Fargo writing party brings out dozens in defiance of proposed book restrictions
Overflow spilled out at Zandbroz Variety as dozens hunched over postcards writing to state representatives against a pair of North Dakota bills targeting "explicit sexual material" in books.
FARGO — Fifteen minutes after a letter writing party began inside a local bookstore in Fargo, it was standing room only.
Overflow spilled out into the main part of Zandbroz Variety as dozens of people hunched over postcards writing to their state representatives in opposition to a pair of North Dakota bills targeting "explicit sexual material" in books.
Josie Danz, manager of Zandbroz Variety, 420 N. Broadway, partnered with ACLU of North Dakota to put on the event, which stands in opposition to two bills that were advanced last month.
“We’re coming together to say that it’s not the government's role to tell people what they can or cannot read,” Josie Danz said.
Senate Bill 2360 would prohibit the display of sexually explicit material in places where minors are allowed, including depictions or written descriptions of nudity "to exploit sex, lust or perversion."
The bill would impose a Class B misdemeanor as a penalty, which carries a maximum punishment of 30 days in jail and a $1,500 fine.
House Bill 1205 would prohibit public libraries from “maintaining explicit sexual material,” which under the bill includes visual depictions of "human masturbation, deviant sexual intercourse, sexual intercourse" and other acts.
Supporters of the bills say the laws are needed to protect children from pornography.
“This is a slippery slope, where does it stop?" Joise Danz said. Many people are concerned about the legislation and how it will affect everyone, she added.
Dozens filled the back of the store Monday as the writing festivities got underway.
"This shows that people believe in the power of books,” said Josie Danz as she pointed around the room.
People will always be able to find the books they want, she noted. "And Zandbroz will be committed to that."
“If you want to ban a bunch of books, well, that can work drastically against you too," she added.
Josie Danz’s father, Greg, told attendees Monday to also contact Gov. Doug Burgum. “Chances are these bills will pass, he may be our best chance at vetoing these bills,” he said.
Jazmynn Ahmed came to the letter writing party because she believes the government should not censor the world away from the public.
“I’m here because I feel like the government should not be dictating what’s in the public domain,” said Ahmed, from Fargo.
Across the table from her, Fargo resident Lexx Francis was just beginning her letter.
“I’m queer and I’ve lived in North Dakota for a lot of my life," Francis said. "We cannot be erased, so I will be writing letters, knocking on doors, anything it takes."
Rynn Willgohs, who is on the board of the FM Pride Collective and Community Center, said she is trying to “promote some decency in this state. The lack of compassion and empathy and vision is just sucking everything out right now.”
Fargo Public Schools reported that the district already has a robust policy to select and challenge library and curriculum materials, and in testimony declared its opposition to the bills.
“If it becomes law, this bill would place an immediate, significant and costly burden on FPS staff and district resources,” said Greg Clark of the Governmental Affairs Committee in a press release.
The Fargo school district has more than 300,000 books, Clark said.
“Adding thousands of hours of work to pour over pages of books is a waste of our limited human resources, and it’s also a waste of taxpayer money,” he said.
Katie Christensen, a Fargo Public Schools board member, attended the letter writing party as a private citizen. She opposed the bills and has concerns about the impact the laws will have on librarians.
“To criminalize them for doing their jobs, it’s ridiculous,” Christensen said.
The ACLU of North Dakota also declared the bills unconstitutional in a press release.
“Communicating directly with our elected officials is a powerful advocacy tactic and can be very effective in making change in our state,” said Cody Schuler, ACLU of North Dakota advocacy manager. “We want to make sure North Dakota voices are heard.”
“I don’t know if our efforts will make a difference, but we have to try," Josie Danz said. "You can’t silence the voices you want to subdue."