AUSTIN, Texas — A state that’s always embroiled in controversy over its far-right policies, Texas is seen as amicrocosm of the country’s political divide. Many organizations around the nation attended the South By Southwest Conference as an opportunity to put more eyes on causes that not only affect Texans, but Americans across many other state lines.
Republicans have cleared house as the majority in statewide offices, and in turn are dominating Texas politics with plans to censor educational material that’s deemed inappropriate by their standards. One organization at SXSW is galvanizing the public to support its campaign, “From Freedom Riders to Freedom Readers.”
The African American Policy Forum partnered with the Transformative Justice Coalition (TJC) in October 2022 to fight back against book bans. Members of the organization took a two-week bus tour from Minneapolis, Minnesota, to Jacksonville, Florida. They distributed thousands of books and warned people about the dangers of censorship. From this event their “From Freedom Riders to Freedom Readers” campaign was formed.
“It is intended to educate, enlighten, and empower all ages to engage in reading and critical thinking about invaluable pieces of literature and contemporary issues,” explained AAPF. “Honoring the sacrifice and commitment of the Freedom Riders who risked their lives in pursuit of civil justice, we come together as Freedom Readers to create a long-lasting impact to build open and inclusive learning communities that together will shore up the foundations of multiracial democracy.”
The Texas Tribune quotes an analysis report from PEN America, a nonprofit organization advocating for free speech, reporting that Texas has banned more books than any other state. Many of these books have elements that include racial inequities, gender fluidity, abortions, etc. Texas Republicans maintain that some of these books constitute pornography or have sexual themes not appropriate for students in grade school.
The state has already gone as far as to ban the concept of “critical race theory” from being taught in K-12 public schools during the 2021 legislative session. And there's another prioritzed bill proposal that would require book vendors at public schools to follow the state's ranking system of reading material that's appropriate for children. This was added to the 88th Texas legislative session agenda.
According to AAPF, “Attacks on thought and reading are part of a larger assault on our democracy that includes rampant voter suppression efforts directed at communities of color and the proliferation of lies about the integrity of our electoral system. It is no surprise that the same forces funding these anti-democratic efforts with millions of dollars are also behind attempts to further marginalize LGBTQ+ students and suppress the teaching of gender equality and sexual education; these are branches of the same poisonous vine.”
The organization hopes that being at this year’s SXSW, they’ll be able to collaborate with Texas organizations to really attain some steam ahead of the fight to protect educational freedom.
AAPF urges the community to be vocal when it comes to these issues. “Contact your local and/or state officials to demand repeal of these anti-CRT/anti-LGBTQ censorship laws and book bans in your state or locality. Demand that your elected officials invest in and celebrate our country’s diversity as a strength,” read an AAPF statement.
To view censorship and anti-CRT activity in your state, check out www.aapf.org/truthbetold. There's an interactive map that lists all enacted and pending bans.
Learn more about the campaign by visiting their site www.booksunbanned.org.