Law Makers, Book Bans, and You

I’ve been keeping up with the news lately by reading articles written by other bloggers who are passionate about free expression. It bothers me that politicians and municipal lawmakers are trying to censor books in libraries, schools, and public spaces. Here is what you...
If you’ve been keeping up with the news, you’ve probably seen a rise in book bans and other forms of censorship. There has been a concerted effort on the part of libraries, communities, and states to increase the availability of LGBTQ+ and novels written…

If you’ve been keeping up with the news, you’ve probably seen a rise in book bans and other forms of censorship. There has been a concerted effort on the part of libraries, communities, and states to increase the availability of LGBTQ+ and novels written by people of color and diverse backgrounds. It’s quite upsetting that politicians and municipal lawmakers are initiating these bans, rather than individual parents of children, as was formerly the case with book challenges. Contact your state representatives and city council members as soon as possible if you want to protect your right to free expression and ensure that all students have equal access to educational materials. If you live in a region where book bans are being debated or have previously been passed, your opinion is crucial. This guide will provide you the tools to learn more about book restrictions in your region and how to talk to your representatives about them. It is my desire to additionally shed light on the necessity of your participation in the struggle against censorship.

Recently, PEN America, an organization concerned with human rights and literary freedom, released a comprehensive study on the increase in book bans. Over 2 million pupils in 86 school districts in 26 states had their access to some books limited between July 2021 and March 2022. Over 1,100 novels have been banned due to their content, with 41% including characters of color, 22% addressing race/racism head-on, and 33% containing LGBTQ+ themes/characters. I’ve been working hard to bring you the latest information on censorship and worrying tendencies in schools and libraries. However, the most effective strategy for combating book bans is grassroots campaigning from local residents who can explain the negative effects of censorship firsthand.

Why Your Opinion Is Important

Let’s be honest for a second: dealing with politicians with whom you profoundly disagree might make you feel like your voice doesn’t matter. But legislators have a duty to hear out their constituents and address their concerns. After all, they couldn’t keep their positions if voters didn’t support them. Most politicians keep detailed records of constituent correspondence, including the number of messages sent in support of and opposition to certain measures. Although it may seem like a waste of time, your letter or phone conversation is being recorded. While it’s true that a single request might not drastically alter a lawmaker’s position, you might be surprised by the influence your voice can have.

Over ninety percent of Capitol Hill personnel say their supervisors are affected by constituent activism, according to yearly polls conducted by the Congressional Management Foundation. Personally, I have witnessed the stark contrast between a legislator’s response to a constituent’s request and their behavior in meetings with lobbyists, academics, and public policy specialists. It may make a huge difference when constituents of a politician explain the issue’s direct relevance to their lives.

This is especially true on a national scale, when senators and representatives may receive tens of thousands of letters from their constituents annually. Most book bans that exist today are enacted at the municipal, rather than the federal, level. Statistics show that your voice will have a greater impact on these topics because fewer people are taking the time to contact their local politicians. I know it may seem futile, but your efforts to oppose censorship might have a real influence in your region. And if you want to make a big difference, all it takes is getting a few of your like-minded friends and neighbors to contact their representatives as well.

Learn More About Book Bans in Your Area

Finding out what laws or school district guidelines are in place regarding book bans and censorship is the first step in combating these practices. This is difficult because there is no single location where individuals across the country can go to keep track of legislation at the state and municipal levels. You may learn more about what’s going on in your neighborhood by reading the local newspaper, volunteering at the library or in the schools, or conducting a quick online search.

Try searching for [your state or city] + “book ban” and related keywords to see if any current news has come up on book bans in your area. Investigate any reports written this year, with a focus on finding bill numbers for legislation that is currently being discussed or debated, or for decisions made by library or school boards. The decisive factor here is the nature of the action being taken and the identity of the actor making that call.

Is there legislation being debated right now at the state level where you live? Finding a bill number is a huge assistance when figuring out who to call and what to say. Generally speaking, legislation with numbers beginning with “HB” are being considered by the state House of Representatives, while those beginning with “SB” are being considered by the state Senate. If you know the bill number and the name of your state, you may use Google to find out where the measure stands in the legislative process and who to contact to voice your view. Find out the bill’s intended effects by reading the summary. You may use this information to better communicate with your representative.

