When Do We Move From Advocacy to Preparation?: Book Censorship News, May 26, 2023

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Anti-censorship advocates and activists have shouted from the rooftops that it is essential to vote. That it is essential to show up to school and library board meetings and speak up about/write those who sit on those boards against book bans and censorship. Advocates and activists have been on the front lines in their respective state legislatures and, where possible, on the national level.

But where and how do we move from advocating against draconian legislation and shift into preparing for those bills to be passed?

And when and where do those living under such laws make the decisions that will have a direct impact on the young people they serve?

These questions are hard ones to answer, but they are worth chewing over. We’ve seen already the way that proposed legislation in Texas and Florida have impacted the decisions teachers and librarians are making to protect themselves and their employers from being out of compliance. HB 1069, Florida’s expansion of the “Don’t Say Gay” legislation, is not set to go into effect until July 1, and yet, Escambia County Publics Schools have already had books challenged citing the law.

With the final vote on Texas’s HB 900 imminent — which would require book vendors to rate the sexual content in every book as either “sexually relevant” or “sexually explicit” — how do we move the needle from fighting against its passage to proactively preparing for what it will do to school bookshelves? HB 900 requires books earning the explicit content to be barred from entering public schools and those deemed relevant may require parental permission to access. The bill is purposefully worded to make determining the appropriate rating nearly impossible, putting the onus of disagreement between vendor and any adult who picks up the book onto the vendor; in other words, it is fertile ground for rising lawsuits pitting “community standards” and “parental rights” activists against vendors.

These questions have no good answers.

There’s been a meme floating around the internet in recent weeks that demands we sit with what the messaging truly means and why so many feel compelled to share it.

The meme has a number of visual backgrounds, but the text is the same: “live your life so that if it were a book, it would be banned in Florida.” Even the most open minded library workers, educators, and anti-book censorship activists have been sharing it without giving it critical thought. Yes, live your life as you need to. But what about the people who live in Florida now whose lives are being legislated down to whether or not they’re allowed to use the bathroom based on the genitalia they have? Who cannot access the life-saving medication (yes, hormones are life-saving medications)? Who can be abducted BY THE STATE if they’re receiving gender-affirming healthcare? Who will not learn about Black history in high school or college, who will not learn about discrimination, equality, or inclusion at any level of public education?

What about the teens in Texas not allowed to access books about safe sex while also having a law on the books banning abortion? What about the queer kid in Arkansas who legally cannot have their pronouns used by those who see them every single day at school?

These are real lives being put in real danger by legislation that seeks to eradicate anyone who is not a cishet white Christian. They are not funny, they are not memes, and they want what any other human being wants and deserves: to live their life.

It is far easier to share a meme and laugh about it than to pause and sit with what it means when books will be made entirely inaccessible to hundreds of thousands of young people by law.

It is far easier to share a meme than it is to show up and advocate on behalf of the people being put to slaughter.

We cannot wait and expect a single lawsuit will solve the problem because it will not. The biggest publisher in the world waited over two years to do anything while so many people without any power, money, time, or connections showed up again and again and again, begging to be heard. Begging to be see.

What do we do now that we’re here?

Because we’re here. We’ve been here.

The era of advocacy isn’t over, nor should it be. But we’re now entering an era of preparing for living under these fascist laws borne of opinion gained through the destruction of information literacy, truth, endless media paywalls hiding fact but making fiction easily accessible, and social media that rewards engagement and nothing else.

How do we change the messaging and help those who can’t, won’t, and shouldn’t need to leave their homes? Who deeply believe in helping people be people, encouraging minors to live their truths and be supported in doing so?

Because at the end of the day, that’s what matters. If you’re going to live your life like a book that would be banned in Florida, your ass better be on the ground, in the capitol buildings, in those classrooms and libraries, begging the media to do better, doing everything you can to help the people who have no other options.

Book Censorship News: May 26, 2023

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