Go behind the scenes of Banned Books Week, and learn more about those fighting on the front lines of free expression. The Project Censored Show released an episode featuring interviews with Abena Hutchful who runs National Coalition Against Censorship’s Youth Free Expression Project, Banned Books Week Coordinator Betsy Gomez, and CBLDF Executive Director Charles Brownstein. In honor of Banned Books Week the show takes a look at how these organizations fight censorship all year long.
All the organizations interviewed, as well as Project Censored itself, are all members of the Banned Books Week Coalition. Mickey Huff, the host of The Project Censored Show describes it as, ” a broad coalition of people that are defending intellectual freedom, academic freedom, and certainly the right to read.” Gomez continues that thought later, “The 14 organizations that make up up the Banned Books Week Coalition all have resources and work directly with schools and libraries to help them fight a challenge when they arise.”
One of themes of the show is how involved and engaged students are with fighting censorship in their schools and communities. Gomez tells Huff,
“Students have become some of the most vocal and successful advocates for banned books in recent years. There was a case a few years back where they tried to ban Persepolis in the Chicago public school system and the students found out and were in the streets protesting that day. In the case of The Hate U Give, the book was removed from library shelves in Katy, Texas and a student in the district took upon herself to start a petition and gathered 4000 signatures and helped get the book restored. so student’s themselves are a powerful voice in fighting censorship.”
Comic Book Legal Defense Fund Executive Director Charles Brownstein joins Huff later in the podcast. Huff tells listeners, “During [Brownstein’s] tenure the organization has achieved numerous legal victories, has been cited by the Supreme Court, and has become the leading source of education and advocacy for combatting the rising tide of comics censorship in libraries and schools.” Brownstein adds, “The stuff, of course, that I’m proudest of is the stuff you never hear of, going and sending our lawyers on to a matter before it becomes a case, and protecting people before they have to go to court.”
The two discuss CBLDF’s newest publication Read Banned Comics, Banned Books Week, and the effect of banned books on youth, especially those that internalize the bans and challenges as demonstrating that there is something wrong with them for wanting to read that book.
They also discuss the importance of independent bookstores and local comic book shops as a place to discuss these large ideas and the books that face challenges. A conversation at a library, especially when with people disagree, can and will happen with more empathy and civility than one on Twitter. Brownstein shares a piece of advice that resonates with those that want to combat the polarization that social media exemplifies.
“Sometimes I think the most subversive thing we can all do is stop fighting. And what I mean by that don’t drop out, don’t stop participating in the process, but start engaging with an empathic point of view to achieve more common understandings. . . Encouraging tolerance, encouraging the ability to read broadly and think broadly and giving people the grace to change their minds, through encountering different points of view and world views and the stories that might try to be silenced and seeing how they think about it – that promotes growth which promotes civics and that’s really important stuff.”
So as Banned Books Week comes to a close, take a listen to the show and learn more about those that work all year round to celebrate books, and protect books and comics from those that would limit others right to read.
Because Banned Books Week is important, but as Gomez told Huff, “I think it’s something we should expand beyond the year. It’s nice to have an isolated week but lets keep the celebration going all year round.” Huff agreed and added, “Not long ago was Constitution Day, and I like to say i think every day is Constitution Day and we should be ever vigilant against those that want to stifle our right to know and certainly our right to read.”
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