Then They Came for the Librarians…
Pay close attention to state and local politics
During the Trump presidency, the constant toxic firehose emitting from the Oval Office distracted attention from state and local politics. The extremist wing of the Republican Party ( which seems to compromise a frighteningly large percentage these days) didn’t make that same mistake. They’ve been playing the long game — successfully in far too many cases.
And now violent extremists — groups that were involved in the attack on the Capitol on 1/6/21 — are getting in on the act.
Members of the Proud Boys, the far-right nationalist group, have increasingly appeared in recent months at town council gatherings, school board presentations and health department question-and-answer sessions across the country. Their presence at the events is part of a strategy shift by the militia organization toward a larger goal: to bring their brand of menacing politics to the local level.
White nationalist Republicans seem to be much better at creating effective frames to rile up their base than Democrats, as seen by the manufactured hysteria over Critical Race Theory, which isn’t even taught in K-12. Now we’re seeing efforts not just to ban books from both school and public libraries, but to make it a felony to include “obscene” books in a library collection.
An Iowa Senate proposal to bring criminal charges against school librarians and teachers who disseminate books the bill’s authors consider to be obscene is among the social issues in schools that legislators are expected to address this session.
Senate President Jake Chapman, a Republican from Adel, and Sen. Brad Zaun, a Republican from Urbandale who leads the Senate Judiciary Committee, have said they support bringing the charges where they feel a violation has occurred. Chapman has said he intends to propose legislation that would create a new felony offense for dissemination of obscene material to a minor.
Teacher morale is already down. How are teachers supposed to feel when they see a former Teacher of the Year handed an official reprimand for including Tiffany Jewell’s This Book Is AntiRacist in her classroom?
Check out some of the letters authors have received from kids under the hashtag #FReadom. Don’t let anyone pretend they’re doing this to protect kids. They’re doing it protect the unjust status quo.
I write books for young people, some of them on extremely difficult topics. I can assure you that those of us who write for teens are very conscious of our audiences. We’re not out to spread “obscenity” and “pornography”. Neither are our publishers. What we ARE trying to do is to tell stories tell vulnerable kids they aren’t alone. We’re writing books that tell a story, but build empathy, but helping young people to understand others who might experience the world differently than they do.
We’re also writing about things that young people experience, and we’re trying to do it with the utmost sensitivity to our readers. When I worked with the FBI for research on my novel Want to Go Private?, about a teen who becomes involved with an internet predator online, one of the things I learned was that online predators become “very dirty, very fast.” But being conscious of my teen audience, I tried to minimize the sexual content as much as possible — to focus more on the emotional aspect of grooming. Is there sexual content? Yes. Is it gratuitous? No, I cut as much of it as I could. What’s left is there for a reason — and if it shocks it’s because it’s supposed to; because kids experience this stuff online and what better way to be prepared than to read about it in a book and have the ability to discuss it in a safe setting.
Denial is the enemy. Pretending that childhood is all sunshine and rainbows and that nothing bad ever happens is more damaging to kids than reading a book.
Make no mistake. This is a nationwide, coordinated effort. “I’ve been doing this work for 20 years, and I’ve never seen the volume of challenges that we’re seeing right now,” Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of the Office for Intellectual Freedom at the American Library Association told NBC News.
Kids need #FReedom. For so many teens, the library is a haven. At a time when so many teens are already struggling because of the pandemic, we cannot let that haven been destroyed. We cannot let the experiences of some teens be erased, because adults lack understanding and empathy, and want to prescribe what other people’s kids are allowed to read.
Unfortunately, thanks to the decimation of local newsrooms, it takes effort to keep up with what’s happening on the state and local level. But we have to make the effort to keep informed, and get involved. The book banners are organized. We must get organized, too.
The teens are depending on us.
Originally published at https://medium.com on February 3, 2022.