Throughout history and across the world – from Mexico to Myanmar, Tunisia to Thailand – ordinary people have achieved extraordinary things by speaking out for what they believe in.
Toppling ruthless dictators. Overthrowing discriminatory laws. Exposing government corruption. Blowing the whistle on Big Tech. All this – and much, much more – accomplished by people refusing to be silent about the things that matter.
We’ve all heard of heroes who instigated monumental change in their lifetimes – from Martin Luther King to Nelson Mandela, Rosa Parks to Edward Snowden, Gandhi to Greta Thunberg. But there are countless others. People who aren’t household names – whose names we may never even know – yet their voices echo down the ages in the progress they helped usher in. Ordinary people. People with bills to pay, work to do, mouths to feed. People like you.
None of these people were superhuman. They couldn’t have predicted that speaking out for what they believed in would move mountains. But they had one thing in common, they all realised the power of their voices. One person puts out the call – for more, for better, for progress – and other people respond, adding their voices to the collective chorus.
– Anyone else?
– Me too.
A single voice, at the right pitch, is powerful enough to shatter glass. Millions of voices, raised together, can cause an avalanche.
Only one thing is more frightening than speaking your truth. And that is not speakingAudre Lorde (African American writer and activist)
The power of our voices
We are at a critical juncture for freedom of expression worldwide.
Democracies are failing, human rights are being eroded, and only 1 in 7 people live in countries where they can seek, receive, or share information freely and safely.
Our new strategy, The Power of Our Voices, sets out how ARTICLE 19 will rise to meet the challenges we face over the next 4 years. We will harness the experience, knowledge, passion, and tenacity of the free expression movement to build a world where everyone – everywhere – can realise the power of their voices. And we will amplify those voices until they are too loud to be ignored – here’s how.
The internet is like a tree that is growing. The people will always have the last wordAi Weiwei (Chinese artist)
There is mounting evidence of Big Tech, governments, and other powers using digital technology against us.
But the digital sphere also holds huge potential to strengthen free expression, and youth-led movements have shown how technology can be used to change the status quo.
ARTICLE 19 pioneered the consideration of human rights in the infrastructure of the internet. Our digital work includes people who are often left out of tech discussions, like women, LGBTQI+ people, and activists from the Global South.
With these partners, we will work to define a new internet era – one that respects our freedom of expression and reflects the diversity of human experience.
- counter disinformation and improve media literacy
- challenge mass surveillance and demand a ban on biometrics
- strengthen legislation to keep our data private from governments and Big Tech
There’s really no such thing as the ‘ voiceless’. There are only the deliberately silenced, or the preferably unheard.Arundhati Roy (Indian writer)
Progress is often instigated by the people who bear the brunt of government and corporate repression. When they bravely speak out to expose injustice and demand racial, gender, or economic equality, they make things better for all of us. They deserve our solidarity, protection, and support.
ARTICLE 19 will amplify the voices of those who are the most vulnerable and systemically discriminated against.
We will work with:
- communities at risk: human rights defenders, activists, and political dissidents, women, indigenous and racialised people, migrants, religious and ethnic minorities, and LGBTQI+ communities and diaspora
- infomediaries: journalists, social communicators, whistleblowers, media workers, and independent and community media outlets – particularly those reporting on corruption, human rights, and the environment
- civil society, community networks, and social movements: particularly youth, women, minority groups, and those fighting corruption and defending the environment – especially in rural and remote areas
When the whole world is silent, even one voice becomes powerful.Malala Yousafzai (Pakistani activist)
ARTICLE 19 is a thought leader in developing cutting-edge legal analysis, policies, and standards to protect freedom of expression around the world.
Wherever decisions affecting people’s lives are made – whether at the international, regional, or national level – we will advocate to make sure their voices are heard.
We will develop policies on new areas impacting freedom of expression, including:
- pluralism and diversity online;
- state propaganda; and
And we will ramp up our empirical research, building the evidence base to shape international standards and tailor national solutions.
The power of YOUR voice
I am not a liberator. Liberators do not exist. The people liberate themselves.Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara (Argentine writer and guerrilla leader)
Social change doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a long road, and it’s often strewn with obstacles. Before we even open our mouths, we are told there’s no point. When we take the mic or megaphone, we are told to shut up. And when we win, we are told that change would’ve happened anyway, that it was a benevolent gift – not the result of our collective demands.
These silencing tactics are nothing new. They’ve been used throughout history to make us doubt the power of our voices.
But our progressive predecessors spoke their truths anyway. And by doing so, they sowed the seeds that would blossom into Extinction Rebellion, #MeToo, Black Lives Matter, and countless other contemporary social movements, none of which emerged from barren ground. We are standing on the shoulders of giants – just as future generations will stand on ours. Let’s do them proud. Our future depends on the actions of all of us.
Now is the time to raise your voice.
