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How are young people grappling with threats to democracy?

 September 13, 2023 at 4:14 PM PDT

S1: It's time for Midday Edition on Kpbs. Today , we are talking about the state of our democracy and what threatens it. I'm Jade Hindman. Here's to conversations that keep you informed , inspired and make you think. While researchers say our democracy is in decline , there is hope.

S2: I think young people are going to be the ones to save us if we are saved.

S1: Plus , from book bans to classroom censorship , how does it all impact democracy and what's driving it ? We'll also talk about the laws restricting what teachers can discuss in the classroom. That's ahead on Midday Edition. Democracy Day is this Friday. And for part two of our Democracy Day show , we're talking about various threats to our current democracy and how it will impact the next generation. I'm joined by Barbara F Walter. She's a political scientist and professor of international affairs at UC San Diego's School of Global Policy and Strategy. Her most recent book , How Civil Wars Start and How to Stop Them , looks at the state of American democracy and the risks it currently faces. I want to talk about current declines in our democracy.

S2: I think most Americans , or at least half of America , breathed a sigh of relief when Joe Biden was elected because he really does believe in democracy. And they thought , oh , our democracy is going to be fine. And Biden also in the Democrats , also won the House of Representatives in the Senate. So if you actually wanted to strengthen our democratic institutions , that's the situation that's most likely to allow that. And Biden tried in his first term early in his first term , he he wanted to push through reforms like perhaps eliminating the filibuster. And the problem was that he didn't have the votes , even though he had majorities to senators weren't willing to to back the Democrats , and so they couldn't get it through. What that means is that our democracy today is no stronger than it was during the Trump era. It was it's no stronger today than it was on January 6th during the insurrection. It's sort of unsteady state. But are the America's democracy is actually quite vulnerable to backsliding. It has a whole series of undemocratic features that pretty much few other healthy democracies have. And it means that it depends very heavily on the honor of the president. So if you have a president who actually believes in democracy and is willing to adhere to the norms of democracy and is is willing to sort of not try to eliminate some of the democratic guardrails , then you're okay. But if you have somebody like Trump or somebody who would prefer for their party to remain in power for forever , then our system is a system that allows that to happen more easily than a country , for example , like Switzerland or Denmark or Canada.

S1: And you've mentioned before that the US became more of an anarchy after the January 6th insurrection.

S2: And it became important because we figured out that inaccuracy was one of the best predictors of whether a country was at risk of political violence and political instability and inaccuracy is just a fancy term for partial democracy. It's a government that's neither fully democratic nor fully autocratic. It's something in between. And the way it's measured is on a scale from negative ten to positive ten. And for many , many years , the United States was at positive ten. That's where you want to be positive. Ten or all the the healthy democracies and negative ten are all the fully autocratic countries like Saudi Arabia or Bahrain or North Korea. Political violence tends to happen between negative five and positive five. This is this instability zone that you really want to try to avoid. And I think one of the things that's important for Americans to understand is that democratic backsliding is is scary. Most Americans think , well , we are so far from being a North Korea , we don't have to worry about that. It's going to take a lot for the United States to slip from the top of the scale positive 10 to -10. And what they don't realize is , no , no , it's the middle zone that's the most dangerous zone. And the United States was officially classified as an inaccuracy at positive five by the end of 2020. We've since gone up. We're now at a positive eight. But again , that's only because the United States had a peace , ultimately had a peaceful transfer of power. And it's only because the next administration actually has honored democracy and has not tried to undercut it. So we're in this precarious position at positive eight. We haven't gotten back to positive ten where we were for many , many decades. I don't see that happening anytime soon. And really the 2024 election and who is who is victorious there will really. Really determine what direction we go in the future. In the near future.

S1: Has the US been here before ? In all of our history.

S2: So the US has been an inaugural. It wasn't an ocracy ? No. Well , let me think. Let me think know. Actually , the US was at positive eight in the 19 in the 1960s. We have never been at an inaccuracy prior to today. Wow.

S1: Wow. You know , this year's theme for Democracy Day is empowering the Next Generation.