It may be more challenging to learn the specifics of a decision made by a school or library board. But if the activity is taking place there, then understanding how the legislative process will affect the bill will be much less of a mystery. To share your thoughts with that organization, just use the contact form on their website or the phone number it lists.

Just because you can’t discover anything online concerning book bans in your region doesn’t mean you have to sit on your hands and do nothing. It’s probable that conversations are already taking place in your region, even though no law has been submitted, in light of the nationwide concerted onslaught on free expression. You may still get out to your representatives and tell them that you oppose censorship and book bans in your area. If the problem ever happens in their line of employment, you should ask them to support you.

HOW TO CHOOSE A CONTACT PERSON

Your next step, after learning the specific location of the book ban, is to identify the appropriate official to voice your disapproval to. If the censoring is happening at a school board or library board, you can reach out to them directly by a phone number or email address that is typically provided on their website, as was described above. If they conduct public meetings regularly, as they should, you may attend one and voice your opposition to book bans during the audience participation portion of the meeting.

In a similar vein, you can contact your city councilor if you want to protest a book ban that has been passed by the council. Most municipal councils have a mechanism to search up your councilor using your address, and their contact information should be made available to citizens.

You should find out where the legislation is in the process in your state if you want to fight book ban legislation there. Get in touch with your representative if you have concerns about a measure that has been presented (but not yet passed) in the House. If it’s presented in the Senate, contact your state senator. Instruct them to reject the measure and give the bill number if possible. If a law has passed one chamber of Congress but not the other, you’ll want to get in touch with the chamber that’s still debating it.

If the measure has passed the state House and Senate but has not yet been signed into law by the governor, you can call his or her office and urge them to veto the legislation. Contact your governor, state representative, and state senator if the law has already been signed into effect and you want it repealed. This can be an uphill struggle, but it’s still worth your time stating your views on the topic. Even if it doesn’t result in an actual repeal, it can send a message to lawmakers that they shouldn’t try to pass any more measures to limit people’s ability to read.

HOW TO LET YOUR LAWMAKERS KNOW HOW YOU FEEL ABOUT BOOK BANS

There are several channels via which voters can share their concerns with their representatives. Although some may be more effective than others, they all have an effect. Some potential countermeasures to book bans are discussed below.

An simple and quick approach to get in touch with your representative is by calling them; their office phone number for constituent complaints should be easily accessible. When you call, you’ll get through to someone who is used to dealing with customers like you. Introduce yourself, remind the lawmaker that you are a constituent, and quickly explain why you support or oppose the legislation in question and how you would want to see it voted on.

A majority of legislators have email or postal address boxes where constituents can reach them for correspondence. Please take the time to express your views on the subject and to urge them to reject the proposal to prohibit books. Sending a letter or postcard in the mail demonstrates that you care enough about the issue for the extra effort it takes to do so, which may make a small difference to your congressman. The lawmaker will most likely send you a formal answer, either thanking you for your feedback or providing an explanation of where they stand on the topic.

Meetings with constituents to discuss matters of importance to their district are a common occurrence for legislators and their staff. Most legislators’ websites will provide a place for you to submit a meeting request. This face-to-face connection can be time-consuming and needs more planning than other forms of grassroots action, but it often has the greatest impact. However, if you’re a teacher, librarian, or parent of a student in a school where certain books have been banned, this may make a world of difference. You have a far better chance of making an impact with politicians if you share personal experiences and establish relationships with them; when the issue comes up again in their job, it might be because of your involvement with them.

Go to a town hall meeting, since they are excellent occasions to speak directly with your politicians about matters of concern. It would be ideal if you had the support of your neighbors, friends, and family.

I’M STUCK ON WHAT TO SAY

So, you’ve identified a problem in your area and determined who to talk to about it. Just what do you think at this point?

