‘New Era of Dissent’ and election aftermath demand more advocacy for protesters’ rights; Plan to combat obstacles and threats to human right of peaceful assembly
The Article 20 Network, a new human rights organization formed to defend and advance the right to Freedom of Assembly worldwide, announces its official launch weeks before the U.S. presidential election. The Article 20 Network was created over the summer to address obstacles and threats to peaceful demonstration and protest — from the recent use of "free speech zones" at Hofstra’s U.S. presidential debate to the outright ban on anti-Mugabe demonstrations in Zimbabwe.
Demonstrations and protests have been growing in size and frequency around the world in the 21st century, with social media and stark racial and economic disparities driving new levels and types of activism. In this new age of dissent, nonviolent demonstrations are increasingly maligned, restricted or met with violence.
The Article 20 Network exists to develop creative and strategic solutions to promote the freedom of assembly, a distinct form of free expression – “the body as voice” – through nonviolent means.
“We’re days away from a U.S. presidential election that promises to inflame differences of opinion and see more street protests regardless of the outcome,” says the Article 20 Network co-founder and executive director Dan Aymar-Blair. "Elections choose our leaders. Public demonstrations hold them accountable."
This summer, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Free Assembly and Association, Maina Kiai, delivered a scathing critique of the state of peaceful assembly in the United States. His remarks underscore the urgency of the Article 20 Network's efforts.
Unique as a standalone nonprofit organization focusing solely on the human rights of protesters, the Article 20 Network considers not only concerns for the immediate safety of all involved in demonstrations (protesters, law enforcement, media and observers), but also bigger questions like the design of public spaces and the role technology plays in the choreography of assemblies.
The Article 20 Network has garnered support from prominent social critics and experts. Noam Chomsky says, “The right of free assembly is an essential element of a free and democratic society, the kind of society that we should strive to create and to defend. The Article 20 Network merits praise and support for upholding this fundamental right.”
"The right of peaceful assembly is a cornerstone of our basic liberties. It is distinct from, and often enables, rights to speech and expression. The Article 20 Network promotes and embodies these claims at a time when citizens too often lack basic knowledge of the right of assembly and governments too often suppress that right. Their mission is both important and urgent," says John Inazu, Sally D. Danforth Distinguished Professor of Law and Religion, Washington University in St. Louis, and author of Liberty’s Refuge: The Forgotten Freedom of Assembly.
“In recent years, the United States has experienced the proliferation of free speech zones, the militarization of protest policing, and other challenges to public dissent,” says Timothy Zick, Mills E. Godwin, Jr. Professor of Law, William & Mary Law School, and author of Speech Out of Doors. “Now more than ever, the Article 20 Network’s mission of preserving and protecting freedom of assembly is vitally important to our democratic processes.”
Identifying public awareness as the first step in its strategic plan, the Article 20 Network is rolling out an online knowledge library for community leaders and activists and offering a series of seminars on public demonstration as a human right.
ABOUT THE ARTICLE 20 NETWORK
The Article 20 Network is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization based in New York City. It takes its name from Article 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which secures the human right to peaceful assembly. The Article 20 Network is currently seeking to reach a larger base of supporters interested in protecting the Freedom of Assembly in the United States and around the world.