Most readers of this blog are probably familiar with that famous quote from Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” If you are inclined to doubt that observation–inclined to dismiss as ineffective the efforts of small numbers of activists–I’ve got news for you.
Very small groups of people can have a very large impact, for good or not-so-good. Case in point: those proliferating book bans.
The Washington Post recently did a “deep dive” into the growing number of parental challenges to books in the nation’s classrooms and school libraries, and they found something counter-intuitive and very interesting. It turns out that a large percentage of the complaints come from “a minuscule number of hyperactive adults.”
And when the Post says “small,” it means small.The majority of the 1,000-plus book challenges analyzed by The Post were filed by just 11 people.
The Post requested copies of all book challenges filed in the 2021-2022 school year with the 153 school districts that Tasslyn Magnusson, a researcher employed by free expression advocacy group PEN America, tracked as receiving formal requests to remove books last school year. In total, officials in more than 100 of those school systems, which are spread across 37 states, provided 1,065 complaints totaling 2,506 pages.
Other findings from the Post’s investigation are unsurprising–the great majority of challenges focused on books with LGBTQ content, followed by those dealing with race.
The Post analyzed the complaints to determine who was challenging the books, what kinds of books drew objections and why. Nearly half of filings — 43 percent — targeted titles with LGBTQ characters or themes, while 36 percent targeted titles featuring characters of color or dealing with issues of race and racism. The top reason people challenged books was “sexual” content; 61 percent of challenges referenced this concern.
The people filing these objections evidently consider the identification of gender to be “sexual.” And I suppose any mention of race is “woke” and evidence of the incursion of that dreaded Critical Race Theory (which none of its critics can define).
In nearly 20 percent of the challenges, petitioners wrote that they wanted texts pulled from shelves because the titles depict lesbian, gay, queer, bisexual, homosexual, transgender or nonbinary lives. Many challengers wrote that reading books about LGBTQ people could cause children to alter their sexuality or gender.
“The theme or purpose of this book is to confuse our children and get them to question whether they are a boy or a girl,” a North Carolina challenger wrote of “Call Me Max,” which centers on a transgender boy.
The objections are to “sexual” content, but the Post reports that in “37 percent of objections against LGBTQ titles, challengers wrote they believed the books should not remain in libraries specifically because they feature LGBTQ lives or stories.”
The article is lengthy and very informative, but I continue to be fixated on that finding that, essentially, eleven people have managed to terrify teachers and librarians, exclude books (many of which have been read by students for decades without appreciably increasing the population of gays and lesbians or triggering psychotic episodes of racial regret…), and producing an enormous national culture war debate centering on censorship.
This is our political problem in a nutshell. The MAGA Republicans who are making government difficult or impossible represent distinct minorities of Americans. A significant number of the gerrymandered Congressional districts that send whack-a-doodles to Washington wouldn’t be safe for the GOP if most of the Democrats in that district came out to vote.
We bemoan the disproportionate influence of Fox “News” and its clones, but the audience for Rightwing media is a small proportion of the overall number of American viewers.
I keep insisting that if enough Democrats and sane Independents get sufficiently active, we can lance the MAGA boil–and I am increasingly convinced that “enough” just requires a relatively small activist base that focuses on a much bigger number: voter turnout.
Or look at it from another angle: If every Democrat and disaffected Republican could identify and register just one previously apathetic non-voter, and could get that non-voter to the polls, reasonable people could retake America, and we could return to the days of (relatively) boring arguments about policy.
Margaret Mead was right: the actions of small groups of thoughtful, committed Americans can send the MAGA warriors to wherever it was that former Americans sent the Whigs.