Guest Column: Standing up to Republican effort to ban books


Monday, May 15, 2023

House Republicans recently brought to the floor H.R. 5 — a bill I call the “politics over parents” act, which would supercharge book bans like the ones Gov. Ron DeSantis has imposed on Florida and bring them to states across America, including here to Massachusetts.

At a time when so many of our basic rights — the freedom to read, learn, and think what we want — are on the line, we must stand up and fight back against any attempts to erase history and ban books.

The recent National Library Week is more than just a time to celebrate our libraries — it’s a time for action.

That’s why I recently found myself reading out “The Life of Rosa Parks” by Kathleen Connors from my seat on the House Rules Committee. Believe it or not, this book has been banned — deemed too controversial by a school district in Florida. The backlash was absurd. It was like a meeting of the Book Banners Association.

Ron DeSantis came after me. My Republican colleagues came after me. Even the school district in Florida that banned the book came after me. Thankfully, I had the receipts and called them out on Twitter.

Republican leaders said that their bill was about parent-teacher conferences and public disclosure of school budgets. The only problem — those things already happen.

Republican leaders said this bill was about helping kids. If we truly want to help kids, we should protect them from gun violence, get lead pipes out of schools, and address learning loss from the pandemic.

Democrats introduced dozens of amendments to do all those things. Republicans had the nerve to vote down every single one.

This wasn’t about helping kids or empowering parents. H.R. 5 was about banning books.

I never thought that reading a book about Rosa Parks would draw the full wrath of MAGA movement. But it did.

The bottom line is that when you decide to run for office, these kinds of attacks come with the territory. But others on the front lines of this fight — our teachers and librarians — never asked for this.

So we need to have their back.

Like never before, GOP leaders seek to politicize our education system and pit parents against teachers and librarians. They aren’t content with rewriting history — they want to erase books about Black and LGBTQ characters while injecting divisive culture wars into the classroom.

I’m committed to being a voice of reason in this fight, and I hope you will join me.

I’m asking for more federal funding for libraries, and I just led a letter to the House Appropriations Committee asking for generous funding for the Innovative Approaches to Literacy program that awards school libraries and nonprofits grants to provide families and kids in underserved communities with books.

In last December’s funding bill that passed the House, I secured over $1 million for renovations at Jones Library in Amherst. And on the House Floor and in the Rules Committee, I’ll continue to stand strong against these ridiculous attempts to ban books.

As a parent and the brother of two Worcester public school teachers, I see the real challenges our students and teachers face. Crumbling classrooms, gun violence, and terribly low teacher pay — that’s what we should be dealing with, not banning books about Rosa Parks.

It’s time for those who listen to Fox News to change the channel and see that teachers and librarians aren’t the monsters Tucker Carlson makes them out to be. They’re the heroes.

H.R. 5 passed the House on a party-line vote (I voted hell no). The Democratic Senate will not take it up. And President Joe Biden has said he would veto it if it ever got to his desk. But as long as one political party wants to ban books, we must not be silent.

America’s next chapter must be one of freedom — freedom to read what you want, be who you are, and make your own decisions about your own life. Together we need to improve public education, make our schools safer, and give kids, teachers, and parents the tools they need to thrive.

And together, we need to stand up for freedom. For our librarians. For our teachers. For our children. And for our future.

U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern represents the 2nd Congressional District of Massachusetts in the U.S. Congress.