Advice from Student Activists
By Heather Ford
This summer, Fandom Forward updated our annual “Accio Books” campaign to reflect the changing world around us and directly address the worrying increase in book bans throughout the United States.
During Book Defenders, we’re still donating tons of books to communities in need, but we’re also learning how to fight book bans and how to keep writing banned books — that is, keep writing stories that reveal the interesting, complicated, sometimes messy truth about the world as we see it.
One of our training events was a virtual panel entitled Spotlight on Student Activists — if you missed it live, you can still view it on YouTube here.
We had the pleasure of talking with Edha Gupta, Olivia Pituch, and Renee and Christina Ellis, all from Central York (PA) School District’s Panther Anti-Racist Union (PARU); Ava Kirtley of Walla Walla (WA) High School, and Ella Scott and Alyssa Hoy of Vandegrift High School in Austin, TX.
We learned so much from these panelists not just about how to fight book bans, but also each student had great advice on how to approach activism. Without further ado, here’s some advice from our student activist heroes!
Focus on the future
Edha Gupta advised fellow student activists to think about the future generations of students.
“Enough was enough. In my thirteen years in the school district, I had experienced lack of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), racism and microaggressions for being Indian-American. What I said to the school board didn’t resonate, and they went forward with the ban.
I felt betrayed and like there was a sense of urgency as there had been no steps and no actionable change. If my words were leading to no action, then my next step needed to be stronger to make change for future generations of Central York students.”
Think about visibility
Fellow PARU member Christina Ellis advised potential activists to think about visibility when planning actions.
“We protested before school opened in the morning,” she noted. “It’s not common to see students out that early, and it indicated that the ones who were out there really cared.”
Olivia Pituch added that while PARU protested, they also relied on an online petition and a fundraiser to raise awareness and visibility of the issues nationwide.
Re-examine needs and focus locally
Olivia said that while national visibility was helpful, having local, one-on-one conversations about why the book banning mattered also led to change.
Ava Kirtley also recommended focusing locally, noting that the local group “Fight For Our Kids” that was calling for book bans was not speaking to actual kids in the district.
Ella and Alyssa explained that they started as a club to read banned books, but then identified a need for student voices to be included in book banning reviews within their school district. Now, they’re working on an action of sending emails to the Board Governance Committee pushing for this student representation. You can participate in this action here!
How to support Book Defenders
This panel was a great addition to Fandom Forward’s first Book Defenders summer and if you want even more ideas on how to defend books, downloading the Book Defenders Toolkit is a great place to start!
When you take any action to defend books, don’t forget to submit your points to help your house (based on your favorite book genre) win the Book Defenders Cup! While you’re at it, snag one of our rad “We’ll Keep Reading” shirts, join our book club, or donate directly to Fandom Forward to help us continue defending books all summer.