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Archive for the ‘intellectual freedom’ Category

Two Great Causes and Cute to Boot!

In art, cultural activism, indigenous communities, intellectual freedom, racial justice on July 19, 2012 at 10:43 am

First, I just love this poster by Oakland-based artist and activist Melanie Cervantes! She writes, “Hola Gatita sends messages of solidarity to Arizona and any where books about Chicana experiences are banned. La Gatita dice no to censorship.” Download your own copy here.

Second, this poster nicely coincides with Aunt Lute Books latest fundraiser. A small, indie press for 30 years, Aunt Lute needs support to publish a fourth edition of Gloria Anzaldúa’s groundbreaking book Borderlands/La Frontera, which Hola Gatita loves! If you have not read this book, you should. It is one of those transformational feminist texts that compels you to empathy, to action, to a vision of social justice in historical context, and to a deeper, more engaged humanity. Yes, it’s that good. (Among those critical books that gave me roots and taught me to dream when I was a teenager and newbie activist).

So DONATE to Aunt Lute’s crowd sourced fundraising campaign.

Aunt Lute will be giving away four limited-edition screen prints featuring Gloria Anzaldúa’s image and text from Borderlands created and donated by Melanie Cervantes of Dignidad Rebelde. “The 22 x 30 inch five-color screen printed posters were printed at the Serie Project earlier this year and are valued and placed at the $250 prize reward level… Every donation, no matter what size, brings us closer to our all-or-nothing funding deadline on July 28. Please consider viewing our campaign page, or passing this information onto friends.”

 

Oh, and read why Hello Kitty opposes SB 2281 in Arizona. Librotraficantes! Stand up for Ethnic Studies.

2 Pennies: Amy Sonnie on ALA’s ‘Most Frequently Challenged’ List

In censorship, intellectual freedom, LGBTQ issues, libraries, library associations, library profession, open access on April 19, 2011 at 5:23 pm

I’m reposting this interview I did today with my current publisher, Melville House. Read the full original post on their very cool blog MobyLives, covering all things literary, popular, unpopular, intellectually notable, common sense, illogical and … you get the gist.

Jason Bennett/MobyLives: Last week the American Library Association (ALA) released their Top Ten List of the Most Frequently Challenged Books of 2010. As we mentioned in our report, Melville House author, librarian, blogger, and activist Amy Sonnie (Hillbilly Nationalists, Urban Race Rebels, and Black Power: Community Organizing in Radical Times) was #9 on the list for her book Revolutionary Voices, which was originally published by Alyson Books in 2000.

Curious about what all this means–and excited I could talk to someone who’s both a librarian and an author on this list–I decided to ask Amy a few questions about free speech in libraries, how books are “challenged,” and how it feels to keep company with Stephenie Meyer.

What does this list say to you about the state of free speech in this country and libraries’ ability to circulate books with sensitive topics?

It tells us something very profound: People either love or hate vampires and gays, especially those wayfaring penguins. Oh, and true stories. People either love or hate the truth. This year was an especially bad year for reality with my book and Ehrenreich’s exposé on minimum wage work causing such controversy.

But more seriously, I don’t think we should look for reliable social data in a list like this, but I do think ALA’s annual roll call provides a useful pulse-check. First, it reminds the majority of us who oppose censorship that there are real challenges in our own backyards. Most people I talk to don’t know this happens.

Second, the list and Banned Book Week give people a chance to really talk about democratic principles and action. To ask: freedom to do what, for who and where? Most people say they oppose censorship, but they apply ‘free speech’ and ‘open access’ differently, with children vs. adults for example. Many books on the annual list, like mine, are geared toward teens. This opens a needed debate about youth rights and free expression. Our society is pretty inconsistent in how we treat young adults. Courts debate this everyday when they sentence juveniles to adult prisons or let schools limit students’ Internet access. So why not gather the controversies and raise the issue for public debate? More importantly, why not ask young adults themselves? In my work with teens, that’s exactly the discussion I used this list to generate even before I was on it. Oops, I just revealed my bias toward young people having rights. (Gasp!).

What do you think about your own book’s inclusion?

I was shocked actually. I knew about the local challenges, but it was surprising because the book is ten years old! Why now? One obvious reason, I think, is the growing backlash to the small gains of gay rights advocates over the last 15 years. And I really mean small. We have a long way to go. It was kind of cool, though, to be on the same list as The Hunger Games. Those books are amazing. I wonder what Katniss would say about all this?

