November 2023 Election Hot Take: It was a good night for libraries, a bad night for censorship
There’s no other way to look at it: the results of last night’s elections across the country broke decisively for libraries. EveryLibrary tracked 40 public library funding measures, and in 95% of them, voters approved the requests, often by wide margins. [See: Election Night 2023 Library Wrap-Up]
SCHOOL BOARD ELECTIONS GO OUR WAY
While all of these public library budget wins are certainly good news, public library funding requests usually fare well. What about all those school board elections? With so many pro-censorship, anti-public-education candidates being supported by organized and well-funded “parents’ rights” groups, watching election night returns roll in was nerve-wracking. While votes are still being counted this morning, it’s clear that voters preferred pro-library, pro-education candidates over candidates who ran on platforms attacking librarians and teachers. What follows are some emerging themes and a few lessons we can carry with us into the future to help protect school librarians and ensure that we have supportive boards, legitimate policies and a diverse collection of materials available to support the educational and emotional needs of ALL students.
According to some excellent early reporting from Sarah Dohl, co-founder of indivisible, a full two thirds of M4L-endorsed candidates around the country lost their races, and this poor showing held true all around the country. In Iowa, 13 of 14 endorsed candidates lost. In Ohio, they prevailed in only 5 of 25 elections while in New Jersey they only won 5 out of 20 races. In neighboring Chester County, Pennsylvania, M4L-endorsed candidates lost 13 of 16 races (and 2 of the 3 wins were by a margin of 30 votes or less.) Turning south, voters rejected 5 of 6 M4L-endorsed candidates in Virginia, and M4L Board members lost their majority in Loudoun County, which has been a battleground in attacking teachers and librarians.
WHAT ABOUT BUCKS COUNTY (AKA “GROUND ZERO”)
It’s worth taking a closer look at two communities in Pennsylvania that have frequently been in the news for all the wrong reasons. In Central Bucks School District, which has been a hotbed of book banning since the Board passed Policy 109.1 which targeted so-called “age-inappropriate” materials, all five candidates that were “recommended” by M4L in a published voter guide were ousted by voters. That’s about a clear a message as we’ve seen that parents are fed up with board members who make divisive attacks against librarians and teachers, and spend more time focused on what books should be taken off of shelves than on how we can be supporting education professionals in their work to educate students.
Bucks County, PA, which Forbes calls, “a county that has been ground zero for the Moms for Liberty style installation of far right policies in school boards”, is also home to Pentridge School District, which has been in the news due to accusations that the school board has been secretly removing books in violation of their own policies. This morning we learned that all five open seats were won by pro-library challengers. According to WFMZ, the rejected candidates ran under the name “Protect Pennridge” and had supported a policy to require kids to use restrooms and play on sports teams which aligned with their biological sex.
Across the country, with election results from places as culturally and politically different as Iowa, New Mexico, North Carolina, and Minnesota, we are seeing the balance of power on school boards shift back to those who support educators and librarians, and support having library collections that reflect the voices and experiences of all people, while rejecting the false characterizations of books with LGBTQ+ and/or BIPOC themes as inherently age-inappropriate, divisive, or obscene. So what can we take away from these wins?
First and foremost, we are seeing voters sending a clear message that they reject divisive, polarizing attacks and rhetoric and support board members who are focused on creating inclusive schools that provide a climate where all students feel welcome and supported in their education. “Parent’s Rights” candidates are learning that most parents are not interested in candidates who want to exploit partisan culture war issues, which destroys trust and diverts attention and resources away from the important work of teaching kids and preparing them to successfully navigate and succeed in a complex world.
Indeed, the results of last night’s elections confirm what we learned recently in the joint EveryLibrary Institute / Book Riot survey, Parents Perceptions Survey 2023. The national poll revealed that 67% of parents think book bans are a waste of time, and 74% think that they infringe on parents’ rights. While those questions were scoped to public libraries, we can easily correlate these opinions with last night’s election results.
Secondly, and most importantly: When we organize to show up and speak up, we can win. None of these school board races were won on a wing and a prayer. They were won because community members who care found each other and took collective action. As noted in a last month’s post, Building Grassroots Support to Protect You and Your Library, collective action is the only real long-term solution to what is fundamentally a political problem. No amount of talking about intellectual freedom (which is a jargony library term that doesn’t necessarily resonate with community members, coalition partners, and decision-makers who might otherwise share common cause and common concern with us), will swing the balance of power on a school board.
If we continue to ask “who else cares?”, and identify other individuals and organizations that care — that care about freedom to read, about human dignity, about student success, that care about a having an educated workforce, that care about historically marginalized communities, that care equity, and opportunity for all — then we will continue to build a political power base that can positively influence elections that lead to the policy outcomes we want to see.
WHEN WE ORGANIZE, WE WIN
If there are people in your community who care but don’t know how to get started – or if they need a boost and some free political consulting – please point them to EveryLibrary or our free organizing platform, Fight For the First. Fight for the First empowers community members who want to support their library and librarians and oppose censorship to find each other and take collective action quickly. The platform includes robust functionality including groups, petitions, and events modules that enable people to do rapid supporter identification and activation. Ultimately, it helps people in your community quickly build a contactable list of others who care and are willing to take action. And these lists of supporters can then be leveraged in the future for things like building support for pro-library candidates standing for board seats and other elected offices.
And that’s the roadmap to more great election nights in 2024 and beyond.
Filed under: News
About Peter Bromberg
Peter has nearly 30 years of experience applying a human-centered approach to the transformation of library services, creating value and positive experiences for people and communities while fostering healthy, equitable, and effective organizational climates. As a library advocate on local, state, and national levels, he coaches and consults with library leaders, boards, and associations to develop effective messaging and build strong community and political support for library funding. As a library director in Salt Lake City, Peter applied an equity lens to board development, operations, and policy development, garnering a Distinguished Service Award from the American Society for Public Administrators (ASPA) for his work in eliminating inequitable barriers to service.
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