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You Will Pry this Book out of My Cold, Dead Hands

Free speech and freedom of expression, are some of the bedrock principles upon which our national experiment rests. Even now, as our society is tested by a deluge of unpopular and divergent speech, support for free speech remains sky high among Americans. In fact, according to recent data gathered from the Knight Foundation, among the rights afforded to us by the Constitution, only equal protection under the law, and the right to vote are considered more important:

The Devil, however, is in the details, and while support for the concept of free speech is near unanimous, some differences begin to emerge when the difficult realities of protecting free speech are considered. Notably, the Knight Foundation found, that there is a sizable partisan divide in how these challenges to free speech are weighed:

As the data shows, there is 20-point gap between Republicans and Democrats on the importance of issues ranging from spreading misinformation, to preventing individuals from inciting violence. This is certainly sobering, but before putting up our hands in despair, it’s important to look at the scale of the graph above, which only ranges from 50 - 100%. Even in the areas with the weakest support, we still see over 2/3 of Republicans report these issues as either “Extremely” or “Very” Important to them.

Context and perspective are always some of the most important aspects of interpreting the meaning we can derive from raw data. Sometimes the search for, and highlighting of, differences between groups even when technically accurate, can obscure how united we really are in the protection of free, and even divergent, speech. During these tumultuous times, the difference in perspective is not academic; as evidenced by the recent spate of despicable book burnings popping up across the country. We must treat this as a tactic by extremists, and not give it the legitimacy of a broad base of support, even among partisan circles, as this will only stoke the proverbial and literal flames, while simultaneously ignoring potential allies.

This type of intimidating violence, and fascistic censorship is indeed extremely dangerous, and if it isn’t confronted and publicly rebuked wherever it rears its head, the hateful contagion will only fester and grow. But while these events are flashy and horrifying, they are in many ways, however intrinsically terrible, a distraction from the more systemic attacks these groups are waging on our school systems. These deranged extremists are not only burning books and threatening educators, they are running for local school boards, ready to reshape the learning environment of the nation’s youth for years to come. In some states, like Florida or Texas, these local efforts are supplemented with statewide attacks on education, limiting curriculum, and monitoring teachers in classrooms. They know that the facts and the people aren’t on their side so they need to use intimidation and censorship tactics until a new generation can be properly propagandized.

Neither the methods of intimidation, nor the attempted hostile takeover of our public schools can be allowed to succeed. The safeguarding of our precious liberties from the freedoms of speech and assembly to the freedom to petition the government, needs constant tending and renewal from each subsequent generation. If these extremists are successful, in many parts of the country these rights will be in jeopardy.

To stop such well-funded and motivated individuals, will take a multi-pronged effort. We need people engaged politically at not just the national, but the local level. We need people of good will to run for school boards across the country in 2022 to blunt this attack. But the truth is, that just engaging on the social and political battlefields will not be sufficient to overcome this challenge, the same donors and propagandists that have supported so many reactionary agendas, are also fueling this hateful movement, and it is only in the economic arena that leverage can be found. In addition to local efforts, it will take a national, organized and united power movement, standing up and providing a countervailing force. So join us each Tuesday as we build the economic power necessary to protect our precious rights for future generations!

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