On Sunday January 15, some 2,000 people gathered on the steps of the New York Public Library for a rally called “Writers Resist.” Organized by the literary organization PEN America, the aim was to celebrate and defend the First Amendment right to free speech. Brooklyn College English Professor Moustafa Bayoumi was among the esteemed artists and writers who read from classic literary essays and speeches on democracy during the daylong rally.

Bayoumi—who most recently gained attention on social media for the most shared tweet of last year’s 2016 presidential debates—read from a 1964 speech by Martin Luther King titled “The American Dream.”

“We must all learn to live together as brothers or we will all perish together as fools,” the speech declares. “This is the challenge of the hour. No individual can live alone, no nation can live alone. Somehow we are interdependent.”

“As members of PEN, it’s incredibly important that we maintain a level of open discourse,” says Bayoumi of his participation. “I think that now is the time that civil society bears a responsibility to stand up to threats to free speech.”

The rally included readings and performances by former U.S. poet laureates Rita Dove and Robert Pinsky, cartoonist Art Spiegelman (known for his groundbreaking graphic novel Maus), journalist Amy Goodman of Democracy Now!, singer-songwriter Roseanne Cash, playwright and feminist Eve Ensler (known for the Vagina Monologues), National Book Award-winning author Jacqueline Woodson, and others. The event was part of a nationwide an international effort under the banner Writers Resist, an organization created by poet Erin Belieu.

“Artists tap into the consciousness of society and can articulate it in a way that formulates resistance,” adds Bayoumi.

Bayoumi is also a columnist for The Guardian, and has written for The New York Times Magazine, New York Magazine, CNN.com, The London Review of Books, The Nation, and The Chronicle of Higher Education, among other publications. His book, How Does It Feel To Be a Problem?: Being Young and Arab in America (Penguin), won the American Book Award and the Arab American Book Award for Non-Fiction.