S2: It's not going to come from the top down. It's not going to come from institutional reform. It's going to take years and years and years to strengthen America's democracy institutionally , to make the democratic reforms that we need , for example , like getting rid of the Electoral College , getting rid of the filibuster , equalizing the Senate so that it's much more representative of the American public. There's going to be big , big fights over those institutional changes. So that change is going to be glacial. That means that change and reform is going to have to come from the bottom up and it's going to have to come from citizens and their willingness to go out and vote. You know , one of the things that we know is that the demographic that's least likely to vote and this is it has been like this for generations , are 18 to 25 year olds. They they they simply aren't as engaged as older Americans , but they have the most to lose by democratic decline. And of course , they have the most to gain by having their voices heard. So if they begin to come out to vote in big numbers , that could have a transformative effect. And let me just give you an example. If you look at some deep red states like Tennessee or Kentucky and you look at turnout in their elections , in their primaries , especially , about 20% of eligible voters , eligible voters , that's not 20% of the population. That's 20% of eligible voters go out and vote in those primaries. That means 80% of eligible voters are standing on the sidelines. So what that tells us is we think , for example , that Tennessee is a deep red state , but we actually don't know. What we know is that Tennessee is a non voting state. So , again , if all of those American citizens who are eligible to vote went out and voted , that would have an unbelievable effect on on the makeup of Congress , the makeup of the Senate. Those candidates would almost certainly be much more moderate than the candidates that we have today. And they would have an easier time reaching across party lines to actually get something done.

S1: You're listening to Kpbs Midday Edition. I'm Jade Hindman here with Barbara Walters. She is a political scientist and professor of international affairs at UC San Diego School of Global Policy and Strategy. And we are talking about Democracy Day and where the country stands right now. I want to talk about classrooms , too. They've become a battleground for culture wars. We're seeing a coordinated effort to ban books , for example , and erase historical narratives that don't center a white perspective.

S2: What's happening in the United States today is that white Americans , at least a subset of white Americans , feel deeply threatened by the changing demographics here , by the changing identity of the country. And they believe think about MAGA Republicans. They believe that this country is theirs and that they have a patriotic duty to ensure that American remains a white Christian nation. Now that is increasingly impossible to guarantee because in a one person , one vote system , if you are a declining demographic , you're going to get fewer and fewer of the votes over time. MAGA Republicans of course understand this. And so one of the things that they want to do is they want to basically ensure that they can continue to win at the state level , at the federal level , continue to win the presidency , even if they don't get a majority of the votes. Now they're playing a long game and they're playing a multifaceted game. And one of the things that they have to do is , for example , convince enough Americans that maybe democracy isn't the best system. Maybe we'd be better off if we had someone who. Was very a strong man in power. A law and order president. Someone who could make the trains run on time. And until recently , many of these MAGA Republicans pointed to China as an example of of a system that actually works. Of course , we're now seeing how that's turning out. And and you do this in a variety of ways. One of the ways you do it is by controlling information. You put out a narrative that elections are fraudulent , elections are stolen. You put out a narrative that slavery , for example , in some respects benefited African Americans. And then , of course , you want to control the narrative in the history books and the histories that are being taught to our children. So they grow up thinking that , in fact , America should be a white Christian nation , that that whites are increasingly being discriminated against. So controlling the narrative becomes really , really important in crafting a belief among citizens that what the Republicans would like to do is actually justified. And history books and books in general are a powerful means to do that.

S1: I know that you've written and studied a lot about the indicators of civil war.

S2: And the goal of that task force was to help the US government predict what countries around the world were likely to experience political violence and civil war. And the two biggest factors that we discovered were highly predictive was this inaccuracy variable. Civil wars tend to happen in countries that are inaccuracies. And the second big factor was whether the citizens in these inaccuracies had organized their political parties around race , ethnicity or religion rather than ideology. So rather than voting based on whether you're conservative or liberal , you're voting based on whether you're Serb or Croat , Tutsi or Hutu , black or white. And so , of course , if you look at the United States , we dipped into the inaccuracy territory at the end of the Trump era. But our political parties are also increasingly divided by race. The vast majority of African Americans , Latinos , Muslims , Jews , atheists vote Democrats , while 80% around 80% of white Americans vote for the Republican Party. And this , of course , is in a country that's multiracial , multi-ethnic and multi-religious. So those would be , by our definition , pretty classic identity based parties.


S2: We saw in the midterm elections in places like Wisconsin , for example , high turnout rates , unprecedented high turnout rates for 18 to 25 year olds. They were seemed very well informed about who the people were who were denying the 2020 election. They seemed highly motivated to vote in elections that were trying to reduce or eliminate their right to an abortion. The ruling , the Dobbs ruling , has galvanized them. And so what you're seeing is when you have those young people voting and when they when they see how they fit into these elections and how it could affect their lives , they seem quite willing to go out and vote. And the outcome in those elections was was quite different and quite surprising from what would normally have happened if they hadn't voted.

S1: I've been speaking with Barbara F Walter , Professor of International Affairs at UC San Diego School of Global Policy and Strategy. Professor , as always , thank you so much for joining us.

S2: My pleasure. Thanks for having me.

S1: What are your thoughts about our democracy ? Give us a call at (619) 452-0228. You can leave a message or you can email us at midday at Coming up , the conversation continues with Professor Sarah Clark Kaplan , who looks at our democracy through the lens of gender and race studies.

