Our Freedom of Speech

By Miles Byrd

The tragic events at the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris prompted me to have a think about our right to exercise freedom of speech. I recently wrote a blog piece about creative freedoms which was inspired by a meeting with Emory Douglas, the legendary Black Panther graphic designer and minister of culture, which seems to be incredibly relevant today.

Freedom of speech is defined as “…the political right to communicate one’s opinions and ideas using one’s body and property to anyone who is willing to receive them.” Most nations restrict free speech in some way through libel, slander, obscenity laws, but on the whole we’re able to say what we like.

Thanks to these freedoms, throughout history we’ve seen a host of inspiring people people who have exercised their right to freedom of speech with great effect. Artists, writers, speakers, athletes, politicians, and people who just want to make a difference; they’ve all contributed to history simply by being themselves, and expressing their views on things that they’re passionate about. These people were not intimidated in their attempts to change the world, they were simply brave enough to speak up.

From the likes of Martin Luther King and his role in the civil rights movement, to John Lennon’s political activism, to more recent examples of freedom of speech like NBA player Jason Collins coming out about his sexuality, or Russell Brand advocating for economic and political reform; we’ve seen a range of people all across the world use freedom of speech to change the world, or simply raise awareness of something they’re passionate about. Artists like Grayson Perry and Banksy have used their creative talents and influence to openly question how the world views itself.

Looking back through history to present day, is that these brave people were aware of the potential consequences of expressing their views and still proceeded to share them. We are given the basic right to freedom of speech, but not everybody is expected to be the next Ghandi. Also, not everybody will accept our views, or agree with them, but thankfully for the most part it seems that people will defend our right to say them (tips hat to Voltaire, and Evelyn Beatrice Hall).

Even with the homogenisation of technology and culture, and the advent of governments worldwide rushing through new terrorism ‘protection’ acts, thankfully what remains untouched is society’s ability to speak freely. If we didn’t defend this right, we’d be left in a world that closely mirrored George Orwell’s predictions. No freedom of speech, no creativity and vitally, no fun.

We live in a world where, thanks to social media, how we communicate with people, brands and governments has completely changed. While we may not agree with everything being said, it definitely makes for a more interesting society. Let’s be thankful that we’re only a few weeks into 2015, not 1984.

Miles Byrd