Demonstration Against Censorship

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Join the protest in NYC this Sunday, December 19 @ 1 pm!
 
Gather: Metropolitan Museum
March: to the Cooper-Hewitt, a Smithsonian Institution!

PLEASE SHARE AND REPOST WIDELY!

The prosecutions of libraries, bookstores and museums have become a popular response to artistic expression that some Americans find offensive. Censorship harms all groups working for social change by silencing (making invisible) information (words, ideas, images) pertaining to or from those people already effected by legislated morality. Censoring disagreeable ideas will not make the disagreeable realities go away, but distracts people’s attention from addressing the real causes of social ills.

On December 1st, David Wojnarowicz’s video “A Fire in my Belly” was pulled from an exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture. Hide/Seek is a groundbreaking exhibition, one of the first to celebrate GLBT artists, their images, and their relationships in a major institution. After a single protest, from a small Catholic-based right wing organization, and under the threat of cuts to cultural funding by Representatives John Boehner and Eric Cantor, the Smithsonian Institution decided to pull the video. There was no dialogue, no debate. As it was in the culture wars of 1980’s, Wojnarowicz’s work was mischaracterized, this time as an attack on the Catholic Church, and used as to elicit support for anti-gay sentiment and cuts to social, cultural, and educational funding.

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Librarian George Christian speaks on landmark court struggle against FBI’s National Security Letters

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Democracy Now speaks with Connecticut librarian George Christian. He and three other librarians sued the US government after receiving a national security letter demanding information about library patrons.

[transcript]

AMY GOODMAN: And George Christian, why did you and the three other librarians—Peter Chase of the Plainfield libraries; Janet Nocek, the Portland Public Library director; and the Glastonbury Public Library director Barbara Bailey—why did you risk so much, gagged for so long, not being able to tell your colleagues what was happening? Why do you think this is so important?

GEORGE CHRISTIAN: We think that libraries are one of the cornerstones of a democratic society. People ought to be free to go to a library and get information that the librarians have provided. Librarians try to be impartial, but just provide quality information. And really, you ought to be able to go to a library and check anything you want, whether it’s political, whether it’s research into breast cancer or whatever, without the FBI looking over your shoulder or anyone in the community looking over your shoulder. And that’s a long tradition that librarians have had. It’s part of the Library Bill of Rights, first issued in the 1940s.

But more importantly, we all take the constitutional protections that we have for granted. And the truth is, these protections are only there as long as we’re willing to demand, that we, the public, are willing to demand, that they be enforced. It’s always tempting for those in power to encroach upon these civil liberties in the name of expediency. And if someone doesn’t stand up and say, “Hey, wait a minute,” before you know it, your liberties will be gone. We have a history in this country of reacting to any external threat by throwing the baby out with the bathwater and clamping down on our civil liberties.

Sarah Palin and Library Politics

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One of the numerous political rumors currently making rounds on the web has to do with a list of banned books** and the 2008 Republican Vice Presidential nominee, Sarah Palin. According to an Anchorage Daily News article, around the time she became mayor of Wasilla (1996), Palin initiated a conversation with city librarian Mary Ellen Emmons regarding the possibility of removing some “objectionable” books from the public library’s collection. (Read The Nation‘s coverage of the incident here.)

While I agree that there are absolutely aspects of her record and politics that merit scrutiny and continued discussion, so too it seems do some of her latest slams. In concluding a Palin-inspired article posted last week, Erica Jong (writer for the Huffington Post) said, “White trash America certainly has allure for voters. Some people think rednecks are more American than Harvard educated intellectuals of mixed race.” (Read the whole piece here).

I appreciate what Kathleen de la Pena McCook wrote in response to this statement in Working Life:

No, I don’t think Sarah Palin is the kind of candidate who believes what I believe …but the attacks on her family and personal reproductive choices seem to me a product of classism by writers like Jong.

In librarianship we have a tradition of fighting against social exclusion and providing service to everyone. We have policies and programs for poor and homeless people. The classist attacks on Palin and the socio-economic groups that writers like Jong imply she represents reveal a class system based on an ivy league education and disdain for everyday people like those in the grief-stricken communities of Columbine, Colorado or Red Lake, Minnesota [Jong:every school shooter’s dream-see below].

Jong, hypocritically ingenuous, uses a photoshopped falsehood to bolster her classist argument:

[Jong: “the photo of Sarah Palin in a stars and stripes bikini, toting an automatic weapon. It says more than any Op-Ed or blog. Hot broad with cool weapon. Every school shooter’s dream of womanhood. Alas, the photo is photoshopped, but true in spirit.”]

Through this long election season this Librarian is mindful that all people –especially poor people –deserve library service. Maybe, like me, books and a good public education will make a difference in their lives. But if smart, verbal people like Jong are classist against poor “trash” there will be continuing social exclusion and less understanding.

**The list of books that Palin was to have sought banned has recently been posted as false at Snopes.com.

Banned Books Week

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Since its beginnings in 1982, Banned Books Week: Celebrating the Freedom to Read is observed during the last week of September each year. This year (September 27 – October 4) marks BBW’s 27th anniversary and to kick off Banned Books Week in Chicago, the American Library Association, the McCormick Tribune Freedom Museum, and the Chicago Tribune will host a Banned Books Week Read-Out! The event will feature popular banned or challenged authors and local Chicago celebrities on Saturday, September 27, from noon to 3:00, at Pioneer Plaza.

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Banned Books Week raises awareness both in the United States and internationally about threats to free speech. Banned Books Week was started by the Office for Intellectual Freedom of the American Library Association.

If you are in the Chicago area, why not drop by to hear noted, banned authors including Judy Blume, Stephen Chbosky, Chris Crutcher, Lois Lowry, Lauren Myracle, and Justin Richardson & Peter Parnell. Rumor has it that book signings will follow their readings. Far from Chicago? Consider hosting your own Read Out. Info is available on how to do an effective event, big or small.at:
http://www.ala.org/ala/oif/bannedbooksweek/actionguide/actionguide.cfm