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1984 or 2024? A Call To Arms Against Censorship At SXSW 

In a recent panel discussion at South by Southwest, echoes of George Orwell’s prophetic novel “1984” reverberated as a group of impassioned activists and advocates gathered to dissect the rising tide of censorship and extremism.

In Orwell’s dystopian world, where censorship and authoritarianism reign supreme, the seeds of today’s struggles against extremism and censorship were eerily sown. Fast forward to 2024, the parallels between his cautionary tale and contemporary challenges are unmistakable.

Central to the discussion was the profound impact of censorship and extremism on the freedom to read—an essential cornerstone of democracy.

Led by a diverse array of voices including Da’Taeveyon Daniels, a fervent student activist; Skye Perryman, President & CEO of Democracy Forward; Charley Rejsek, CEO of BookPeople; and Adam Webb, Executive Director of Advocates for All Arkansas Libraries, the panel delved into the perils of book censorship and its effect on democracy.

“We know that the vast majority of people in this country and the vast majority of people in this state, my home state of Texas, believe in the promise and potential of democracy,” said Perryman, emphasizing the need to fight against extremists who try to misuse the law and the courts to rollback rights.

Daniels, drawing on his experiences as a youth advocate, echoed this sentiment, declaring, “We’re young people, and we’re young minorities in this state, and we’re organizing around this because who else is doing it?”

Daniel said the  implementation of HB 900 was the reason young people had to rally since it was just telling them, “in my opinion, that we don’t matter,  in a sense, it’s telling us that certain books that represent our identities, and who we are as people don’t belong on school shelves.”

In May, the Texas Legislature approved HB 900, also known as the READER Act. This legislation prohibits schools from purchasing books deemed “sexually explicit” and mandates procurement from vendors following state-issued book rating guidelines. Despite Governor Greg Abbott’s endorsement in June, legal hurdles have arisen, delaying the law’s enforcement pending ongoing appeals.

Rejsek, reflecting on her experiences as a bookseller, emphasized the chilling effect of state interference on intellectual freedom, stating, “This law has sown a lot of confusion in our communities about what they can and can’t do, and it’s already creating self-censorship.”

“Schools and librarians tend to err on the side of safety if they think something is against the law,” Rejsek said. 

Ultimately, Librarians like Webb, found themselves on the front lines of this battle, contending with poorly worded laws that could lead to intrusive ID checks at library doors and outside pressure from groups like “Moms for Liberty.”

“We’re fighting against some rhetoric that’s, by and large, based on this notion that librarians are hurting kids, that we’re sexualizing kids because we have sex ed books in our libraries, and that we must be stopped,” Webb continued. “Conversely, if you fight back on it, your local government might get fed up with you, you know, be the nail that sticks up and then they fire you.”As the discussion drew to a close, one message rang clear: the battle against censorship is not confined to the pages of dystopian novels—it’s a real and present threat to democracy. But the panelist urged everyone to arm themselves with knowledge, activism, and solidarity so that society can turn the page on this Orwellian nightmare and defend the freedom to read for generations to come.

“We deserve to be represented, and we don’t deserve to be silenced, or diminished, or have our identities diminished, simply because Susie Joe over here doesn’t like something that’s in a book,” Daniels concluded.

Jovanka Palacios
Jovanka Palacios
Jovanka Palacios, a Mexican-American Politics Reporter and Managing Editor at RA's Gun Violence Watch, unveils the Capitol's inner workings. Focused on Public Education and Gun Policies, she passionately advocates for informed dialogue, delivering concise, impactful insights into the intricate political landscape.


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