The power of collective voices
These stories show how the world really does change when we raise our voices together.
We have to come together and speak honestly about what the barriers are within our community – and then tear them down. It’s really that simple.Tarana Burke (#MeToo founder)
Tarana Burke, born and raised in a housing project in The Bronx, first used the phrase ‘Me Too’ on Myspace in 2006 to talk about her sexual assault, support other survivors (especially low-income young women of colour), and demand justice.
It took a decade, and the invention of hashtags and social media as we now know it, for #MeToo to take off – but take off it did.
Since 2016, millions of women worldwide have shared their experiences of sexual violence online, from #uykularinkacsin (‘may you lose sleep’) in Turkey to #Sex4Grades in Kenya, #YoTambien in Spain and Latin America, and #米兔 (‘rice bunny’, which sounds like me too in Mandarin, or simply the emojis to evade online censors) in China.
The successes of #MeToo have been similarly global:
- In the US, movie mogul Harvey Weinstein was imprisoned for 23 years for sex crimes.
- In Ethiopia, 9 middle-school girls – who cited #MeToo as their inspiration – spoke out about abuse from a schoolteacher, who was fired as a result.
- In India, Minister of State M.J. Akbar stepped down from government following #MeToo accusations.
And #MeToo itself built on decades of tireless work by feminists across the globe to get sexual violence taken seriously and understood as both a cause and a consequence of gender inequality.
The feminist movement’s successes in this area are too many to name, but include:
- the recognition of sexual violence as a human rights violation;
- the UN Convention to End all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW);
- laws banning rape and other forms of sexual violence;
- the creation and funding of specialist support services for survivors; and
- sex and relationships education in schools, including on consent.
And all of this instigated by women coming together – around the kitchen table, at the school gates, on the assembly line – and talking openly about their everyday lives. In so doing, they realised that they weren’t a lone voice in the crowd; they were the crowd.
#BlackLivesMatter was born online but now lives in street actions, in conversations in our homes, and in the dignity swelling in our heartsAyọ (formerly Opal) Tometi (Co-founder, Black Lives Matter)
Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi founded the #BlackLivesMatter (BLM) hashtag in 2013 to express their anger at policeman George Zimmerman being acquitted for shooting Trayvon Martin, an unarmed African American teenager.
In the following 7 years, BLM blossomed into a huge offline movement, taking to the streets to protest the deaths of numerous other African Americans at the hands of police officers and calling for criminal-justice reform. An estimated 15–26 million people attended BLM protests in the US in 2020, making it one of the biggest movements the country has ever seen.
While BLM started in the US, it has proliferated worldwide, with activists adapting it to fit local struggles for racial justice – from Indigenous rights in Canada and Māori rights in New Zealand to Dalit rights in India.
BLM’s wins have included:
- the police officers who killed George Floyd being charged, arrested, and jailed;
- sweeping police reforms in numerous US states, from Kentucky to New York;
- schools adopting racial equality policies;
- the toppling of statues commemorating slave owners worldwide; and
- getting racial injustice back on the global agenda.
And BLM is only the latest wave to rise from a vast ocean of racial justice activism, from 19th-century abolitionists to the 20th-century civil rights and Black Power struggles.
This broader movement has been wildly successful, with wins including the abolition of slavery, the right to vote, the overturning of racial segregation laws, and legislation enshrining civil rights.
These gains were notoriously hard-won. But they were won. And they were won by ordinary people coming together to speak out against the scandalous injustices they experienced every day.
‘We are the 99%’Occupy Wall Street slogan
In September 2011, protesters occupied Zuccotti Park in New York’s financial district to demand an end to economic inequality, corporate greed, and the financial sector’s influence over politics. The protest camp, which became known as Occupy Wall Street, attracted thousands of people.
Police evicted protesters two months later – but not before a global movement had been born. Over 750 Occupy events have since taken place, from Nigeria to Qatar, and Occupy’s tactics (themselves inspired by the Arab Spring) went on to influence Extinction Rebellion.
When Zuccotti Park was evicted, detractors asserted that Occupy had failed – but its effects are still being felt today.
Take, for example, student debt. The call to cancel student debt became a focus of Occupy Wall Street. It was later amplified by the Debt Collective – a group founded in the wake of Zuccotti Park – whose activists successfully pushed for it to be part of Biden’s presidential campaign platform. Finally, in August 2022, President Biden announced a huge student debt-relief package.
This wasn’t a spontaneous gift from above. It was a response to many voices from below.
And all this from a movement instigated by a single A4 poster in Adbusters, an independent magazine with just 65,000 readers:
This is how change happens: A whisper becomes a handful of voices, which becomes a chorus, which becomes a demand too deafening to ignore.
Hope is telling the truth. Hope is taking action. And hope always comes from the people.Greta Thunberg (Swedish environmental activist
Greta Thunberg was a 15-year-old schoolgirl when she sat outside the Swedish Parliament, alone, holding a homemade sign that read School Strike for Climate.
