Many people tell us that the would-be censors in their community seem extremely well-organized. Free-expression supporters are often surprised by their letter-writing campaigns to local newspapers, phone zaps to local government officials, and a general sense that — as Judy Blume has said — "the censors never sleep." Whether the censors number one or one thousand in your community, the response must be the same: speaking out in support of free expression and educating a broad-based community coalition to do the same. Because that could seem overwhelming, we thought some guidance may help in organizing a grassroots anticensorship coalition. We hope the primer below will demystify this crucial work and give you ideas for taking action in your own community. We are not the last word — let us know what works for you.
Take a deep breath and remember that three or four people can make a coalition!!
The first step is to find others committed to protecting the First Amendment. It is best to start out small. Even if there are only three people, get together and plan a regular meeting time and place. This can be done in someone's living room, a room in your local library, or any other public building that rents meeting space to community groups. The most pressing thing for a small group is to decide how to recruit people and how to get the word out about your group.
Try to brainstorm a list of people who might be interested in joining the coalition. You will probably have a good sense of who is in your community, but do not forget
- clergy members
- local affiliates of NCAC Participating Organizations
- community organizers and activists
- bookstore and video store owners
- members of the local Parent-Teachers Association
- public library volunteers
(Be aware of who may not be in a position to speak out against censorship. For instance, if there is a bookbanning attempt in a school, a teacher might not feel comfortable speaking out against the decisions of a principal, superintendent, or school board member. However, both teachers and librarians are often willing to voice their objections or can identify helpful colleagues.)
Getting Out the Word About Your Group
- Let your local paper know that an anticensorship group is forming in your community.
- Hang a flyer in the local library — or ask various merchants to OK it.
- Write a letter about the formation of your group. Approach several well-known people in your community who are supportive, ask them to sign the letter and give you names of people to whom it might be sent.
At your meetings, discuss strategies for fighting censorship and attacks on the First Amendment.
Education on the particular facts of the community conflict, the values of the First Amendment, and the dangers of censorship is extremely important. It helps to mobilize support, holds politicians accountable by publicly announcing their views, and provides citizens with a way to get involved in community action.
Moreover, public education is crucial in any controversy that involves elected officials, be they school board members, library board members, county commissioners, or public prosecutors. Make your views known! And make it clear that the right to read and be free from censorship is a local community value everywhere.
You will be surprised by the creativity of your group. NCAC has worked with hundreds of local anticensorship groups in the past few years. Some of our favorite ideas for political visibility have been:
- petitions, letter-writing campaigns, and lobbying to the appropriate governmental body. If you choose any of these strategies, make sure you stay focused on a message and an ultimate goal. It is best to send letters or signatures to elected officials when there is a vote on the particular issue (such as a book's suitability, etc.) in the near future. In order to lobby an elected official, make an appointment to speak with him or her. If that is impossible, ask to meet with an appropriate staff member, for instance, the liaison to public schools;
- bumper stickers or pins that say "the issue is censorship," or "I love the library," or "Tell YOUR kids what to read, not MINE;"
- brightly colored, informative, and clever flyers to hang in public places;
- a recognizable logo for your group;
- placing Public Service Announcements on your local radio, including the name, purpose, and next meeting of your group;
- organizing a "library appreciation day" or a "banned books appreciation day."
Ask NCAC for information and advice on
- responding to a censorship threat — in a school, library, in the arts, or on a national free speech issue;
- working with the media;
- organizing around specific community controversies.
- For more information, check out our resources.
If you experience, see, or have heard about censorship let us know! We can help direct you to help if you're facing censorship and give you tools to take action if you want to fight censorship.
Contact us directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.