The 365 Ways Blog

Michael Norton is author of "365 Ways to Change the World", which provides an issue for each day of the year, interesting facts, inspiring case studies of people doing things to address the issue and ideas for action. Originally published in the UK, versions with local content have been published in Australia, Canada, India, South Africa and the USA. To find out more visit our website:

28 May 2007

Speak out at Speakers Corner

Speakers Corner in Hyde Park in central London has been a place of assembly and speech-making since the middle of the 19th Century. The Chartists, the Reform League, the May Day demonstrators and the Suffragettes all held many of their greatest battles for human rights at Speakers Corner. Tens of millions have assembled here to speak out and to listen.

Speakers Corner has become an emblem of the right to speak out freely in a democracy. There are now “Speakers Corners” in other parks in London, and also in Australia, Canada, Netherlands, Singapore, and Trinidad & Tobago. The USA does not have any permanently designated speakers corners but has instead adopted free speech zones, though these relate more to where activities such as picketing and pamphleteering are allowed, rather than speech itself.

The Speakers' Corner Charter
Heiko Khoo, a regular speaker at Speakers Corner since 1986, has created a Charter which he wishes to see adopted. This reads as follows:

We defend the Act of Parliament of 1872 which established Speakers Corner as a place for Free Speech.
1. We believe that the Right to Free Speech is threatened by the use of the Speakers Corner area for Pop Concerts and Fun Fair facilities, particularly on Sundays, which are designed to raise revenue to replace huge cuts in Government Grants to the Royal Parks.
2. We oppose the use of plain clothes police officers with hidden video and recording devices to monitor speakers and members of the public (from The Times, June 10, 1995).
3. We support the proposal to establish a covered area of Speakers Corner to allow Free Speech in adverse weather conditions.
4. We support the provision of cheap refreshment at Speakers Corner, and demand a minimum wage of £5.00 an hour for all workers in Hyde Park.
5. We demand the removal of all the fences encircling Speakers Corner in the interests of Public Safety.
6. We demand a Democracy Wall at Speakers' Corner where the public can post their views.
7. We support the establishment of a free Internet Broadcasting Centre in the vicinity of Speakers Corner, open to the general public where everyone may broadcast their views.
8. Speakers Corner is not a plot of Real Estate to squeeze a profit out of…
9. We demand that Hyde Park be taken into public ownership without compensation and management be placed under democratic control.

Find out more about Speakers Corner at: and'_Corner

Write it up on a Democracy Wall
During the winter of 1978-79, thousands of people in Beijing put up written complaints and protests about the ills of China on a stretch of blank wall on Chang'an Avenue, to the west of the former Forbidden City. This became known as "Democracy Wall".

Wei Jingsheng, an activist in the Democracy Wall events, called for democracy to become China's "Fifth Modernization" as a precondition for other aspects of modernization: "The leaders of our nation must be informed that we want to take our destiny into our own hands. We want no more gods or emperors. No more saviours of any kind. We want to be masters of our own country, not modernized tools for the expansionist ambitions of dictators... Democracy, freedom and happiness are the only goals of modernization. Without this fifth modernization, the four others are nothing more than a new-fangled lie."

In October 1979, Wei Jingsheng was convicted of publishing counter-revolutionary statements and leaking secret information to foreign reporters. He was sentenced to fifteen years in prison. Released on parole in September 1993, Wei was forbidden to take part in political activities for three years and told not to publish articles overseas. He ignored this and was arrested in March 1994 and sentenced in December 1995 to 14 years imprisonment. In November 1997, Wei was released and flown to the United States, where he received medical treatment. He is now at Columbia University in New York.

 On 16th January 1980, Deng Xiaoping demanded cancellation of the constitutional right to hang wall posters and stated that the four great freedoms of "speaking out freely, airing views fully, holding great debates, and writing big character posters.... have never played a positive role in China." 

Do something
Exercise your right to free speech. Say what you think.

1. Speak out. Go to Speakers Corner and speak out… on human rights, climate change, the state of the nation, corruption in government, or whatever it is that is bugging you. You will find an audience willing to listen to you, as well as a fair number of hecklers, interrupters and crazies. Prepare what you want to say, then say it. Speak up so that people can hear you. Convince them with your passion that something needs doing, and suggest to them what they can do.

2. Put it up in words. Create a Democracy Wall. This method of allowing the public to present a point of view is now being used more widely… in schools to test out the opinions of young people and in communities so that people can express what they like and dislike. Create your own Democracy Wall, and invite people to express their opinions (even if you disagree with them).


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