An accidental reflection on freedom of expression

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I recently asked readers of this blog what they considered the three-to-five most important issues of our times. Twenty two people answered. Within this very small sample, the top rated topic was climate change, mentioned twelve times, four more times than health care, and seven more than (in a tie) our political system and environmental issues.

Curious how these numbers mapped against the actual reading activity, I examined the blog’s analytics. My most-read article is “Open letter to a Republican congressman,” posted on January of 2018, with 514 reads. This and other articles in the top 5 list are all letters to congressman Greg Walden (R-OR2), none addressing climate. The five combine for 1,187 reads, and three were also published in newspapers.

I then looked at my most-read climate-centric articles. At the top is “Climate change: our problem, our choice,” posted on August of 2019, with 72 reads. The top five combine for just 244 reads, with one of them also published in multiple newspapers. Clearly, my letters to Mr. Walden capture more attention than my articles on climate change— perhaps because of local concerns with the congressman’s support of an unfit president.

But, in looking at the numbers, I came to realize that I too have written far more posts directed to or about Mr. Walden (18) than about climate change (5). That certainly is not how I would have predicted things to go, when I started the blog—as I, too, think of climate change as a defining issue of our times.

It suddenly donned on me that an accidental take-home message from the numbers far transcends the goals of my original analysis. So obvious yet so important, the message is that I have had the privilege of writing freely about what I feel is important, when and as often as I feel appropriate. And people have been able to freely pick and choose what (if anything) they read from my writings, based on their own personal preferences and priorities.

As Americans, we take freedom of expression and choice for granted. Yet, this is not the global norm, as many countries live under dictatorial regimes that restrict even basic freedoms. In fact, when and where I was born and came into young adulthood, explicit or implicit censorship was the norm.   

Freedom of expression and choice are essential rights and embodiments of the power of democracies. They are a reason why it is so critical that we continue to work collectively towards preserving the fundamentals of our American democracy—especially at a time when we are increasingly divided by more than policy differences, and when, too often, we struggle to appreciate and value our commonalities.      

By our words, actions and—importantly—votes, we are choosing the type of nation we want to be. My vote will always be for an America that values each and everyone of us, promotes fairness and human rights, offers equal and unbounded opportunity, and strives for the sustainability of the Earth we all share.

— Antonio Baptista

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