If ALA weren’t drawing attention to this issue by publishing an annual list, do you think libraries would be more likely to cave to advocates who want these books banned?

I guess it’s worth mentioning here that I am a librarian, in addition to an author/editor. I enjoy kind of a great vantage point. Do I think libraries would cave to the pressure without it? Some would. Most, I hope, would not. I have faith in libraries’ commitment to strong professional ethics. I know librarians who faced incredible odds to stand up for those values. My optimism shows here, though. In one of the cases involving my book, it was a library director who removed it from the shelves. Concerned local residents and librarians got the word out and turned up the pressure for a while. ALA’s public education just assures a broader audience finds out so they might be better prepared if a challenge comes their way.

With all the fanfare surrounding the ALA’s Top Ten List of the Most Frequently Challenged Books of 2010, I think a lot of people (myself included) are confused about exactly what it means for a book to be challenged. Can you explain a bit about the process and why it’s significant when a book is officially challenged?

Challenges are significant because they intrinsically elevate the objection of one person to the level of community-wide muzzle. What one parent objects to, another may not. If a public library removes the book, they remove it for everyone. This makes any challenge an issue of broader public concern regardless of whether it results in a ban.

Most libraries have a process for community members to state their objection to a particular book, movie, etc. This is usually a written “Request for Reconsideration of Materials.” It is what it sounds like — a resident or parent asks the library to reconsider keeping something on the shelf. Libraries typically take the removal of an item very seriously. Most often, there are already policies in place to guide what they purchase and keep. This policy is informed by broader professional standards, like the Library Bill of Rights, as well as localized needs, such as an explicit commitment to maintain multilingual materials, or — in the case of schools – a focus on educational value and age appropriateness. These can be fuzzy areas to apply and that’s where many challenges gain ground. Separately, if the library has a process outlined for reconsideration requests they are supposed to follow it. This may involve a committee meeting to weigh the needs of the broader community against one person/group’s request to restrict access.

Based on what’s reported to ALA, we know that most decisions uphold libraries unique role as a place of free, unfettered inquiry. But sometimes the materials are actually removed – this year in 53 cases that we know about. Two of those bans were on my book.

Finally, how does it feel to beat out Twilight on this list?

This might disappoint some people, but Twilight and my book actually had the same number of challenges. So, the love-drunk vampires and outspoken queers are tied. Take that, Mr. Falwell.

The Multiple Meanings of a Muse

In art, censorship, intellectual freedom on February 14, 2011 at 7:25 am

I was just teaching a student how to find Creative Commons images to spice up a Powerpoint she prepared when I accidentally came across this awesome artistic commentary. 

Thanks John LeMasney for adding your voice to the chorus on the NJ censorship case against my book, Revolutionary Voices. That chorus includes students, actors, lawyers, journalists, librarians, parents, authors, friends and tons of concerned residents. Thanks for all the letters of support!

Following the public conversation about the book’s removal has been an inspiring experience, even as I follow its detractors. Just makes me more committed to creative and intellectual freedom!

The Censor’s New Clothes, CLA Presentation

In censorship, education, intellectual freedom, LGBTQ issues, public libraries, school libraries, youth on December 4, 2010 at 1:09 pm

As promised, here are the slides from my brief presentation on the Revolutionary Voices book challenge in New Jersey. (Delivered at the California Library Association conference, Sacramento, CA, Nov 14, 2010).

Library law expert Mary Minow and school librarian Jill Sonnenberg joined me for a great overview on the ideological forces driving intellectual freedom challenges in libraries (from LGBTQ-themed books to Vamos a Cuba to Internet filtering). Mary clarified the meaning of Island Trees v. Pico and legal differences between public–school material challenges.

Jill talked about the ways filters are changing and limiting student’s ways of learning, particularly when it comes to active learning methods using content creation, critical inquiry and collaboration. She shared,

While most of us out there in the trenches will fight to keep important books on our shelves…[w]e are not fighting for students’ rights to create and collaborate…We stop at no when our districts or tech directors or network administrators summarily or arbitrarily ban blogs and wikis and social networking and media sharing and yes, even digital storytelling.” — Joyce Valenza (10/5/08, “2.0 is an Intellectual Freedom Issue”)

Jill left us with an excellent list of practical background reading, especially Doug Johnson.

