WASHINGTON — On multiple fronts — at a time when our democracy is at risk — national Democrats — including on Monday ex-President Barack Obama — are finally pushing back against book bans fueled by conservatives taking aim at schools and public libraries.
Book bans are brewing as an issue that could energize voters — on the left and right — from local contests for library and school boards to the White House — heading into the 2024 election cycle.
Texas, Florida, Missouri, Utah and South Carolina — all red states — are where book bans are most common.
Blue Illinois in June became the first state in the nation to protect libraries from, according to the legislation, “attempts to ban, remove or otherwise restrict access to books or other materials.”
The new law, driven by Secretary of State Alexi Giannoulias and signed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker — both Democrats ahead of the curve on this — came as the Chicago-based American Library Association said that in 2022 in Illinois, there were 67 attempts to ban books.
PEN America, the nonprofit organization tracking bans, found that in the first half of the 2022-23 school year, 874 unique titles were banned.
Against this backdrop:
- Obama on Monday in an “open letter” to librarians wrote, “Today, some of the books that shaped my life — and the lives of so many others — are being challenged by people who disagree with certain ideas or perspectives. It’s no coincidence that these “banned books” are often written by or feature people of color, indigenous people, and members of the LGBTQ+ community — though there have also been unfortunate instances in which books by conservative authors or books containing “triggering” words or scenes have been targets for removal.
“Either way, the impulse seems to be to silence, rather than engage, rebut, learn from or seek to understand views that don’t fit our own.”
Obama urged support for the Chicago-based American Library Association’s Unite Against Book Bans campaign.
Obama also arranged to appear in four TikTok videos, to be released this week, promoting books and reading, with the first one from the Kankakee Public Library. The end of the video features Obama reading a book and drinking out of a Kankakee Public Library mug.
Allison Beasley, the Kankakee Public Library director, told the Sun-Times the library has not been the target of book ban activists and the Obama team selected the Kankakee library because of its robust TikTok account.
- First lady Jill Biden, speaking Monday at the Institute of Museum and Library Services 2023 National Medal Award ceremony at the White House, said — without making a direct reference to book bans: “Museums and libraries are living parts of our communities —changing as we do and teaching us new things with each visit. They weave together the stories of our nation: its past, present and future. And they safeguard our freedom to learn, to explore, and choose the ideas and philosophies that shape us, without fear of being silenced or censored.”
- In Chicago on Sunday, Vice President Kamala Harris, speaking at the Rainbow PUSH Coalition convention, was more blunt about calling out the extremists who are stepping up book banning efforts.
“State by state across our nation, these extremists banned books, in the year of our Lord 2023, they banned books and prevent the teaching of America’s full history. All the while, they refuse reasonable gun safety laws to keep our children safe.
“Understand what’s happening. Let us understand the moment we are in. And we know, in these dark moments, history shines a light on our path.”
- GOP Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis — who is running for president — has been encouraging book bans as part of his campaign for the White House, alleging a “left-wing movement” is “fundamentally hostile to the rights of parents.” He is peddling this garbage, that school libraries are “littered with hardcore pornography and pedophilia.”
- The Illinois Republican Party, captive to the Trumpists, piles on that porno point, saying incorrectly in a tweet that the new Illinois law — which allows the state to pull state funding from a book banning library — forces public libraries to “stock lewd materials.”
This book ban thing — it’s being wielded on the right as a gateway political tool — useful because it galvanizes people who may otherwise not be engaged.
As President Joe Biden said on July 4 at the White House, speaking to the 2023 National Education Association annual meeting, “Let’s stand with teachers and educators against politicians who are trying to score political points by banning books.
“Did you all ever think you’d be in a situation, in the United States of America, we’re talking about banning books?”
Nope, not like this.