Florida Bans Books While Argentina Celebrates the Night of the Libraries

Corrientes Avenue, Buenos Aires Photo: Bill Hackwell

As the sun was setting in Buenos Aires this past Saturday, the vibrant Corrientes Avenue that goes through the center of the city was shut down. Corrientes is closely connected to Argentine culture; lined with theaters and bookstores and on this occasion it was dedicated to The Night of the Libraries and honoring 40 years of democracy since the bloody dictatorship. Reading, educating and never forgetting those dark years of the 1970s when the US backed Argentine military killed, or disappeared, over 30,000 people is important to the human core of this country to ensure that history will not repeat itself.

Teachers, authors, intellectuals, academics and young students spoke to crowds in panels covering a wide range of social topics, along with cultural performances. The City of Buenos Aires helped finance the event even with its Macrist Mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta of the right-wing Republican Proposal Party (PRO) who has already announced he is running for president in the general election in October; clearly his strategy was to not allow the Peronists currently in power to take the credit for this popular event.

Meanwhile in the US, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has taken a different approach to reading and libraries as he maneuvers to be more reactionary than other Republican candidates in his bid to get the nomination for US President in 2024 by banning books in his state.

In July 2022, DeSantis signed into law House Bill 1467 that requires that all books in Florida schools have to be screened by employees that had an educational media specialist certificate. The full impact of is just now taking affect as many districts hastily pulled all books off their library shelves and classroom until they are arbitrarily reviewed to be appropriate for “student needs” and if they do not meet approval they need to be covered and stored.

In Manatee County some parents are reporting that shelves of the school’s library are empty. Signs in Parrish Community High School bookcases have been covered with signs that read, “Books Are NOT for Student Use!!”

Florida teachers, who rank 48th in how much they get paid, are confused and now run the risk of possible professional ramification if they are not in compliance with the law and could possibly face felony charges for having unapproved books in their classroom.

One such dangerous book that has been covered and shelfed in Duval County is Roberto Clemente: Pride of the Pittsburgh Pirates by Jonah Winter that tells the story of the legendary Afro-Puerto Rican baseball player who won multiple Most Valuable Player awards, and was a strong voice against racism in the major leagues. Clemente died in a plane crash while delivering humanitarian aid to earthquake victims in Nicaragua in 1972.

The banning of books legislation is in conjunction with another reactionary Florida law promoted and signed by DeSantis in April 2022 known as the STOP WOKE Act which regulates instruction in schools and workplaces prohibiting discussions on primary issues like LGBTQ struggles, racism, and even Black, Latino or Indigenous history because according to the law it could make other students or workers “uncomfortable” to hear about slavery from a Black point of view for example. The law essentially requires teachers to monitor classroom discussion to prevent them from wandering into exchanging of ideas on a range of topics that are fundamental issues facing US society.

Back on Corrientes Avenue Saturday there were lots of books about socialist Cuba including books dedicated to the life of Fidel and photography books on the Cuban Revolution. I could not help but wonder just what access students in Florida have to any truthful accounts of not just the Cuban Revolution but also about the social gains that have been made there since 1959. Could they find out, for example, that Cuba has a higher life expectancy than the US despite the criminal unilateral blockade of the island that has gone on for over 60 years? Could they learn in school about how Cuba sent front line doctors to over 40 countries during Covid?, or the remarkable protection of life that Cuba has during the cycles of hurricanes that hit the island and how miserable in comparison the record in preparation that their state has when those hurricanes move onto their shores.

You don’t have to be an educator to know how fundamental reading a wide range of topics is for students in developing them into being critical thinkers, to be able to arrive at one’s own conclusion through education and to be able to distinguish between truth and fake news, or to question authority about issues of war and peace and why is it that billions get sent to fan the flames of war in Ukraine at the same time as 30 million people get kicked off of food stamps while inflation soars.

This is some kind of slippery slope with frightening consequences as other states are also enacting these extreme steps towards censorship. History teaches us that things change only when people have developed a consciousness and come together into collective movements to forge a new inclusive future that has freedom and respect for everybody as its goal.

Source: Resumen Latinoamericano – English

Bill Hackwell is an organizer with the International Committee for Peace Justice and Dignity and an editor for the English edition of Resumen Latinoamericano. Read other articles by Bill.