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MELBOURNE — Community activists gathered around bonfires made of cardboard and tissue paper Saturday morning to stage a mock “book burning” across the street from Melbourne High School, with large cutouts of the faces of state and local government officials affixed to poles.
“Hey, hey! Ho, ho! Stupid woke people need to go! ” shouted Philip Stasik, former president of the Space Coast Progressive Alliance, wearing a shirt that read “dark money”.
Other progressive activists in uniform, such as Gov. Ron DeSantis, state Rep. Randy Fine, Moms for Liberty founder Tina Descovich, Brevard School Board Chairman Matt Sussin, and Moms for Liberty member Michelle Beavers, chimed in in favor of banning the books.
Beside them, a group of people roared in favor of the freedom to keep books on the shelves for everyone to read.
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It was all part of a demonstration organized by Foundation 451, a nonprofit that provides banned and challenged books to Brevard students, and the Awake Brevard Action Alliance, a nonpartisan group that promotes rallies in the county. The mock burning, which took place at 11am at the four corners of the intersection of Bulldog Boulevard and Babcock Street in Melbourne, involved about 50 protesters.
The protest used a technique called guerrilla theater, a performance method often performed in public spaces to draw attention to political or social issues through satire. More than 100 titles were available for free to students at the rally, and parents were asked to donate if they picked up books.
Anti-book ban protests across Florida over the past two years, which challenged or removed books from school libraries across the state, were brought up by Adam Tritt in December, he said.
“I said, ‘We need guerrilla theater, we need something, and this is what we’re doing,'” said the Brevard County teacher and founder of Foundation 451, whose idea is to work with cardboard by burning books. Aids.
“I want people to understand that this is happening,” Tritt said.
It’s a goal he shares with Fara Megarge, one of the founders of the Awake Brevard Action Alliance, and Dan McDow, a city council member in West Melbourne. The trio hoped to bring awareness to book bans and classroom restrictions across the county and state.
Although plans for the rally were made in December, the timing of the rally came less than a week after Manatee County’s school district told all secondary school classrooms to remove or hide their classroom libraries until the books are reviewed to meet new state standards. Teachers who find untested materials or books inappropriate could face a third-degree felony charge.
In Brevard, the books have been challenged since March 2022, when Beavers first raised concerns about inappropriate reading material for children. In December, the school board proposed a rule that nine books designated for formal review be available only to students 18 or older or students with written permission, while the review committee completes its work.
With DeSantis recently ruling against allowing an Advanced Placement course in African-American history to be taught in high schools, Megarge said he sees the banning of books and related works by politicians as an erasure of history.
“We’re basically looking at DeSantis and everybody who’s trying to erase history and black history, not just in elementary, high school, and now colleges. We are here to take a stand on that,” she said.
Lisa Superina lives in Melbourne Beach. Prior to that, she was an Italian language teacher at a New York high school for 32 years.
She said it upsets her as a former teacher and as an American to see reading being controlled among children.
“Fascism doesn’t show up one day and say ‘I’m here’ and take away all your rights,” she said. “It creeps up in increments, and this is the beginning … Now it’s in our faces, and they start in the books.”
Tritt, who has distributed more than 1,200 books since Foundation 451 started in March 2022, said he was determined to continue giving out banned books. He added that he only gives them to students who are 16 years old with ID or accompanied by a parent.
“You want to ban books? I leave them,” he said. “You want me to shut up about it? Give me a megaphone. Don’t you like this book? Can I have 50 copies of it? We are going to give them to children with parental permission.
Finch Walker is the education reporter for Florida Today. Contact Walker 321-290-4744 or [email protected] Twitter: @_FinchwalkR