In response to Texas Rep. Matt Krause’s published list of 850 books on race and sexuality that he targeted for their subject matter —many of which were pulled from school library shelves—a group of Texas school librarians has decided to push back. Last November, they orchestrated #FReadom Fighters, a social media campaign with the goal of supporting authors, teachers, librarians, and students in their pursuit of intellectual freedom. In a matter of months, the organization’s work has amassed thousands of supporters, both at the state level and across the country, and incited other likeminded groups to take action.
As the war on books persists, amid repeated requests from parents, state officials, and policy makers to ban books that speak to a broader culture, efforts from the #FReadom Fighters continue to ramp up by highlighting books that promote diversity and inclusivity. “The #FRreadom Fighters are a shining example of the power of librarians’ voices when there is a need to unite,” said Shirley Robinson, executive director of the Texas Library Association.
The concept for #FReadom Fighters germinated when two colleagues—retired Texas school librarian Carolyn Foote and Leander, Tex., school district coordinator Becky Calzada—shared with each other their frustrations about the growing number of book challenges. “When Krause released his list, that got us even more engaged,” Calzada said. Upon noticing the attention that the #txlege hashtag was receiving, they decided to stage a Twitter takeover by emphasizing the books they loved. After joining forces with two other school librarians (who remain anonymous), they invited other industry friends and authors to share positive messages about personally meaningful titles—using the #FReadom Fighters hashtag—and watched their efforts begin to take shape online.
On launch day, November 4, 2021, #FReadom Fighters garnered 13,000 tweets, much to the organizers’ surprise. “We had planned all this in secret, so we were amazed that this was happening even before starting a Twitter account,” Foote said. “We saw ourselves as a guerilla effort, serving as a rapid response team.” The @FReadomFighters Twitter account and website soon followed, updated with weekly and monthly action plans to support fellow librarians in their day-to-day operations. Ideas for #FReadom Fridays varied, from inviting authors to show letters they had received from readers about why their books were so powerful, to asking people to share books that had had an impact on them. A more recent prompt focuses on celebrating wins: sharing success stories of books that have been put back on shelves.
When posting on social media, participants are asked to tag #FReadom and #txlege, furthering their reach. Foote and Calzada believe in the power that these posts are having on the community at large. “It speaks to me about the hunger that people have to speak positively about defending libraries,” she said. For Calzada, it’s also about the hunger for connection. “Librarians are singletons in a school community and it can be very isolating for them,” she noted. “Using these hashtags allows them to connect with other librarians experiencing similar challenges.”
Strength in Numbers
Inspired by the work behind the #FReamdom Fighters movement, the TLA has taken its own steps to help support member librarians. Following the release of Krause’s list, the association issued a statement condemning censorship and infringement on students’ First Amendment rights. Webinars and training sessions designed to assist members with related concerns were conducted last fall, while a dedicated helpline was established in December to provide a listening ear for librarians. “Volunteers provide resources, answer questions and share their own experiences in responding to materials challenges,” Robinson said.
Also motivated by the #FReadom Fighters is former Texas high school English teacher-turned-author Ashley Hope Pérez, whose YA novel Out of Darkness (Holiday House, 2015) was challenged last year for its depiction of a romantic relationship between a Mexican American teenage girl and an African American boy. Following the viral video of a Texas mother’s criticism of Perez’s book at a local school board meeting, it was removed from high school libraries in Texas, Virginia, Utah, Kansas, Missouri, and Georgia. Pérez has since partnered with PEN America to advocate for the inclusion of diverse books and has been involved with #FReadom Fighters from the start. “Their efforts emphasize what these books that are under attack offer to young people: powerful, positive messages,” she said.
To date, the @FReadom Fighters account has nearly 6,700 followers and has yielded almost 4,000 tweets. “We are providing people with a mentor, not a model,” Calzada noted. “We were originally thinking about what’s happening in Texas, but we can also offer the opportunities for others to learn from us.” As evidence of a strong following, during the last FReadom Friday challenge, 40% of the letters written to school board members were from states other than Texas, including Pennsylvania, Virginia, Florida, Idaho, Utah, Washington, and Georgia.
As censorship continues to threaten schools’ access to books that represent all races, cultures, genders, and backgrounds, the work of the #FReadom Fighters is poised to become even more essential. “All students deserve to find themselves in books,” Robinson said. “We must protect our school librarians’ right to fulfill this vital role.”
“It’s our goal to keep us all on the straight and narrow... to be positive and a source of hope,” Foote said. “We are highlighting what’s going on, but we are also sharing solutions.”