Giving people a voice and broader inclusion go hand in hand, and the trend has been toward greater voice over time. But there’s also a counter-trend. In times of social turmoil, our impulse is often to pull back on free expression. We want the progress that comes from free expression, but not the tension.We saw this when Martin Luther King Jr. wrote his famous letter from Birmingham jail, where he was unconstitutionally jailed for protesting peacefully. We saw this in the efforts to shut down campus protests against the Vietnam War. We saw this way back when America was deeply polarized about its role in World War I, and the Supreme Court ruled that socialist leader Eugene Debs could be imprisoned for making an antiwar speech.
Throughout history, we’ve seen how being able to use your voice helps people come together. We’ve seen this in the civil rights movement. Frederick Douglass once called free expression “the great moral renovator of society.” He said, “Slavery cannot tolerate free speech.” Civil rights leaders argued time and again that their protests were protected free expression, and one noted: “Nearly all the cases involving the civil rights movement were decided on First Amendment grounds.”
We now have significantly broader power to call out things we feel are unjust and share our own personal experiences. Movements like #BlackLivesMatter and #MeToo went viral on Facebook — the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter was actually first used on Facebook — and this just wouldn’t have been possible in the same way before.