The right to speak out and express oneself is a vital component of any free and democratic society. Canadians don’t think twice about writing a letter or article for a newspaper or magazine, challenging a politician to live up to his or her promises, or holding a public event to raise awareness about an important issue. To us, it’s just something we do.
Banned Books Week, an annual celebration taking place every late September since 1982, reminds us how fortunate we really are and how much we take this freedom for granted. Hundreds of millions of people today still live in authoritarian countries where they are punished for freely expressing their views. Not only does this prevent the kind of debate that helps build strong democratic societies, but it prevents people from making a difference in the lives of others.
If making change is the way to building a better world, than free communication is the lifeblood of making change.
If it wasn’t for free speech, what kind of country would we live in today? Women, persons of colour and Aboriginal people would certainly not have the rights they have fought so hard for. Canada might not have a universal health care system. There would be no such thing as a free media. We might not even have the right to vote. In addition, authors would be prevented from writing certain books.
I take this last one close to heart. When I wrote Making Change: Tips from an Underage Overachiever last year, the thought of having my book banned didn’t cross my mind for a second. I never had to worry what I was writing about or what pictures I was going to include in the book. At the speaking engagements on my book tours, I was never concerned about what I was going to say or who I was talking to.
Compare this situation to that of the two journalists who were detained in North Korea in July and sentenced to 12 years in prison. It took former U.S. President Bill Clinton and some very skilled diplomacy to finally free them a month later
What does this have to do with us, you may ask? I think John F. Kennedy put it best: “Freedom is indivisible, and when one person is enslaved, all are not free.”
When people can’t speak out, they can’t make change. They can’t fight poverty, protect the environment, or speak for the rights of children or the poor. In other words, they can’t create the kind of world we all deserve. That is why we celebrate Banned Books Week and the right to free expression.
As Canadians, we really don’t have excuses for not becoming more active in confronting the challenges that exist today, both here and around the world. We have the tools of free expression and democracy to change things for the better. There is nothing stopping us from speaking out – and speaking for those who can’t speak for themselves.
“Together We Can Make A Difference”