To begin, it’s critical to stress that you’re a member of the community and hence have a stake in the outcomes of any decisions made about it. Making the situation feel more personal is often beneficial. Can I assume that you are a parent of a district student? To what extent do you help people gain access to books—as a teacher or a librarian—and how? Do you consider yourself a reader who values the knowledge they can gain from books? All of these things together can help you build a more meaningful personal connection with a politician. And even if you have nothing to do with schools or libraries, you still have a say in how their censorship affects the community since your tax dollars fund them.

The next step is to mention the bill or issue at hand and what you’d like the decision maker to do about it. For example, you may write, “As someone who supports free speech and access to knowledge, I hope that you’ll vote against book bans and censorship in our state because Arkansas SB 1234 is presently being debated in the Senate.”

Telling a personal story or explaining the negative impact it would have on your town is a terrific approach to make sure your proposal stays in the minds of the legislators. Talk about how works like the frequently questioned The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison helped you better comprehend the world around you and become a more mindful reader. Talk about how great it is that your kids can find books at the library that include characters and stories from various walks of life and cultures. Justify, from the perspective of free expression and the prohibition of beliefs with which a minority of locals disagree, why the proposed legislation will lead your town down a slippery slope.

Reiterating what you want the decision maker to do (vote against the bill, oppose any future legislation, repeal the law, amend the school board’s rule banning the book, etc.) might help to strengthen your appeal. Make sure that after your call, letter, or meeting finishes, the target knows what you’re asking them to do.

Avoid personally criticizing someone, swearing, informing a politician that you voted against them, or generally denigrating the decision maker. That’s a certain way to have your message dismissed. Even if you strongly disagree with someone, the best way to argue for your perspective is to be kind and focused on the topic at hand. No one will be offended if you strongly disagree with book bans and express your disagreement with passion and firmness.

Using your own words and highlighting your personal connection to the affected community is of utmost importance, but here are some suggestions to get you started:

Books that are banned pose a danger to our democracy and violate people’s right to free expression, which is guaranteed by the First Amendment.
It’s unfair to restrict access to books only because some individuals find their content divisive. Individuals and parents should be given the freedom to choose what books their kids read.
Children should be able to see themselves and their families represented in books they enjoy.
Books are a great resource for expanding one’s knowledge of the past and present. When books are banned, it’s because someone wants to stop us from learning about the world beyond their own.
Seventy-one percent of Americans are against initiatives to restrict books from libraries, says the American Library Association.
Nobody has the right to tell me or my kids what we can and can’t read. Let readers choose what they want to read on their own time.

OTHER MEANS OF MAKING AN IMPACT

If you want to make a bigger difference after telling your local representatives that you disagree with book bans, here are some ideas.

Get your close associates and relatives involved: Start a grass-roots campaign in your community by rallying your fellow readers to support you. Tell everyone you know about the book bans in your region and what you found out and who you contacted to help stop them. Make it easy for them to spread the word by providing them with the resources and motivation they need to do so.
Op-eds can be published in your local paper. Write an opinion piece and submit it to your local publication to raise awareness about the negative effects of book bans and censorship in your area. The Op-Ed Project’s style guide is only one example of several available online that may help you craft persuasive advocacy op-eds. For the sake of brevity, I would recommend explaining how this affects you and your neighbors and what readers may do to help ensure continued book availability.
Get involved in the governing body of a local educational institution or library. Though it may be time-consuming, keeping up with discussions on topics such as book bans and censorship is essential. By standing for your local school board or library board, you can ensure that everyone has equal access to literature and have a voice in future decisions. More information on how to enter the race for a seat on the library board is available here.
Get involved with anti-censorship organizations: Join the Unite Against Book Bans campaign to stay up-to-date on the latest information regarding censorship and to receive suggestions for how you can assist.

It’s been a tough year for books. Between the rise of book bans and the depressing news cycle, it feels like we’re all under attack. But don’t worry, bookish friends – we won’t let them win. We will keep fighting for our right to read whatever we want and to share those stories with future generations. And we could use your help. If you live in a region where book bans are being debated or have previously been passed, your opinion is crucial. Contact your state representatives and city council members as soon as possible and tell them that you support free expression and access to educational materials for all students. Let’s make sure that 2023 is the year that we win the fight.

As always, please share this post with your friends and family members so that they know how to fight for their right to read. Have you ever read a banned book? Let me know in the comments below!

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