Just a few months later, Greta was addressing the United Nations. And the following year, over 6 million students worldwide attended School Strike for Climate protests to demand action on climate change.
These students added their voices to a chorus of predecessors who, for decades, have called for climate change to be taken seriously – whether by creating global NGOs or joining local community groups, chaining themselves to trees or writing to their representatives, undertaking nonviolent direct action or switching their energy supplier.
Reading the news on any given day, it’s easy to despair at the monumental scale of the climate challenge and the lack of effective government action to tackle it.
But taking a longer view reveals that the successes of the climate movement have also been monumental:
- the creation of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change;
- the ratification of the Kyoto Protocol;
- universities divesting from fossil fuels;
- progress on banning single-use plastics;
- more and more people making lifestyle changes to reduce their environmental impact;
- climate change moving from a fringe issue to a mainstream priority; and
- voters worldwide increasingly prioritising climate action at the ballot box.
Of course, when governments and corporations do adopt positive climate policies, they hardly thank activist roadblocks or striking students. But such decisions are not a benevolent gift from above. They’re the direct result of our collective voice becoming too loud to ignore.
People all over the Arab world feel a sense of pride in shaking off decades of cowed passivity under dictatorships.Rashid Ismail Khalidi (historian of the Middle East)
During the Tunisian Revolution (2010–11), thousands of people raised their voices against high unemployment, low living standards, inflation, corruption, and a lack of freedom of expression.
While protests and strikes blossomed offline, internet group Anonymous supported the Revolution online, providing protesters with tools to help them avoid interception and remove the incumbent government.
The Revolution not only led to the ousting of President Ben Ali and the democratisation of Tunisia but also catalysed the Arab Spring: a wave of popular protests, largely organised via social media, that led to significant gains for people across the Middle East and North Africa.
Tactics forged in the Arab Spring also went on to inspire the Occupy movement – which, in turn, inspired the tactics of Extinction Rebellion.
Despite disheartening events in the region since, Operation Tunisia and the Arab Spring show the power of the digital sphere to amplify people’s voices and strengthen free expression worldwide.
People like us have no choice but to be troublemakersEddie ‘Koiki’ Mabo (Indigenous activist)
Born in 1936, Eddie ‘Koiki’ Mabo was an Indigenous Torres Strait Islander. Like other Indigenous people, he was deprived of a decent education and denied access to whites-only spaces, and had to move to mainland Australia to seek employment.
While working as a gardener at James Cook University in Queensland, Mabo fell into conversation with two academics, whom he told of his ambition to end his days back on his island, on the land that had been passed down through 15 generations of his family.
The two academics broke the news to him that he didn’t own that land; it was classified as terra nullius (‘land belonging to no one’), a doctrine used to systematically deprive Indigenous people of land rights.
Mabo was aghast – but he refused to remain silent. He dedicated the rest of his life to speaking out against this injustice.
In June 1992, as a result of Mabo’s calls for justice, the Australian High Court finally overturned the 200-year-old legal doctrine of terra nullius.
And the following year, the Native Title Act 1993 enshrined the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to own and use the land their families had inhabited for 40,000 years.
Globally, the Indigenous land rights movement has achieved significant wins:
- In Canada, the provincial government of British Columbia halted a private company’s plans for a $5.5 billion pipeline expansion project, which would have endangered the water supply of 90% of local First Nation groups in the area. Key Indigenous activists involved in resisting the pipeline took their inspiration from their time at Standing Rock.
- In Kenya, the Ogiek, an Indigenous hunter-gatherer tribe, won a historic battle in the African Court on Human and Peoples Rights in 2017. The Court ruled that the government had violated the Ogiek’s rights by forcibly evicting them from their ancestral land in the Mau Forest since colonial times. Its verdict recognised the Ogiek’s indigenous status, right to reparations, and legal right to live on their land.
- In Indonesia, a country with hundreds of distinct ethnic groups and languages, the government granted land rights to 9 Indigenous tribes in 2017, following a court case won by the Indigenous Peoples Alliance of the Archipelago 4 years earlier.
While crushing defeats often steal the headlines – Trump’s order to build the Dakota Access Pipeline at Standing Rock, Bolsonaro waging war against the Amazon – it is vital to also note these successes, which inspire similar movements worldwide and show the power of Indigenous voices.
Raise your voice!
Whoever you are, and wherever you are:
Your voice is more powerful than you think.
Together, we can build the societies we want to live in.
Join our movement to defend freedom of expression.
Join us as we continue to build the systems for those who dissent, challenge power, and seek change. With your support, we will continue to propel the growing movement for free expression, driving change locally and globally so people everywhere may realise the power of their voices.’Quinn McKew, Executive Director, ARTICLE 19