Across multiple fronts, Democrats and their allies are stiffening their resistance to a surge of Republican-led book bans.
President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris in the past month have conspicuously escalated their denunciations of the book bans proliferating in schools across the country, explicitly linking them to restrictions on abortion and voting rights to make the case that “MAGA extremists” are threatening Americans’ “personal freedom,” as Biden said in the recent video announcing his campaign for a second term.
Last week, Illinois became the first Democratic-controlled state to pass legislation designed to discourage local school districts from banning books. And a prominent grassroots progressive group today will announce a new national campaign to organize mothers against the conservative drive to remove books and censor curriculum under the banner of protecting “parents’ rights.”
“We are not going to let the mantle of parents’ rights be hijacked by such an extreme minority,” Katie Paris, the founder of the group, Red Wine and Blue, told me.
These efforts are emerging as red states have passed a wave of new laws restricting how classroom teachers can talk about race, gender, and sexual orientation, as well as measures making it easier for critics to pressure schools to remove books from classrooms and libraries. Partly in response to those new statutes, the number of banned books has jumped by about 30 percent in the first half of the current school year as compared with last, according to a recent compilation by PEN America, a free-speech group founded by notable authors.
To the frustration of some local activists opposing these measures in state legislatures or school boards, the Biden administration has largely kept its distance from these fights. Nor did Democrats, while they controlled Congress, mount any sustained resistance to the educational constraints spreading across the red states.
But the events of the past few weeks suggest that this debate has clearly reached a turning point. From grassroots organizers like Paris to political advisers for Biden, more Democrats see book bans as the weak link in the GOP’s claim that it is upholding “parents’ rights” through measures such as restrictions on curriculum or legislation targeting transgender minors. A national CBS poll released on Monday found overwhelming opposition among Americans to banning books that discuss race or criticize U.S. history. “There is something about this idea of book banning that really makes people stop and say, ‘I may be uncomfortable with some of this transitional treatment kids are getting, and I don’t know how I feel about pronouns, but I do not want them banning books,’” says Guy Molyneux, a Democratic pollster. [Continue reading…]