Support the local press. Unlock unlimited digital access to floridatoday.com Click here and sign up today.
MELBOURNE — With the faces of state and local government officials cut out on poles large, community activists gathered around a bonfire made of cardboard and tissue paper to hold a mock “book burning” across the street from Melbourne High School on Saturday morning.
“Hey! Ho, ho! Stupid wake up gotta go!” exclaimed Philip Stasek, former president of the Space Coast Progressive Alliance, who was wearing a T-shirt that read “Dark Money.”
Other progressive activists, dressed as Governor Ron DeSantis, state Rep. Randy Fine, Mothers for Freedom founder Tina Diskovich, Brevard School Board President Matt Susen, and Moms for Liberty School Board member Michael Beavers, stood screaming. Supporters of banning books.
Beside them, a group of people shouted in favor of the freedom to keep books on shelves, available for all to read.
Foundation severing ties with BPS:The Fine Arts group cuts ties with the Brevard Public Schools, citing the actions of Matt Sosen
School discipline:The Brevard School Board hopes the audit will clarify the school’s discipline discussion
It was all part of a single demonstration organized by the 451 Foundation, a nonprofit organization that provides banned and specific books to Brevard students, and the Awake Brevard Action Alliance, a nonpartisan group that promotes rallies in the county. The mock burning took place at 11 am on all four corners at the intersection of Bulldog Boulevard and Babcock Street in Melbourne, attracting around 50 protesters.
The protest used a technique called guerrilla theatre, a method of performance often performed in public to draw attention to political or social issues through the use of satire. More than 100 titles were given to students at the rally for free, with parents asked to donate if they were collecting books.
Adam Treat said the book ban outcry that has occurred across Florida over the past two years, with books being challenged or removed from shelves altogether in school libraries across the state, was something Adam Treat came up with in December.
“I said, ‘We need guerrilla theater, we need something, that’s what we do,'” said the founder of the 451 Foundation and Brevard County educator, adding that the idea was to work on book burnings through the use of cardboard props.
“I want people to realize that this is happening,” Tritt said.
It’s a goal he shared with Fara Megarge, co-founder of the Awake Brevard Action Alliance, and Dan McDow, a West Melbourne City Councillor. The three hoped to spread awareness about book bans and classroom restrictions across the county and state.
Although plans were made for the December gathering, the timing of the gathering came less than a week after the Manatee County school district told all high school classrooms to remove or cover their classroom libraries so that the books could be reviewed according to the new state standards. Teachers who have unreviewed materials or books that are inappropriate may face a third-degree felony charge.
At Brevard, the book challenge has been taking place since March 2022, with Beavers first raising concerns about reading material that may not be suitable for children. In December, the school board proposed a rule stating that nine books scheduled for formal review would be available only to students 18 or older, or students with written permission, while a review committee completes its work.
With DeSantis’ recent decision not to allow an advanced course in African American history to be taught in high schools, Megarge said she considers book bans and related actions by politicians an erasure of history.
“We’re basically looking at DeSantis and everyone trying to strip history and black history away, not just in elementary schools, high schools and now colleges. And we’re just here to take a stand on it,” she said.
Lisa Subrina lives in Melbourne Beach. Prior to that, she worked as a high school Italian teacher in New York for 32 years.
Seeing her restricted reading among children upsets her both as a former teacher and as an American, she said.
“Fascism is not going to show up one day and say, ‘Here I am,’ and take away all your rights,” she said. “It creeps in, in increments, and that’s the beginning… It’s now blatant, in our faces, and they start with the books.”
Treat, who has distributed more than 1,200 books since the 451 Foundation’s inception in March 2022, said he is determined to continue distributing banned books. He added that it only gives it to students who are 16 years old with an ID card, or students accompanied by a parent.
“Do you want to ban books? He said. “Do you want me to be cool about it? Give me a megaphone. Don’t like this book? Can I have 50 copies of it, please? And we will give them to the children, with the permission of the parents.”
Finch Walker is an education reporter for FLORIDA TODAY. Contact Walker at 321-290-4744 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: _finshooks