As you may know, book bans have been on the rise with requests to ban books at record high in 2022. Like you, 4 Public Education is concerned about the attacks on the 1st Amendment through censorship, thus, we are covering Banned Books week, October 1-7th, over multiple blogs.
To kick off Banned Book Week, Maryland and Virginia congregations of the Unitarian Universalist Church held a festival of banned books entitled Unstoppable Stories that covered the joy of reading challenged books, stories of inclusion and celebration, and the current war on our libraries and beloved books. 4 Public Education was fortunate to participate in the Fairfax, Virginia session with close to 100 citizens.
For 13 years, former Speaker of the House of Delegates Eillen Filler-Corn has been working toward a more welcoming, inclusive, and safe Virginia, thus she is concerned about the findings of the Pen America 2023 censored book report showing that book bans in public schools have increased by 33% in the last year. She reminds us to consider whose stories are being banned–primarily contested books have Black, Hispanic, and/or LGBTQIA characters–and questions why people want to censor such a rich tapestry of people and experiences. She agrees with the American Library Association’s (ALA) slogan “Let Freedom Read.”
Stories are Unstoppable. They celebrate who we are out loud, despite attempts at censorship. They lift up our experiences, connect us across our differences and are how we learn to be better people. – Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Fairfax
The panels offered amazing insight into the censorship assault on our schools and libraries that affect the education of students and safety of teachers and librarians. Recent censorship efforts started in the classroom, but have moved onto public libraries, where they are not only targeting books, but the very funding of public libraries, which are the core of many communities, particularly rural communities.
Kelsey Lawrence, grassroots organizer for Save Samuels, said that when a small group of 53 extremists targeted her Front Royal, VA library, they drowned the library in over 800 forms asking to have 134 books removed, most of which they hadn’t even read. Every single one of those books contained LGBTQIA themes or characters and many had no sexual content at all. When these requests for removal were denied, they went after library funding, despite the library being the only resource for many in Warren county for books and other public services–355,000 people have relied on the library as a resource in the past year.
Leon Van der Goetz, founder of NoVA Prism Center, shared that you should read the books: if they make you uncomfortable, sit with that, and ask yourself why the stories make you feel that way. Unfamiliarity of voices and experiences can be discomfiting, but learning about and respecting others’ lived experiences is part of life. To censor these books is the same as censoring the people behind the stories.
Shari Henry, Director of Democracy and Community Impact at Urban Libraries, dashes the “porn in schools” mantra pushed by many activists, as there is not a book in school that meets the legal definition to be removed from a library. Parents are free to make their choice for their own family, but making the choice for other families infringes on fundamental freedoms. She also echoes earlier sentiments that rural libraries are more susceptible to funding cuts.
Mary Pelicano, a retired librarian and American Library Association (ALA) advocate, said that the atmosphere of book challenges has changed. It used to be that an individual would fill out a challenge form after having read a book, but now people are arriving with long lists and pre-written forms to censor books they never even read. “Books are mirrors and windows”--they are how we build inclusive community, compassion, and empathy.
Vee Vee Majesty, a Latina drag queen, questioned whether well-intentioned parents are being used as pawns by those with power and influence, particularly in a movement where only 11 adults have filed 60% of book challenges in 2021-21. In general, book challenges have begun with marginalized groups like people of color and the LGBTQIA community, but this is a slippery slope where the challenges are chipping away at our freedoms–Fahrenheit 451, a commonly banned book, outlines exactly what they are doing. Not only that, but the obsession with gender and gender identity ignores the humanity of each one of us–it amplifies differences among us, when we aren’t really that different on the inside.
Talking to neighbors and friends about the impact of banning books–remember 87% of people do not support banning books that discuss race!
Sharing your concerns and tell your friends what you are doing. Personal stories often have more impact than sharing facts.
Asking questions and empathizing with (not demonizing) others who may not 100% agree with you.
Wearing “Banned Books” t-shirts or buttons to let others know what is happening.
Thanking and supporting librarians and teachers.
Check out and read banned books from libraries to show the community values them.
Also, remember that parents can always prevent their own kids from accessing certain books, but every parent that wants their kids to develop critical thinking skills should have the right to have books available to their kids.