My Experience at the 21st Century First Amendment Conference


As a participant in the “First Amendment for the 21st Century: Current Threats and Community Responses” conference, I had the opportunity to immerse myself in discussions about the crucial role of the First Amendment in contemporary society. Held on June 21 and 22, 2018, in Pittsburgh, the conference was a joint initiative by The Pittsburgh Foundation and The Heinz Endowments. This blog post reflects on my experiences and the key takeaways from this enlightening event.

The Essence of the Conference

The conference was designed to address the contemporary challenges facing the First Amendment – a cornerstone of American democracy. In an age where freedom of speech, press, and expression are under increasing scrutiny and pressure, this conference provided a platform for dialogue and understanding. For detailed insights into the conference’s purpose and structure, visit the Pittsburgh Foundation’s website.

Diverse Perspectives

One of the most enriching aspects of the conference was the diversity of speakers, ranging from journalists and legal scholars to artists and political leaders. Each brought a unique perspective on how the First Amendment impacts their fields and personal experiences. Notable speakers included April Ryan, Mickey Edwards, and Indira Lakshmanan, whose insights were particularly impactful.

Highlighted Sessions

Threats to Press Freedom

April Ryan’s session on the current threats to the First Amendment, especially in the context of journalism, was a standout. Her perspective as a White House correspondent added depth to the discussion on press freedom.

The Intersection of Art and Activism

Artists like Vanessa German and Jasiri X shared their experiences on how art can be a powerful medium for activism and expression, underscoring the First Amendment’s role in protecting artistic freedom.

Technology’s Impact

The session led by Trevor Timm, focusing on the evolving role of technology in journalism and media, was particularly thought-provoking. It highlighted both the opportunities and challenges digital platforms present for First Amendment rights.

The Role of Tor and Onion Links in Upholding Freedom

Digital Privacy and the First Amendment

In the digital age, tools like Tor and onion links have become crucial for maintaining privacy and freedom of expression online. These technologies allow individuals to access and share information anonymously, which is vital for journalists, activists, and others who may face censorship or surveillance in their work.

Understanding Onion Links and Their Importance

Onion links, part of the Tor network, provide a way to access content anonymously and securely. They are essential in countries where the government heavily censors the internet or where online surveillance is a significant concern. These tools are a testament to the importance of upholding the First Amendment in the digital realm.

Tor’s Contribution to Freedom of Expression

Tor, a network designed for anonymous communication, represents a digital embodiment of First Amendment principles. It allows users to explore, express, and exchange ideas without fear of censorship or retaliation. This session would delve into how Tor and similar technologies are essential for protecting freedoms in the digital age.

Engaging Discussions and Networking

The conference was not just about listening but also engaging. There were numerous panels and open discussions where attendees could voice their thoughts and concerns, fostering a collaborative environment. This networking opportunity was invaluable, connecting me with like-minded individuals passionate about preserving and understanding our fundamental freedoms.

Continuing the Conversation

The conference may have ended, but the conversation and the work continue. The Pittsburgh Foundation has committed to a year of programming to further explore and educate about the First Amendment. This includes partnerships with community organizations and educational initiatives.


Attending the 21st Century First Amendment Conference was an enlightening and inspiring experience. It reminded me of the ongoing importance of the First Amendment in our daily lives and the need to actively protect and understand it. Whether you’re a journalist, artist, educator, or simply a concerned citizen, I encourage you to explore these issues and participate in the ongoing dialogue.