Why Supporting Freedom of Speech is More Important Than Ever

ARTISTS AND ACTIVISTS ARE STEPPING UP their actions for detained Chinese artist Ai Weiwei. His enforced disappearance, rather than bringing silence and acquiescence, has instead galvanized his supporters:

Arts institutions like LACMA, the Tate Modern, and MOMA have signed a petition calling for his release (you can add your name here).

In Hong Kong on Sunday, the Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China held a demonstration demanding the artist’s release:

And as this piece in the Wall Street Journal shows, if China hoped to silence its critics with these enforced disappearances and thuggery, well, it isn’t working: activists continue to speak out.

People inside China who speak publicly risk their lives. That isn’t the case of all of us lucky enough to be able to say and write whatever we like without fear of reprisal, detention, or disappearance. Supporting freedom of speech is more important than ever.

“Speaking out” can take many forms—if the media brouhaha around one particular artist is any indication.

This week the Western press is replete with stories about “Bob Dylan, the sell-out,” for not talking about Ai Weiwei by name at Dylan’s concert in Beijing. This is because Dylan is a symbol (though usually a reluctant one) of the American 1960’s protest movement, and his songs and lyrics, like “Masters of War,” “The Times They Are A-Changin’,” to name just two, are clarion calls of protest and activism.

A piece in The Atlantic makes a case that Dylan did in fact manage to comment on the rights situation in China: albeit in his usual subversive way.

Whether we are world-famous rock stars or ordinary citizens, we are at the proverbial fork in the road, a moment in history where we must speak out. This year’s pro-democracy uprisings in the Middle East, which are still spinning and spiraling in revolution, prove that. We must not shrink away from this moment. Ai Weiwei, and everyone who is denied his basic human freedoms, are counting on us.

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