Censored Book Contributors

A Message to LGBTQ Youth

I talked about the recent challenge against Revolutionary Voices in the context of a religious and political campaign against Obama appointee Kevin Jennings, while focusing on some of the learning and positive outcomes the challenge created. Most notably: both sides harnessed their ability to get the word out online and, therefore, opened doors for a (somewhat) transparent public debate. We need more of this.

I recently heard second-hand that another NJ library is reconsidering The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. The school apparently discussed making the decision quietly behind closed doors. Not every challenge results in a book removal, but transparency about challenges provides a crucial pulse-check and an invaluable learning opportunity for anyone engaging in the debate — especially local students.

On a related note: NJ school librarian Dee Venuto provides excellent documentation on the Revolutionary Voices challenge on Prezi.

Nick Merrill Speaks Out Against NSLs

In law, libraries, privacy on August 14, 2010 at 12:02 pm

Readers, so sorry posts on bannedlibrarian have slowed down. A new job and book writing have kept me a little too busy, but I plan to get back to blogging soon.

In the meantime, I wanted to share this news story:

“Gagged for 6 Years, Nick Merrill Speaks Out on Landmark Court Struggle Against FBI’s National Security Letters” (Democracy Now, August 11, 2010)

The program also features George Christian, executive director of Library Connection, a consortium of libraries in Connecticut that sued the government after receiving their own National Security Letter in 2005.

From Glenn Beck to Your Backyard: Targeting Gay Books

In censorship, gender, intellectual freedom, LGBTQ issues, school libraries, youth on April 11, 2010 at 4:32 pm

Tomorrow, April 12th, a special review committee** in Mount Holly, NJ, will determine the fate of three books challenged for gay-themed content. One of them is my queer youth anthology, Revolutionary Voices. (The other two are: The Full Spectrum and Love & Sex). A local group has called the books pornography and wants them removed from Rancocas Valley Regional High School.

While the legal standard on pornography will not help their cause, school book challenges like these have been successful. It is my sincere hope these books won’t be removed — both on merit and legal precedent. Island Trees v. Pico held:

“Local school boards may not remove books from school libraries simply because they dislike the ideas contained in those books and seek by their removal to ‘prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion.'”

Unfortunately, political and religious objections to LGBTQ-themed material are old news. But, what’s newsworthy here is who’s behind this challenge. As American Libraries reported, they are connected to Glenn Beck’s 912 Project.

Beck is known for his alarmist and inaccurate commentary. He admits that he doesn’t check his facts. With millions of viewers, however, he’s not to be underestimated.

Last Fall, Beck began attacking Kevin Jennings, former director of the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN).* Picking up the torch, local chapters of Beck’s 912 Project are now requesting the removal of books that appear GLSEN’s book list. Mine included.

This particular chapter is in Burlington County, NJ. According to its MeetUp page, the chapter boasts 350 members (called “freedom’s foot soldiers”). If you have any doubt that their motives are political or religious, you might look at 912’s Principles. Number 2 is: “I believe in God and He is the Center of my Life.” A perfectly noble belief, but not a good reason to withhold well-reviewed books from the entire student population.

Luckily, community members and library media specialists at Rancocas Valley High have been proactive in defending students’ freedom to read. They are also warning other libraries to be on the lookout for challenges backed by other 912 chapters. Last week I wrote a letter to the Board offering “my full support to the media center staff who judiciously select materials based on local policy and reliable reviews.”

I wrote in my letter, as well, about the young people for whom these books have made a difference. In the decade since Revolutionary Voices was first published I have received hundreds of comments from readers. In almost every case, they convey how the book inspired them or taught them something new.

One letter came from Lewis W. in Ann Arbor, MI, who was 15 when he found the book in his teen center library. He wrote,

“My friends and I passed around a single copy of this book for weeks… I was fascinated and relieved that there were other people out there who shared elements of my identity. At the same time, it was really important for me as a pretty sheltered young person to see that I was by no means identical to other LGBTQ youth, that there was a wide diversity of voices within the community. This was an illuminating and strengthening part of the book for me.”

While book challenges can become a battle of the most vocal, I hope the Board takes perspectives like Lewis’ into account. Queer students may not feel safe speaking up when LGBTQ books are challenged. But, they certainly deserve a chance to discover the “diversity of voices” that make balanced library collections so crucial for the health of our communities and democracy.

