THE COMIC BOOK Legal Defense Fund, a nonprofit group that fights to defend the First Amendment on behalf of the comics community, says it isn’t quite sure what to expect in a new Donald Trump era.
“CBLDF is preparing our resources for the uncertain legal climate of 2017,” Charles Brownstein, executive director of the Oregon-based organization, tells The Washington Post’s Comic Riffs. “While we don’t know what the Trump administration’s Justice Department priorities towards the First Amendment will be, we are already seeing local incidents providing cause for alarm.”
Such incidents, the group says, include a Tennessee activist-parent who spearheaded a recent attempt to get a textbook on Islam removed from a seventh-grade world history class, and the legal threat faced last month by a Saugerties, N.Y., bookstore that put up a window display that linked Trump to Nazism.
In the former case, the CBLDF joined the Kids’ Right to Read Project in defending the use of the textbook, sending a letter to Sullivan County, Tenn., school officials that pointed to First Amendment protections. In the latter case, the Media Coalition, of which the CBLDF is a member, assisted in a resolution being reached. (The bookstore owner faced no fines or violations as long as the display was removed soon after the election.)
“It’s chilling,” Brownstein says of the New York case, “that an exercise of those rights led to legal threats.”
And the Tennessee case has echoes of recent attempts to have Marjane Satrapi’s acclaimed graphic novel “Persepolis” removed from library shelves in several communities in Illinois and Oregon — where, the CBLDF says, the book’s subject matter surrounding the Iranian revolution prompted censorship attempts.
“If a climate of religious intolerance continues to build,” Brownstein says, “we anticipate even more challenges to ‘Persepolis’ and other books protected by the First Amendment rights to free speech and exercise of religion.”
Brownstein, who has guided the CBLDF since 2002, anticipates that he will see more such localized cases. “The organization’s history shows that in times of cultural division,” he says, “local communities can be incubators for cases threatening the First Amendment.”
Yet trends in comics-industry cases go beyond the president-elect. “The pace of censorship cases affecting comics in school and library environments has risen steadily in the past three years,” Brownstein notes. “We’re preparing for more of these, and also marshaling our education resources to encourage a culture of respect and appreciation for the diversity of free expression that comics can nurture.”
To that end, the CBLDF is mounting its own campaign as part of #GivingTuesday, a global day of focused fundraising efforts that is timed to help kick off a season of charity.
“Our #GivingTuesday effort simultaneously helps raise the funds we need to do [First Amendment] work, while also providing an opportunity for individuals to assert their support for the notion that ‘Comics Are for Everybody,’ ” says Brownstein, citing a phrase the group has embraced.
“Comics are an inclusive art form that requires nothing more than the ability to make and share images,” Brownstein continues. “Anyone can make a powerful difference in society by speaking their mind with comics.”