[VIRTUAL] Is “Protest” a Bad Word? Policies Boom to Ban Protest in the 21st Century

Nora Benavidez’s and Tiffany Roberts’s headshots on black background and the words "Is Protest a Bad Word?" on teal text box

What are protest rights, and how has the criminalization of protest affected these rights? Why do protest rights matter? This Instagram Live conversation will highlight key findings from PEN America’s recent report on anti-protest legislation, Arresting Dissent: Legislative Restrictions on the Right to Protest, and answer our community’s most pressing questions about the increased criminalization of protest, and how it affects BIPOC communities. Join us for a live conversation featuring Tiffany Roberts and Nora Benavidez.


Tune into the Instagram Live on Thursday April 8, 2021 at 1:30pm ET / 10:30am PT. If you tweet about the event, be sure to tag our Twitter handle @penamerica.

This virtual event is Part I in How Writers and Activists Can Safeguard Protest Rights, PEN America’s series of Instagram Live conversations created to raise awareness about how anti-protest proposals introduced around the country attempt to criminalize freedom of assembly and crack down on activists and the movement for racial justice. We aim to engage the literary community by mobilizing our writer allies and Members around free expression for all.


Tiffany Roberts headshotTiffany Roberts (she/her/hers) is the community engagement and movement building counsel at the Southern Center for Human Rights. As a public defender and community organizer, she co-founded the police accountability organization Building Locally to Organize for Community Safety (BLOCS) in 2008 to promote a holistic approach to public safety. She is also a founding member of the Atlanta chapter of the global Black Lives Matter network. In 2010, she was appointed to the search committee for the selection of Atlanta’s police chief. Roberts joined the Atlanta Fulton County Pre-Arrest Diversion Program (PAD) Design Team in 2017 and continues her work with PAD as a member of its advisory board.

Roberts was co-chair of Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms’s Criminal Justice Commission and served on the city’s task force to reimagine the Atlanta City Detention Center. She also co-chaired Mayor Bottoms’s Use of Force Advisory Council in 2020. Roberts serves as chair of the Ebenezer Baptist Church Social Justice Ministry. From 2011 to 2020, Roberts was deputy director at the National Institute for Teaching Ethics and Professionalism at the Georgia State University College of Law, where she now serves as an instructor. She is also Social Justice chair at Ebenezer Baptist Church.

Nora Benavidez headshot (woman with short dark hair wearing a suit against a gray background)

Nora Benavidez (she/her/hers) is the director of U.S. Free Expression Programs at PEN America, where she guides the organization’s national advocacy agenda on First Amendment and free expression issues. Benavidez is a lawyer by training, and prior to joining PEN America, she worked in private practice as a civil and human rights litigator in Atlanta, GA. She has represented victims of unconstitutional police practices, First Amendment infringements, discrimination in public schools, and voting rights violations. In addition to her work as a litigator, Benavidez partnered with regional grassroots organizations and state and local legislative entities, advising and testifying on community-centered reforms in public safety, government transparency, criminal justice, and free speech. Benavidez previously worked as a staff attorney at the ACLU of Georgia, where she litigated significant constitutional issues and assisted in statewide advocacy. In all aspects of her work, she sought to defend the human dignity of her clients as well as overcome legal barriers to justice. Benavidez graduated from the Emory University School of Law and received the Dean’s Public Service Award as well as the Pro Bono Service Medal. She received her BA from the New York University Gallatin School of Individualized Study, where she graduated magna cum laude.

Events in the Instagram Live Series

  • Part I: Is “Protest” a Bad Word? Policies Boom to Ban Protest in the 21st Century, April 8 at 1:30pm ET
  • Part II: Black Liberation and Protest: From Civil Rights to Black Trans Lives Matter, April 13 at 1pm ET
  • Part III: Indigenous American Activism in the 21st Century, April 22 at 1pm ET
  • Part IV: Writing as Protest: The Power of the Written/Spoken Word, April 29 at 1pm ET

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