**This is corrected information. I previously wrote that the local Board of Education was meeting Monday. The Board will not meet until late April. This special committee is tasked with making a recommendation to the Board.

* Side note: There’s been criticism of the content of specific GLSEN safe sex workshops that I will not get into here. If you want to look it up, search for “fistgate,” or better yet “kevin jennings and revolutionary voices.” You can see where Beck got his information from.

Top Legal Issues for Libraries: Two Webinars

In censorship, law, library profession, privacy, public libraries, school libraries on March 15, 2010 at 8:59 am

Recently, I’ve attended two helpful webinars on hot legal topics in libraries. Thursday’s session by LibraryLaw’s Mary Minow focused on:

  • The hurried extension of the USA PATRIOT Act;
  • Recent court decisions about public meeting space in libraries (no, you cannot bar religious groups), and
  • Legal precedent set by book challenges including a Florida ruling that sidestepped Island Trees v. Pico and established a slippery slope around books containing representational “inaccuracies.” The Supreme Court let the 11th Circuit’s 6-3 decision stand when it declined to hear the case last November. (The book removed was Vamos a Cuba).

Watch the recorded webinar.

The other useful session, held in February, covered “Library Laws for the Mobile Web Environment.”

Week to Watch USA PATRIOT Act

In intellectual freedom, libraries, library associations, privacy on January 25, 2010 at 3:22 pm

There’s going to be a lot of movement around the PATRIOT Act in the next week or two. Maybe not the movement we’d like.

Here’s one update from the American Library Association’s recent Midwinter Meeting: “Bad News from Washington on Patriot Act.

The Bill of Rights Defense Committee is also planning a Lobby Day in Washington for February 3rd. See, Lobby Day to Stop the PATRIOT Act.

If you can’t make it to D.C., you can also sign BORDC’s letter opposing the PATRIOT Act reauthorization, or call your senators and reps using the ALA’s Legislative Action Center.

Congress Rejects PATRIOT Act Re-Write, Improvements Still Possible

In intellectual freedom, public policy on December 7, 2009 at 8:41 am

On Friday the House and Senate both completed their mark ups of PATRIOT Act reauthorization bills. Here’s a quick update from the Center for Democracy and Technology:

Congress Rejects PATRIOT Act Re-Write, but Modest Improvements Still Possible

1)    House and Senate Committees Renew PATRIOT with Mostly Minor Changes
2)    The Risks of National Security Letters
3)    House Bill Offers More Significant Change to NSL Authority
4)    Obama Administration Uses Secret Briefings to Resist Strong Standards for FBI Investigations

A Time to Conspire: The Copenhagen Moment

In environmental justice, indigenous communities, intellectual freedom, public policy, racial justice, social movements on December 7, 2009 at 7:20 am

Magazine CoverThe new issue of Left Turn magazine is out with an important article about this week’s convergence in Copenhagen by my colleague Gopal Dayaneni. Here’s a preview.

Movement Generation Justice and Ecology Project

“Imagine waking up on December 1, 1999, and learning about the World Trade Organization for the first time, as a left organizer, by watching it fall apart on television. You’d probably be thinking to yourself, “Why didn’t I know about that?” or “This is a very different political moment,” or “Wow, things might really be changing.”

The potential for such a political moment is once again upon us, ten years after the collapse of the WTO in Seattle. From December 7-18, 2009, the 15th Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change will be meeting in Copenhagen to forge a post-Kyoto climate policy that substantially reduces atmospheric concentrations of heat-trapping greenhouse gasses, while addressing the certainty that many consequences of climate destabilization are coming and will disproportionately impact the poor. The UNFCCC will also see the massive convergence of social movements, indigenous peoples and vulnerable nations from around the world.

This meeting in Copenhagen should not be thought of as being about climate or carbon. It is about everything: international trade, forests, food and agriculture, the rights of indigenous, land-based and forest peoples, resource privatization, international finance (both private and public), development rights, oceans, technology, intellectual property, migration, displacement and refugees, health, wealth, poverty, the future of human settlements, and biodiversity, to name just a few.

We all have a lot at stake. …”

Read the rest at LeftTurn.org

Or, read Movement Generation’s live blog from Copenhagen.