Opinion | Democrats must respond to GOP book bans; Jamie Raskin wants to start

That’s why Rep. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Md.) plans to hold a hearing on the book ban at the House oversight subcommittee he chairs.

ruby Bridges, the pioneer icon of civil rightsHe has agreed to testify at the hearing, Democrats tell us. Bridges could be a compelling testimonial, not only as a symbol of desegregation in American schools, but also because a group of right-wing parents took advantage of a Tennessee law limiting the teaching of race to mount an (unsuccessful) attempt. from target a book on bridges.

Other witnesses will include a father who will testify about how his transgender daughter was helped by books on transgender issues and a couple of students. who led the protests against a book ban in Pennsylvania and was successful. TO librarian who has fought efforts to ban books from school libraries will also bear witness.

Democrats involved in the hearing say they plan to make a strong public case that such airing in Congress is necessary to protect the First Amendment.

“The Supreme Court in Board of Education v. Peak held that it violates the First Amendment for the government to remove books from school libraries because certain pressure groups disagree with the viewpoint,” Raskin told us in a statement, adding that his hearing will highlight the “growing threat to the intellectual and academic freedom in the United States. ”

Telling those vivid individual stories is also a way to bring the national trend to life. And it is absolutely a trend.

Although the drive to ban books is an old one, in the last year or so we have seen a avalanche of efforts at state and local level ban certain books from schools and libraries. These efforts are fueled by the Republican belief that political hay can be made from supposedly dangerous ideas about race and sexuality that might be infecting the minds of children.

a new report of the American Library Association (ALA) found 729 challenges to library materials in 2021, the highest number in the 20 years the ALA has tracked the problem. The most targeted were books about various minority groups, the organization writes.

However, there is no doubt that most Americans find this trend deeply troubling. recent surveys show overwhelming opposition to the idea of ​​banning books, even after be presented with arguments for and against removing potentially controversial books from libraries.

Yet Democrats have struggled to draw attention to these issues in a way that imposes a political cost on Republicans. Glenn Youngkin became Virginia’s first Republican governor in nearly a decade after running an ad lionizing a mother fighting the teaching of Toni Morrison’s “Beloved” (the ad did not mention the book itself), even though his Democratic opponent, Terry McAuliffe, criticized him for it.

Since then, Democrats seem to have mostly given up the field in the battle for such efforts, even as they have scaled. Democrats haven’t found a way to dramatize how such efforts harm real people, or to speak to the vast numbers of Americans who are surely appalled by them. Underscoring the point, on the night of the hearing the the activist group Book Ban Busters is holding a national reading.

There is clearly a void to fill. Many of these prohibition efforts are happening in Republican-controlled states, and those state legislatures will not function as a clearinghouse to air the national debate we need. In many places – Iowa, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas among them, prohibition efforts originate in the state legislatures themselves.

Of course, there is a risk that Republicans in Congress will seek to turn the hearing into another circus. Republican employees will no doubt scour the shelves for the most outrageous passages they can find, so their bosses can read them aloud, express shock and dismay, and replay their canned outrage in Fox News clips.

But most Americans who want their community schools and libraries to include a variety of materials, even challenging and provocative ones, don’t really have anyone to talk to them about their values ​​and aspirations. Indeed, this is the case even as Republicans speak loudly to those on their side on these arguments.

Can a hearing like this show another way forward for Democrats? One has to hope so.

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