How To Directly Impact Democracy: Book Censorship News, July 1, 2022

Kelly Jensen


Kelly is a former librarian and a long-time blogger at STACKED. She's the editor/author of (DON'T) CALL ME CRAZY: 33 VOICES START THE CONVERSATION ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH and the editor/author of HERE WE ARE: FEMINISM FOR THE REAL WORLD. Her next book, BODY TALK, will publish in Fall 2020. Follow her on Instagram @heykellyjensen.

There’s no point in typing “it’s been a week” anymore because every week is A Week. But as we continue into a crumbling democracy, the growing sense of hopelessness is hard to ignore.

The fall is going to be brutal for schools and libraries across the country. We know this, given how last school year went and how the summer has turned into an opportunity for right-wing groups to protest and intimidate those showing up to library Drag Queen story times and those stealing or complaining about Pride displays. This summer is ample opportunity for these groups to recalibrate and set into motion their plans to implement book rating systems they’ve personally developed, which will inevitable trigger more book bans. Given the overturn of Roe this week, there is little doubt books about abortion or pregnancy will be getting the same treatment as those by and about BIPOC and LGBTQ+ folks, too.

While “go vote” continues to be a rallying cry about stopping this — and it certainly does matter — there are other avenues for creating change, too. There’s running for school board, seeking appointment or election onto a library board, and there’s showing up to those meetings (in person/virtual or via email/letter writing). One of the easiest? Become an election judge. This may be called something slightly different where you’re at, but it is the person who sits at an election site and ensures everyone is able to vote.

Every state operates a little differently, but every state requires a number of volunteers to work the polls for elections. You can do this during early voting periods or on election day, depending on your schedule and the needs of your community. Again, depending on needs, these can be long days, but you may be paid for that time.

Sitting as a poll worker helps ensure everyone who is able and registered to vote is given the same opportunity to do just that. In some places, you may help register those showing up that day. The typical day involves setting up voting booths, ensuring that all materials are accessible and working, and helping every person who walks in to vote knows the process and procedure. It also involves making sure that everyone follows the rules of the election: no electioneering at the election site, no advertisements for politicians or ballot measures within a certain distance of the door, ensuring that no one influences the outcome of any vote throughout the day. You may also have to help direct individuals to their appropriate polling place (though hopefully more communities will go the route of DuPage County, wherein residents can go to any polling location to cast their vote).

It is a powerful and necessary way to ensure the legitimacy of the election.

In my county in Illinois, for example, I worked from 5 am until after 10 pm during the 2020 primary; the night before the election, I helped move material from the county building to the site where I would be working. This was right before everything shut down because of COVID, and despite the fact my polling place was to have four individuals on site as judges, only two of us showed up. More hands would have made it an easier day in terms of giving one another breaks, but we made it work. In many communities, your political affiliation determines where you will be sent to work: it was required where I am that we have an equal number of Democrat and Republican election workers at every site.

During the day as an election judge, I passed along ballots, helped individuals work the voting machines where necessary, ensured there were working pens and other writing utensils (sounds silly, but this was actually very important when we learned that hand sanitizer could potentially impact their use on ballots), informed people where their correct polling place was located if they were in the wrong one and helped them get to the correct spot, let individuals know that they could not wear their MAGA shirts or hats in the building when they voted, and then at the end of the day, ran the numbers and ensured what the machines said all came out the same. Then, my partner judge and I drove all of the equipment back to the county building and called it a night. In a previous election judge night nearly a decade ago in Texas, I remember how kind people were, too — we had all kinds of great treats delivered to us throughout the day, simply because we were giving our time to help people vote.

It was fascinating to see that democracy in action and be a direct part of it. A few weeks later, I had a check for about $200 as well for my time. Not huge, but certainly not nothing, especially since I had anticipated no payment at all.

Committing to election work is time consuming, and in an era with a pandemic, long work days, expensive gas (you may need to drive to your assigned location), and little child care, it’s not something anyone can do. But if you can, consider offering your time in the fall. You may be able to do a few lunch shifts for early voting locations or otherwise fill in where needed, as opposed to committing to a full day.

So how do you find out how to do this?

Go to your county’s website, and look for either information about elections or look for the county clerk. Going back to the example of DuPage county in Illinois, navigating over to their county clerk’s site will get you to their elections website, and you’ll be able to find all of the information about becoming an election judge right there. This may not be as neat or tidy in smaller communities, and if that’s the case, call the county and speak to the clerk. You will likely need to attend a training for the role, but at least in my county, that was also paid and it was held on a number of different Saturdays (and went quickly — it was mostly how to unlock, lock, and use the machines).

Election judges are important, and they’re the backbone of what makes elections run in every community. Being a part of seeing how the system works helps you become a more educated citizen as well. In an era where voting is becoming harder and harder in many areas, you can make a profound difference by giving your time to helping ensure as many people are able to do this as possible.

Any citizen of voting age can do this.

Call to Action

Remember Brooky Parks, the teen librarian fired from High Plains Library District (Colorado) for defending LGBTQ+ programming when the board decided to censor the types of events the library could host? She could use some help.

If you’ve got a few bucks to spare, there’s a GoFundMe set up to help her with living expenses as she continues to land on her feet after championing the rights of teens in her former library. This is the reality of what happens to those who speak up: they can often be forgotten or overlooked once their story goes through the media cycle and they’re not supported by thoroughly by a professional organization that is purportedly dedicated to helping them.

