What 100-Year-Old Grace Linn Can Teach Us About Standing Up for the Freedom to Read: Book Censorship News, March 31, 2023

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Grace Linn is a 100-year-old widow of a WWII veteran, a grandmother, and a craftivist. On Tuesday, she spoke at a Martin County, Florida school board meeting to protest the removal of 80+ books from the school library. Her statement has gotten a lot of media coverage, and she was later interviewed on MSNBC, Fox 35, and more. That’s for good reason, because in a speech that lasted only a few minutes, she’s effectively demonstrated what’s needed to fight back against censorship.

Kelly Jensen is taking a much-needed break this week, so I’m filling in for the Censorship News Roundup. One of the questions Kelly and other anti-censorship activists and groups receive the most often is, “What can we do? How can I help?” The Censorship Round Up archive is filled with so many ways to help, from voting to calling your representative to speaking up in school board and library board meetings and more. We also have an anticensorship tool lit. We even compiled and updated resources into an ebook: How to Fight Book Bans and Censorship. The resources are there. But it’s up to you to act, and Grace Linn shows exactly how to do that. Here are some of the lessons she provides, from easiest to the more challenging!

1) Show Up To School Board and Library Board Meetings

The first step to making your voice heard is to show up — and if Grace Linn can do it at 100, hopefully she can be a role model to others. If you are nervous because of the kind of vitriol that comes out in some of these meetings, consider bringing a friend. If you absolutely cannot show up — because you have to work at the same time, for example — see if you can convince a friend or family member (or many!) to show up. And write in with your thoughts. Call if you can, because that usually leaves a bigger impression, but writing in or emailing is also a great step.

2) Speak Up

Attending these meetings is the first step, but in order to make your voice heard, you do have to speak up! Each board will have its own standards for signing up to speak and for how long you can speak. Usually, you’ll have just a few minutes. Most people script their statements, and you can practice beforehand to make it more comfortable. Grace Linn’s statement is short and powerful — though you don’t have to live up to it to speak! Here’s a template to get you started.

3) Use Your Passions

One of the reasons Grace Linn’s statement went viral is that she made a quilt with banned and challenged books. Quilting is a beautiful and time-consuming art form, so holding up this quilt communicates without saying a word just how passionate she is about this topic. It’s craftivism! Think about what you’re passionate about, what your hobbies are, and how you can use them to fight for the freedom to read. Maybe it’s hosting a frisbee golf fundraiser to raise money for EveryLibrary. Maybe it’s making TikToks or graphics to spread the word. Maybe it’s having a public read-in with your book club outside the school district’s building. Whatever it is that you already love doing, brainstorm how you can use it to make literary activism something that’s personally engaging as well as meaningful.

4) Have it Filmed and Spread the Word

Of course, Grace Linn’s speech never could have gone viral if it wasn’t filmed. These board meeting comments may be filmed already, but it doesn’t hurt to get a friend to do this, too, especially if they have a high-quality camera. Bonus points if you can get someone to edit it and some professionalism. Then it’s time to spread the word: post it on social media, ask your followers to boost it, and see if you can get it to someone with a larger following who can get more eyes on it. Be sure to make a TikTok/Instagram Reels-friendly version, too.

5) Tell a Story and Evoke Emotion

Here’s where it gets a little more advanced. One of the reasons Grace Linn’s statement is so powerful is that it is personal and tells a story. Grace talks about her late husband fighting in World War II, evoking Nazi book bans and explaining that he fought for freedom, including the First Amendment and the freedom to read.

“One of the freedoms that the Nazis crushed was the freedom to read the books they banned. They stopped the free press and banned and burned books. The freedom to read, which is protected by the First Amendment, is our essential right and duty of our democracy. Even so, it is continually under attack by both the public and private groups who think they hold the truth.

Banning books and burning books are the same. Both are done for the same reason — fear of knowledge. Fear is not freedom. Fear is not liberty. Fear is control. My husband died as a father of freedom. I am a mother of liberty.

Banned books need to be proudly displayed and protected from school boards like this.”

(Bonus points for reclaiming the title Mother of Liberty. Incredible stuff.)

We haven’t all lived 100 years to draw on, but there’s a reason you’re passionate about this topic. Some people talk about how books have been life-saving in their own life. Others talk about loved ones who are affected by book bans.

Book banning groups tap into people’s fear and anger to go viral. Evoking emotion is a powerful tool, but there are so many better ways to do that. A personal story about the joy and acceptance you found in reading a book that represented you is also emotional, but in a more positive war.

6) Bring a Visual

One of the strategies Moms for Liberty and other similar group use is taking quotes or comics panels out of context, blowing them up, and putting them on poster board with a lot of fear-mongering additions. Grace Linn’s quilt is not only a way to bring in her crafting skills and passion, but it’s also eye-catching and incredibly memorable. Of course, most of us don’t have that exact skill, but think about a visual you can bring along when you speak. Maybe it’s quotes from readers who found that book life-saving, or the logos of all the awards it’s received. Maybe, if you’re a student, it’s a photo of you and your friends having a book club and all happily holding up the book. Or maybe you have your own craft to bring, like a book banning version of a temperature blanket!

I hope that this inspires you to follow in Grace Linn’s footsteps!

If you are a literary agent, don’t forget to fill out Kelly’s survey about whether you’ve seen book banning have an effect on book acquisitions. And if you aren’t a literary agent, please boost it on social media to get it to the right people!

Book Censorship News: March 31, 2023

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