There was a lot of noise in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, over four days in October when more than 150 free expression defenders took on some of the hard realities facing us in our work.
We faced up to a global climate of fear. We explored the complexities of some of the free expression issues that have the potential to divide us. We talked about the challenge of collaborating across sectors and missions, across borders, across languages, and across cultures.
In confronting these realities together, we strengthened our collective resolve and reaffirmed our commitment to fight for freedom of expression in all its forms. It was testament to the power of our network, but also to the power of expression.
Who was making noise? We came from 60 countries, representing 90 different organisations. Whether the focus was the safety of journalists, the digital rights of all, the freedom to express ourselves through art, refuge for those at risk, the problem of impunity, defending the right to protest and beyond, we asked: What is affecting our free expression work now? What needs to change? And, ultimately—What can we do to help bring about that change?
Gathering to work on issues such as hate speech, online harassment, the right to protest, criminal defamation and the increasing problem of government crackdowns on civil society leverages our strengths, and is critical to our success. As IFEX Executive Director Annie Game noted, “we are a network of organisations that work together in different ways all the time. There is an evolution in this IFEX network, not just in numbers, but in direction, knowledge and experience—and we continue to grow. The diversity in expertise, culture, language, context and opinion doesn't divide us so much as it makes us stronger and increases our influence.”
The debates extended to hands-on workshops where participants could strengthen their work by exchanging skills, experiences and challenges on campaigning, communications, financial planning, digital security and digital collaboration—in small group sessions and in one-on-one meetings with specialists in the IFEX Marketplace. Donors joined in, promoting an honest, constructive dialogue with the community of free expression organisations through their active participation in sessions and informal Q&As. Participants from Africa, Latin America and the MENA region held regional face-to-face meetings in the days preceding and following the conference to explore new opportunities to work—and be stronger— together.
The aim of the conference was to provide a space to imagine the change we need to see and find ways to connect, contribute and collaborate to make that happen. Everyone—the planners, coordinators, facilitators, and of course the participants—generously shared their knowledge, expertise and their passion. And for that, we are thankful.
In her closing remarks, Annie Game didn't sugarcoat the message:
“In his book Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates, the American writer and journalist, tells his young son about the world he lives in and what he can expect being a young African American, telling him “Perhaps struggle is all we have.” I think this speaks to our work. We are important. We have no choice in spite of what we are up against. Our work is necessary. Our only choice is to get better at what we do - more strategic, cagey, persistent, annoying. Whatever it takes.”
And as the group collected for the final photograph, the air buzzed with energy. Jostling for space we stood shoulder to shoulder and looked forward together into the camera, but also into the future. It was clear that this network is going to continue to make a lot of noise.
See more pictures from the four days on the Instagram account: IFEX15
IFEX would like to thank the following donors for their generous support of our work: