The People We Need to Reach Aren’t Online: Book Censorship News, April 14, 2023

Though we have been deep in the current wave of book bans for over two years, new groups and organizations continue organizing campaigns to raise awareness of the situation. There are so many big and small groups doing good work on the issue, and they have done tremendous work in not only ensuring that people know about book bans but that they have access to resources, tools, and support to take action.

Unfortunately, we’re well past the needs of more hashtag activism and online resources to bring attention to book bans. This is not what groups like Moms for Liberty or No Left Turn in Education are doing — they are not wasting precious time and energy creating hashtags or portals with web links to resources that are the same ones on so many other resources.

They’re showing up to school board meetings, hosting in-person meetings, and doing the work on the ground.

Because here’s the thing: the people who don’t know about the book banning fervor are not online. They’re not on Twitter or Facebook and if they are, they’re not engaging with the groups who are putting together these awareness campaigns. These people are in their homes and communities pursuing other things. Book bans are the furthest thing from their minds, especially since so much information about local book bans goes unreported or sits behind a paywall.

Hashtag activism has a purpose, but we’re years past its effectiveness for changing the fascism underlying book bans. The people who need to know about what’s happening in their community are not going to see them, not going to read them, and not going to see their impact. What these campaigns do is allow the organizations behind them to have their name attached and as such, bolster their own image. Unfortunately, this is the way of the left: everyone wants to be the singular hero without bolstering or collaborating with those who are and have been on the ground doing the hard work since the start. The people who don’t have the shiny spotlight on them because they’re too busy coordinating the next move.

No amount of online resources, no amount of hashtags or glossy campaigns, and no amount of screaming on social media is going to change the fact that the only way to truly make a difference is to show up.

Illinois held elections earlier this month for school and library boards. Despite how much more attention these municipal elections have had online, the turnout was still abysmal. My county, which had several contentious elections for school board, recorded an embarrassingly low turnout — in my town specifically, 10% of the electorate showed up. TEN PERCENT.

What would help is seeing more community engagement. Seeing more money poured into awareness campaigns on the ground, with actionable tools and scripts for people to use to get out in their communities would make a difference. Because the reality is, this is what the book banners have, and this is what they’re doing.

It is akin to thinking that the radical solution to the dissolving of our First Amendment Rights is to sell or donate scads of banned books to kids whose schools have removed them. It makes a nice NPR story — one NPR conveniently ignored those countering this method about at least three times — and it might give a few minutes of name-recognition. But until we give a shit about the people who aren’t already in the know about this and until we show up and do something, it’ll all be a lot of hot air.

A few celebrities, either those with name recognition to the general populous or those known to the chronically online, are not going to move the book ban needle unless they have direct calls to action: vote, run for office, host community information meetings, and show up in person to school, library, and city council meetings. You have been given the tools already in the form of templates, in the form of the game plan, and in the form of ceaseless coverage by leaders in fighting book bans since they began in earnest in 2021.

How many hashtag campaigns have the right-wingers used to ban books? The answer is zero. They’re following the leaders in book banning and implementing those tactics on the ground in their own community. They sow the seeds of fear and ignorance in person, where people are far more vulnerable to their cleverly-crafted rhetoric.

Until we do the same, we’re going to keep digging ourselves in this hole.

We’re going to keep disappointing the kids who need us to be there for them and not for our own selves. We’re going to keep considering it a problem in THOSE states, in places where THOSE people have the majority mindset (neither of these are true and both are also quite bigoted statements from those claiming to be “open minded” — people of color and queer people live in red states, too).

Book banners are in the offices of their representatives, coxing from them bills which codify hate and censorship. They’re not taking pictures of themselves in anti-book ban shirts on Twitter to show their support of anti-censorship. Those people are doing something.

At the end of the day, these glossy campaigns railroad the people putting in the work on the ground and do little more than allow the groups behind them to pat themselves on the backs and call it good work. It’s easy to do that when there are not deliverable or measurable outcomes in direct action or financial contributions.

Book Censorship News: April 14, 2023

  • 36 books were pulled from school shelves in Canby Public Schools (OR) after TWO parents complained.
  • Some vocal (and bigoted) Brookfield, Connecticut, residents are trying to get This Book Is Gay and Fun Home removed from school library shelves.
  • Ketchikan Public Library (AK) met this week to determine whether or not to ban Let’s Talk About It. The book will remain in the collection.
  • “Pahrump Community Library trustees will develop a plan to relocate “unsuitable” children’s books to elsewhere in the library after voting 5-0 on Monday to craft a review system of questionable materials that’s likely to include a number of LGBTQ-affirming titles.” How one public library board in Nevada is handling a few complaints: just determine what “unsuitable” means and move those books from the kids’ area. Neat. Still censorship.
  • Why did a First Selectman in a Connecticut town think he had the right to remove a book from a display in Kent Memorial Library? C E N S O R S H I P. It was, of course, a queer book.
  • 16 books will remain on shelves in St. Lucie County (FL) after the complainer lost her appeal. Fun fact: this woman is almost 70 years old and has no kids in the district. This is how she’s spending her time.
  • “She reiterated that both books were signed out legally. ‘I will be giving this directly to the governor,’ Mazzuco said. ‘Somebody is responsible for those books still being in there.’” Remember when DeSantis said they were not banning books? Why then is the Hernando County Republican Party (FL) threatening to take “illegal” books to the governor?
  • A member of the Flagler County School Board (FL) thinks school libraries should just be shrunk all together.
  • Patmos Library (MI), which was defunded by voters, is currently debating giving more “control” to parents. Or rather, this is what the BOARD wants to do. Right now, they’re hiring for a director. Hard to imagine why.
  • Beaufort County Schools (SC) have decided to implement an opt-out for parents who don’t want their kids to access books. I bet it’ll be as popular as it’s been throughout Florida.
  • Why can’t people like this use their energy to end book bans instead? People know the stupidity of the guardrails already.
  • This Book Is Gay was removed from Sioux City, Iowa, schools.
  • In Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified School District (CA), the book under debate this week is Persepolis.
  • It appears as though the Indiana book ban bill has died in committee.
  • “Other public participation at the meeting included a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain information as to who was responsible for adding the book to the library’s collection, and another speaker suggested that people check the book out, pay for it, and then destroy it at home.” This is over Gender Queer at the Deckerville Public Library (MI).
  • I am paywalled from this story but there’s an update here on the 60-some queer and “inappropriate” books being challenged in Central Bucks School District (PA). BookLooks and other biased book information is free, but you have to pay for the information about what’s actually going on.
  • Keep an eye out for this because it’s going to blow up into a much bigger story. The next graphic novel you’ll see on every ban list will be Assassination Classroom under the guise of it “endorsing school violence.” Note no assault rifle ban which actually perpetrates school violence.
  • “When the school system halted its opt-out process for the English language arts books, Smith — who is president of the Montgomery chapter of the conservative group Moms for Liberty — rallied parents to push to reinstate the policy.” You just need to look for the line where they tell you who they are as to why they’re mad about queer books (Montgomery, Maryland). These are supplemental, not required books. Apparently having your children in the presence of those books will infect them or something.
  • “Carolyn Harrison is the co-Founder Idaho Parents for Educational Choice.” Of course she is. That’s why she’s spent time writing a letter about how books in Idaho Falls Public Library need to go (ID).
  • A book crisis actor in Blount County, Tennessee, was so hostile that it led to a member of the board walking out of the meeting. The book? The Bluest Eye.
  • Queer books are under fire at Ruidoso School District (NM). It’s always “not ’bout banning books” but “starting a conversation,” isn’t it?
  • “‘If we do not make our policy clear, I believe it will get more graphic. Look at California and Colorado, we will see books that highlight oral sex, drag queen story hour and books that normalize pedophilia, as that is the end result of this,’ SCSD2 Trustee Shelta Rambur said. ‘We will see books that sexualize pre-K to fifth grade.’” Real discussions by someone elected to the Sheridan Public School board (WY). Did you know books with drag queens are now responsible for mass shootings and killing people? Oh wait.
  • Farmington School Board (AR) has decided Tricks and All Boys Aren’t Blue will only be accessible to those 17 and older.
  • A school board member who made absurd statements about Gender Queer in the San Ramon Valley schools (CA) is the reason why the board is now going to have a policy on what can be said at board meetings. The parent’s line about anal sex is especially great, given that is not in the book at all. We’re just making things up entirely now.
  • In Brevard County (FL), media specialists — AKA the actual experts — will not be allowed to vote on book review committees. Makes sense.
  • “Residents in Algoma Township received flyers last month, urging them to vote to withdraw from Kent District Library [MI]. In January, Algoma Township Board voted to approve a ballot measure to separate from KDL. On the front of the flyer, there is a picture of a drag queen reading to children, with the words: ‘Your taxes support drag queen reading hour,’ and ‘in the name of diversity.’” Spoiler alert: those were lies.
  • Discussion over removing Speak from Big Walnut Schools (OH) has been tabled for the moment. Not entirely clear what’s happening with it in the interim.
  • “After a Windsor C-1 School District parent complained about the book, The Hate U Give, that some students apparently had been assigned, district staff and officials reviewed it and determined students could keep reading it, as long as their parents are OK with it, Superintendent Jason King said.” This is in Missouri. Not like Missouri has never made the news for police brutality.
  • The Los Alamos Library Board (NM) voted to keep If You’re a Drag Queen and You Know It on library shelves. Or rather as it’s phrased, it was purchased under appropriate policy and can therefore remain in the collection.
  • “More than 40 people filled a small library Tuesday night to insist that officials cancel an upcoming drag queen story hour […] Two speakers said all drag queen performances are inherently sexual, and others predicted the event would lead to children becoming drag queens, calling the event a ‘ruse’ and an example of ‘grooming’ — a term borrowed from the lexicon of sexual-abuse pathology that has been broadly applied by some conservatives to apply to any discussion of sexuality that might be heard by children.” This is Rockwell Falls Public Library in New York.
  • In a move you should call book banning — because it is — the MSAD 6 school board (ME) will no longer allow books to remain on shelves when they receive a complaint and are being reviewed.
  • I am paywalled from this story because of course I am. “Moms for Liberty ramps up fight to ban more books in Johnson County school district. Some Johnson County residents recently received a mass text message urging them to help Gardner parents ‘remove pornographic and sexual content from our schools!’” Moms For Liberty is now spam texting their nonsense to people. (Kansas)
  • What are the book banners mad about in North Dakota? That the Dickinson Public Library had a display so folks could contact their legislators and demand they don’t pass a book banning bill.
  • In the Alpine School District (UT), where all Pride flags were removed from schools, some LGBTQ+ kids are fighting back.
  • A Moms for Liberty member in Pennsylvania hacked into a murder victim’s Facebook page to harass those who don’t fall in line with their book banning agenda. I wish I made up any of this sentence. Joyful Warriors indeed, for such a time as this.
  • Lawn Boy will not be banned in Central Bucks (PA). Onto the additional 60 titles.
  • Flamer and Gender Queer are the next books to be discussed in Montrose Public Library (CO).
  • Macon County library will remain part of the larger Fontana Regional Library System (NC). If you haven’t followed this story, the long and short is that some residents did not like that you could borrow “inappropriate” books through other libraries in the system (a target of book banners I predicted months ago). Fortunately, this did not proceed.
  • “A Wisconsin elementary school teacher has been placed on leave after she revealed on social media that administrators canceled a first-grade performance of Miley Cyrus and Dolly Parton’s song ‘Rainbowland’ because the district considers rainbows ‘controversial.’” It’s been called Walkersha by Wisconsinites for a reason (WI).