Freedom and Democracy

liang Diane Wei Liang talks about her memoir of Tienanmin Square, LAKE WITH NO NAME. And we talk with Anthony Lake about the First Amendment and FREEDOM FOR THE THOUGHT WE HATE. The twentieth anniversary of the massacre in Beijing’s Tiananmin Square was marked on June 4th. On that day in 1989, troops opened fire on demonstrators in the square and some 2500 were killed, and 7,000 – 10,000 people wounded, according to the Red Cross. The student movement had lasted only six weeks. But it had its roots in a long past, starting with the May 4th student movement of 1919. And its reverberations can still be heard, though muffled, in China today.

Diane Wei Liang was at Tienanmin. A student at Beijing University, she was part of the student democracy movement, and she was forced to leave China to continue her studies in the US because of her involvement in the students’ revolt. Born in 1966, the year the Cultural Revolution began, she lived much of her early years in times of terrible conflict and repression. Her memoir of those times, LAKE WITH NO NAME, is a story of political passion. It’s also a story of romantic passion, a love affair never consummated, except in the souls of the two lovers.


We first talked with Anthony Lewis in May of 2008. George Bush was still President and his administration’s assaults on the constitution had already been widely reported. Now Barack Obama the constitutional lawyer is president. But we shouldn’t necessarily breathe a sigh of relief–at least not where the constitution is concerned. There are reports that torture is still going on at Guantanamo and Bagram Air Force base in Afghanistan. And Obama has indicated he wants the power to order preventive detention. It would  allow indefinite imprisonment not based on proven crimes or past violations of law, but of those deemed generally “dangerous” by the Government for various reason. So, the fight to protect our freedoms goes on.

Our constitutional right to free speech as guaranteed by the first amendment still seems safe. But it’s not without controversy. How free should free expression be? Should it protect hate speech?How about pornography? Or tobacco advertising? And how about those other rights that protect free speech–like the right of journalists to protect the confidentiality of their sources? All these issues have been battlegrounds for the first amendment. The fight has ranged back and forth between more and less freedom since the amendment was passed.

Anthony Lewis has been writing about constitutional rights throughout his long career as a journalist. He won his first Pulitzer reporting on the US government loyalty program and the firing of an employee because of it.  His book, FREEDOM FOR THE THOUGHT WE HATE  is a pithy and thought-provoking essay (he calls it a biography) of the First Amendment.

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About Francesca Rheannon

Francesca Rheannon is an award-winning independent radio producer. In addition to hosting Writer's Voice, she's a freelance reporter for National Public Radio and its affiliates. Recipient of the prestigious Nancy Dickerson Whitehead Award for reporting on substance abuse issues for her news series, VOICES OF HIV, produced for 88.5 WFCR public radio in western Massachusetts. She is also finishing a book on Provence (PROVINCE OF THE HEART) and working on a memoir of her father, THE ARGONAUTS.