To have the ability to speak our minds, state our opinions — whether people want to hear them or not — and to exhibit a right that has been granted to us for more than two centuries is a right many of us take for granted.
As stated in the United States Constitution, under the First Amendment, “we the people” are guaranteed freedom of expression by prohibiting Congress from restricting the press or the rights of individuals to speak freely.
Without free speech, we lose more than just our voices. We lose the ability to challenge the government, take political stances or prevent the ability to simply begin a discussion.
When the founding fathers wrote the Bill of Rights, the First Amendment was prided on the fact that the American people shall operate under a system that is “for the people.”
Decades and decades later, we see historical landmarks that have sparked change within our country thanks to free speech. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech called for civil and economic rights and an end to racism in the United States. By the 1920s, women across the nation rioted for the foundation of their voices, the right to vote. More recently, we have seen environmental activists such as Greta Thunberg using her voice to raise awareness of the detrimental effects that climate change is creating on our planet. Without freedom of speech, these people wouldn’t have been able to create a platform for change. Without their voices, where would we be?
We are lucky. There are other nations that don’t allow the same luxury that we have under the First Amendment in the United States.
According to Freedom House, an independent watchdog organization dedicated to the expansion of freedom and democracy around the world, 45 percent of the world’s population lives in countries where the media environment is not free. In 2017, the world’s 10 worst-rated countries and territories for free speech were Azerbaijan, Crimea, Cuba, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Syria, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. We are blessed compared to citizens of these nations where opinions are often suppressed.
This is the ninth year The Crimson has been celebrating free speech week. We have a very diverse population of students on campus as many of them come from all different parts of the world. Some of them may not know what free speech is, or what the First Amendment even guarantees. This is why we educate. We inform those who don’t know what free speech is and we remind those that have forgotten.
Often overlooked is the fact that we live in a country where we can speak freely without fear. Despite what America’s political arena at the moment says, the press is not your enemy. In recent years under the current administration, freedom of speech — and particularly the press — has been attacked. The label “fake news” has become sensationalized and its meaning has been misinterpreted on some occasions. There are left and right-wing news organizations and those that strive to be centrists, but all become united when the president of the United States of America comes for not just your industry, but your career. To go after what reporters often view as a civic duty to the public is far from promoting First Amendment rights. This is why journalism matters now more than ever before, and this is why voices matter. Voices allow you to speak your mind, and speaking your mind might just provoke change for the better.
As Benjamin Franklin once said, “Without freedom of thought, there can be no such thing as wisdom — and no such thing as public liberty without freedom of speech.”