On Iowa Caucuses Day: PEN America Opens ‘Free Speech 2020’

In News by Porter Anderson

As voters in the state of Iowa officially open the American presidential primary season tonight, PEN America announces its free-speech advocacy effort.

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

‘The Perfect Time To Unify Our Commitment’
As the United States’ Iowa caucuses—the first exercise in the presidential election primary season—goes forward tonight (February 3) , PEN America has opened Free Speech 2020, a campaign “to elevate free speech issues and defend free expression throughout this election season.”

In a prepared statement, the organization’s senior director of freedom of expression programs, Summer Lopez, is quoted, saying, “Today, the American people start making their voices heard, with the Iowa caucuses kicking off an election season that promises to be a pivotal moment for free expression in this country.

Summer Lopez

“That’s why we feel it’s the perfect time to unify our commitment to defending free speech under this organization-wide initiative.

“We’ll be building on our existing work and expanding our national footprint to fight for free expression across the country.”

The program, according to PEN’s media messaging today, will include:

  • Interviews with presidential candidates, authors, and activists about the value of free speech
  • Research profiling major threats to free expression in the States
  • Resources to guide PEN America members and partners to work against those threats
Presidential Candidate Interviews

Initially, Democratic presidential primary candidates Sen. Bernie Sanders, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and Andrew Yang.

PEN America reports that it has contacted all major-party candidates for interviews, presumably including the re-election campaign operation of Donald Trump, which could make for an interesting interview, if  Trump were to participate.

Nora Benvenidez

Nora Benavidez, director of US free expression programs for PEN America, is quoted in announcement materials, saying, “We’re at a key inflection point in the United States, and this election season is already bringing new and unique threats to free speech.

“Across the country and across our digital platforms, we’re mobilizing to stand up for the public’s right to speak out and the public’s right to know. As writers, readers, and defenders of the written word, that’s our driving mission this election year.”

Free Speech 2020 is devised to mobilize PEN America members and supporters in various parts of the country with a series of events, trainings, and conversations about the importance of protecting the country’s emblematic right of free speech.

The organization says it expects this month to begin featuring video, audio, and online interviews with authors about their perspectives on free speech in 2020, starting with an interview from author Mira Jacob.

Jacob is the author of Good Talk: A Memoir in Conversations (releasing March 24 from Penguin Random House / One World) , which was longlisted for the PEN/Open Book Award and is a National Book Critics Circle finalist. Good Talk is described in promotional copy as a graphic memoir about American identity, interracial families, and the realities that divide us.

The plan for the campaign is to have it run through the month of November. (The American presidential election of 2020 is on November 3.)

The programming for the PEN America campaign is outlining today four key areas of its programming with the following explainers:

  • Defending press freedom. “The program will build on [an earlier] report on the American local-news crisis; continue fighting in the courts to defend press freedom; conduct trainings and assemble resources for reporters to know their rights; and lead nationwide media literacy trainings.”
  • Combatting disinformation. “PEN America will partner with tech companies, government entities, and parties and candidates from across the political spectrum to push back against misleading information. The organization will also lead media literacy trainings, build on its … disinformation report, and call on the digital platforms to step up their efforts to battle false information.”
  • Fighting online harassment. “The organization will fan out across the country to engage with writers, journalists, and newsroom leaders in the best practices to strike back against online abuse, which imperils free speech and free dialogue. The organization will build on its Online Harassment Field Manual and additional resources.”
  • Upholding protest rights. “PEN America will speak out against violations of the constitutional right to demonstrate throughout the election cycle, fighting restrictions such as the [Washington, DC National] Mall Protest Tax, and will also publish research on legislative trends that threaten the right to protest.”

M0re information on the program is at its site portal here.


More from Publishing Perspectives on PEN America is here. More from us on the United States market is here and more on political books of the season and issues around them is here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's 2019 International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for trade and indie authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson also has worked as a senior producer, editor, and anchor with CNN.com, CNN International, and CNN USA, and as an arts critic (National Critics Institute) with The Village Voice and Dallas Times Herald.