production of “Clear and Present Danger”, a podcast on the history of free speech.
Madeleine recently completed an MA in human rights law at SOAS and is currently working with Big Brother Watch, where she has focused on technology, surveillance, data and free speech online. She is involved in the ‘Preventing Prevent’ campaign, which seeks to educate and organise resistance to the government’s intrusive counter-terrorism strategy, Prevent.
She is particularly interested in how counterterrorism, surveillance and policing combine to create a chilling effect that dampens free speech, particularly for those who have traditionally been at the sharp end of state power. She is also passionate about women’s rights and LGBT rights and seeks to amplify the voices of these communities in her work.
Lillian Bustle is a TEDx speaker, burlesquer and body love activist. Bustle has lobbied the state of New Jersey and municipalities for trans rights and successfully removed laws prohibiting cross dressers in bars and obscenity laws statewide. She is an advocate for sex workers’ rights, the LGBTQ community, and intersectional feminism. She recently led an advocacy workshop at a national burlesque conference and is working to connect her advocacy to the protection and promotion of freedom of expression more directly. Bustle is based in New Jersey.
Mariana Nogales-Molinelli is a human rights lawyer in Puerto Rico. She has a breadth of experience and is publicly active in diverse human rights (feminist, queer, environmentalist, anti-austerity) networks. Nogales-Molinelli’s recent free speech work has focused on protecting the right to protest through the organisation, Brigada Legal Solidaria. She is one of the founders of Humanistas Seculares de Puerto Rico, an organisation that advocates for the separation of church and state.
Maya Rubin is a sophomore at Wellesley College. She is passionate about free speech for students on college campuses, and has worked with the Wellesley Freedom Project as an Adam Smith fellow and senior fellow to further the intellectual diversity at Wellesley. She has also worked with Index on Censorship as an intern. She hopes to show students the importance of free expression to improve their ability to honestly engage with one another.
Obden Mondésir is an archivist and oral historian at the Weeksville Heritage Center in Brooklyn, New York. He is also active in the prison abolition movement. Obden’s parents are Haitian immigrants who lived under dictatorship and Obden saw firsthand how a culture of fear was sustained in the USA through self-censorship. Last year, he helped to organise a free speech series with the New School, NCAC and Article 19. As part of that effort, he began a research project on historic “seditious” speech.
Adeline Lee is a graduate of Wellesley College. She is currently at the American Civil Liberties Union’s Speech, Privacy and Technology Project which works to advance and defend First and Fourth Amendment freedoms amid developments in technology and science. Prior to the ACLU, Lee helped establish PEN America’s Campus Free Speech Program, working with university officials, faculty and student leaders across the country to foster dialogue and understanding following major free speech controversies. She is the coauthor of Chasm in the Classroom: Campus Free Speech in a Divided America, analysing over one hundred instances of Trump-era free speech infringements and debates, and served in 2019 on education-technology company EVERFI’s first national advisory board for diversity, equity and inclusion.