How to Protest Book Bans? Read Them in Public

In Gainesville, Florida, communities gather to celebrate books in an act of resistance to censorship. Read on to learn more about this revolutionary move.

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In May 2023, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed into law HB 1069, igniting a series of controversial literary restrictions. Public schools were barred from teaching content on reproductive health and sexual identity, with the law allowing the revocation of teaching licenses, distribution of fines, and criminal charging of teachers if they broke it. Following the passing of this censorship bill, citizens of Gainesville are taking back the narrative and celebrating the books that have been challenged.

The “Banned Book Read Out”

In front of Gainesville City Hall, people gathered to listen to passages from books banned or challenged by the state’s government. The Unitarian Universalist Fellowship Social Justice Council hosted the “Banned Book Read-Out” to highlight the books illustrating critical themes of and relating to African American identity, anti-war, and the Holocaust. Featured were Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, Robert C. O’Brien’s Z for Zachariah, Käthe Kollwitz’s Prints and Drawings of Käthe Kollwitz, Kelly Starling Lyons’ Sing a Song, Nicole Hannah Jones’ The 1619 Project, Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, Amanda Gorman’s The Hill We Climb, Ronald J. Glasser’s 365 Days, John Steinbeck’s East of Eden, and Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five, or, The Children’s Crusade: A Duty-Dance With Death.

Book jacket for Zora Neal Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God. On a bright blue painted background, the side profile bust of a Black woman wears a colorful, mixed-patterned crown and matching shirt. Behind her head is a gold circle. The title at the bottom and author's name at the top is written in a thick, white, handwritten font.
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Those who attended the event could also choose a banned book and take it home for free. Attendees arrived intending to connect with like-minded individuals, illuminate accurate and honest U.S. history, and give a voice to those historically and currently facing oppression.

The Importance of Protecting Written Word

Byron Prugh, a former Florida educator, moved to Oregon after receiving backlash from parents about the books he taught, ones that discussed the Holocaust and racial and economic disparities. Prugh says he feels much safer teaching on the West Coast, stating that many of his colleagues who continue to teach in Florida face anxiety over maintaining their classroom libraries. But, former Gainesville librarian Sherri Admunson says it’s essential for students to read diverse narratives, as it sets them up for the real world and equips them with the tools to make a positive impact.

Three multicultural children lie on their stomachs on a purple carpet reading a picture book together.
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Florida, a leading state in the nation’s book-banning efforts, followed by Texas, saw 2,700 book challenges in 2023. Since losing as a potential presidential candidate, Ron DeSantis has begun to scale back on his strict stance regarding books. Most recently, he signed into law HB 1285, capping the number of concerns a person without a school-aged child can present concerning learning materials each year. Although a step in the right direction, literary censorship continues to reign as a hot topic in Florida that citizens must keep an eye on.

Three women in all black outfits pose in front of a white wall with cardboard posters. The sign held by the woman in the middle reads "Take a stand" in all caps.
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Protests like the one exhibited by the Gainesville community might have been small, but their impact is monumental. Our voices matter, and using them to uplift the unheard is vital. We must do everything we can to protect challenged literature and the powerful knowledge it holds.


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