George Orwell statue at the headquarters of the BBC courtesy of Matt Brown under CC BY 2.0

“If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear”, words from George Orwell’s proposed preface to Animal Farm (1945)

PEN America launches Free Speech 2020, a yearlong initiative to mobilize writers and readers to elevate free speech issues and defend free expression throughout this election season. Deploying on social media and at, the initiative will feature Q&As with presidential candidates, authors, and activists about the value of free speech; research profiling the major threats to free expression in the U.S.; and resources to guide PEN America Members and partners to defend against those threats. Free Speech 2020 will also mobilize PEN America Members and supporters across the country with a series of events, trainings, and conversations about the importance of protecting our right to speak.

With this ” . .  . the American people start making their voices heard [with the kick-off of] an election season that promises to be a pivotal moment for free expression in this country. That’s why we feel it’s the perfect time to unify our commitment to defending free speech under this organization-wide initiative,” said Summer Lopez, senior director of Free Expression Programs at PEN America. “We’ll be building on our existing work and expanding our national footprint to fight for free expression across the country.”

Free Speech 2020 will continue through November, highlighting four major themes:

  • Defending press freedom. PEN America will build on its landmark report on the local news crisis; continue fighting in the courts to defend press freedom; conduct trainings and assemble resources for reporters to know their rights; and lead nationwide media literacy trainings.
  • Combatting disinformation. PEN America will partner with tech companies, government entities, and parties and candidates from across the political spectrum to push back against misleading information. The organization will also lead media literacy trainings, build on its pathbreaking disinformation report, and call on the digital platforms to step up their efforts to battle false information.
  • Fighting online harassment. PEN America will fan out across the country to engage with writers, journalists, and newsroom leaders in the best practices to strike back against online abuse, which imperils free speech and free dialogue. The organization will build on its Online Harassment Field Manual and additional resources.
  • Upholding protest rights. PEN America will speak out against violations of the constitutional right to demonstrate throughout the election cycle, fightingrestrictions such as the DC Mall Protest Tax, and will also publish research on legislative trends that threaten the right to protest.

“We’re at a key inflection point in the U.S., and this election season is already bringing new and unique threats to free speech,” said Nora Benavidez, director of U.S. Free Expression Programs at PEN America. “Across the country and across our digital platforms, we’re mobilizing to stand up for the public’s right to speak out and the public’s right to know. As writers, readers, and defenders of the written word, that’s our driving mission this election year.”

Through February, PEN America will be featuring Q&As with presidential candidates Sen. Bernie Sanders, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and Andrew Yang (PEN America has contacted all major-party candidates for interviews). Also this month, PEN America will include video, audio, and web interviews with authors about their perspectives on free speech in 2020, which kicked off with an interview from author Mira Jacob.

For more information, visit


PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. It champions the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Its mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.

Jamie Dedes:

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Link HERE for Bernie’s schedule of events around the country.

“Democracy is not a spectator sport.” Bernie Sanders

“Every pair of eyes facing you has probably experienced something you could not endure.”  Lucille Clifton


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