Can’t spare a few dollars? That’s no problem. Read Brooky’s story and share it if you can, and then see where and how you can support your own local library through attending a program or writing a letter thanking them for how they curate a diverse collection or display.

Book Censorship News: July 1, 2022

  • Launching with GOOD news: after months of challenge (first reported here), Jack of Hearts will remain in a Kent, Washington middle school.
  • A protester Proud Boy showed up with a gun to a children’s Drag story time in Sparks, Nevada public library.
  • “Hide the Pride” hits Sonoma County public libraries (CA).
  • “SB 1277 requires districts to notify parents about sexually explicit content in the school curriculum and whether their child’s coursework includes that content. SB 1278 would prohibit classroom instruction on gender identity and sexual orientation for pre-kindergarten through 5th-grade students. Both passed the committee on Tuesday and will be taken up by the full Senate.” You need to write some letters and make some phone calls, Pennsylvania.
  • A children’s biography of RuPaul is removed for review off Colchester, Connecticut’s public library. The person who complained is a local politician.
  • In Kennewick, Washington, the school board is making it so any “CRT” is eliminated from the schools. There is no CRT in schools.
  • Expect to see a ton of further challenges of Gender Queer across Illinois, as it is a title on the statewide Lincoln List honoring the best literature for high schoolers. Many schools and libraries automatically buy and use the titles on the list. Here’s a first round of complaints in Barrington.
  • Frederick County School Board (VA) is keeping a textbook that some complained about because of CRT. The “CRT” in question would be some stories with people who are not white. Literally, no other school has had a problem with this textbook in the country.
  • “Book bans infringe on our First Amendment rights, which protect access to information and ideas. It is no mistake that the restricted books are by non-white and/or LGBTQ+ authors. The insight gained from these books helps us empathize with different experiences, leading to a better understanding of our peers and safer environments to discuss complex issues. The loss of those factors causes more damage than any content in these books. It is our right to choose what we read. We demand that the school board remove all restrictions and return the books to our library shelves.” Students in Nixa High School (MO) speak up about the books banned and restricted in their school library.
  • Community members in Jackson Madison County Library (MS) are mad about Pride displays.
  • Mid-Continent Public Library (MO) is considered in the library among the best in the country, and they’re also dealing with right-wing “values” being spewed on their board.
  • Neanderthal Opens the Door to the Universe will not be removed in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin.
  • In Prosper, Texas, parents contacted police to get 82 (!) books removed from the schools. Now parents instead need to opt-in their student for it. Not really a win.
  • One of the loudest mouths over Gender Queer in Dixfield, Maine, doesn’t even have kids in the district.
  • Despite complaints, the Shelby library (NC) kept its Pride month display up all June.
  • “Lassiter said teachers would be required to complete their own reading of any book they assigned, rather than rely on reviews or reputation of the book. Teachers also would be required to prepare an alternate assignment for students whose parents object to the content of the initial reading assignment and to use the syllabus or letter to remind parents of their ability to request such an alternate assignment.” In Pike County, North Carolina, schools, educators are now going to have to create multiple syllabi to accommodate parents who complain about the planned curriculum. At what point will they be making 30 different assignments for 30 different students? This is ridiculous and a perfect example of how the right is trying to demolish public education.
  • In Payson, Arizona, a councilman tried to convince the council to turn down a $250,000 grant for the library. Why? Because he was not getting a book pulled from the library the way he wanted.
  • Catawba County Schools (NC) are dealing with 24 book challenges, none of which will be decided upon until the new school year. The challenges came from a single individual who thinks the entire process is time consuming. No kidding?
  • “Medford School District Superintendent Bret Champion and his deputy made the decision to remove the graphic novel version of “The Handmaid’s Tale” from the district’s library collection in April after a committee of officials could not come to consensus on what to do with the controversial book.” In this Oregon school, administrators made the final call on a book’s removal.
  • Lawn Boy is being challenged in Washington County public libraries (VA).
  • In Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania, after complaints about Me and Earl and the Dying Girl were heard and discussed at a mid-June board meeting, another of Jesse Andrews’s books The Haters got a performance from a book banner.
  • “The new library policy for Roanoke County Public Schools requires two librarians or staff members to read proposed additions to the library. Then, additional school staff look over those reviews before any books can hit the shelves.” Anyone “shocked” about this new policy and saying that it’s going to eat up time and energy for librarians has been asleep for a while. That’s literally the point.
  • Despite complaints, the Albany County Public Library (WY) held its Drag story time. Read this one for understanding the “queer people –> indoctrination” logical leaps from right-wing bigots.
  • More updates from our friends at Anchorage Public Library (AK).
  • This new collection development policy at Granbury Independent School District (TX — remember them?) is extremely disturbing:

When new books are ordered that were not previously acquired, the district’s library coordinator will submit a list of those materials to be placed on an upcoming School Board agenda. Trustees will have a review period of at least 30 days prior to that school board meeting.

The school board will make final decisions about what materials to order.

All library materials will be posted online on the district’s website, and the content will be available for direct review.

If a parent challenges a book, an effort will be made to settle the matter informally through a phone conference or a meeting between the parent, the school librarian, a campus administrator or the district-level library coordinator.