S3: But more long term think the threat to democracy is very much to the threat of our future leadership and our future civic engagement.

S1: You're listening to Kpbs Midday Edition. Welcome back. You're listening to Kpbs Midday Edition. I'm Jade Hindman. This year's theme for International Democracy Day is Empowering the Next Generation. It focuses on young people's essential role in advancing democracy and make sure their voices are heard. It comes at a time when disinformation , misinformation and attacks on education and bodily autonomy are putting their freedoms at risk. We want to know how these threats to democracy will affect young people and why it's important to make sure the next generation knows America's turbulent history and are prepared to lead. I'm joined by Sarah Clark Kaplan. She's a literature professor and executive director of American University's Antiracist Research and Policy Center. She was also a professor of ethnic studies and critical gender studies at UC San Diego. Professor , welcome back to Midday Edition.

S3: Thanks so much for having me back , Jade.

S1: Glad to have you. So I want to start with the classroom. There's a growing movement to ban books and suppress curricula about race , sexuality and gender in public schools. We see it in state level legislation across the country and coordinated efforts in some San Diego school districts. Even Poway Unified , Oceanside Unified , Rancho Santa Fe , for example.

S3: First is just very short term. Many of these threats are emerging from Christian right groups. Many of these threats are emerging from groups that are seeking to undermine the separation between church and state and between personal family values and public education. So at the most basic level , the even the attempts to create these policies and to implement them across school districts based on people's political and religious beliefs is clearly a severe limit on free expression and on making available a public education that benefits everyone. But more long term , I think the threat to democracy is very much to the threat of our future leadership and our future civic engagement. We know that students who are better informed about the history of the United States in all of its complexity , with all of its conflicts , and even particularly the mistakes we may have made that we've learned from are better equipped to be leaders in the future. We also statistically know that when students have a better understanding of people who are different from them , when they have understanding of different beliefs , different cultures , different backgrounds and experiences , that they tend to not only be more open minded , more leaning towards justice in their practices and behaviors , but that they tend to in fact be more civically engaged , more involved citizens and more active in public life. So these are qualities that we want to stress , whether these are the beliefs that you particularly support , in which case I certainly do , or whether they're even things that make you uncomfortable. We're not going to turn out a future generation of change makers and leaders by avoiding everything that makes them uncomfortable.

S1: And of course , we've talked before about the importance of ethnic studies and the backlash against it by rebranding and falsely calling it critical race theory in classrooms.

S3: This is linked to those earlier attacks on ethnic studies under the auspices of critical race theory. I think what we see is that those narrow attacks on critical race theory got some traction , that people began to be scared , but that they were a little bit too narrow and that they were a little limited in terms of their implications and their outcome. And now we see that those attacks are getting broader and broader , that now the attacks are not simply against this narrow idea of critical race theory , but against teaching literally any histories of non-white people in the United States. Any perspective of US history or us present culture that thinks about equity , justice or the experiences of marginalized folks , We're seeing increasingly anxieties about anything outside of a very narrow idea of what family looks like , of how love and desire function or how gender exists. And those attacks are definitely part of the same attempt to return to some imagined good old days , where a very small percentage of the US public were seen as the norm and as the correct way to live , and that all the rest of the histories , experiences and perspectives were erased or seen as secondary.

S1: But , you know , even the history about white people in America is incorrect in most history books.

S3: I was actually just talking to students the other day about how many of them had to come to college and take a class in critical race , gender culture studies or in ethnic studies to learn about things even like the history of the racialization of Irish Americans or of Italian Americans , of the histories of anti-Semitism in factory work and in college admissions. So I think that what we are seeing increasingly is a desire to have a return to a kind of history that is focused on an understanding of America as having always been a place where everybody had equal opportunity. And that's simply not the case. We know who it was who had equal opportunity. And it was not simply just people of color who were excluded. It was also people who came from white ethnic communities. It was poor people , right ? It was people with disabilities. It was people with different gender identities and different sexualities. And so I think what we're increasingly seeing is a need to push back against the desire to recenter a narrow history.

S1: You know , scholars and teachers and ethnic studies can feel pressured to to really downplay their work and say it's it's , quote , just American history , which it is. But it's important for young people and everyone really to learn this history , even when it might feel uncomfortable. Right ? Absolutely.

S3: And I think , you know , you and I talked about this a while ago when we were talking about critical race theory and people were saying , oh , critical race theory is just American history. And I was saying it's not. And it's important that we own that , that when we shift our lens to think about how the history of the US and the progress and growth and the amazing things about the US come not simply from this UN , you know , this pure history or this undamaged history of equity and justice and freedom for all. But when we can understand that when we apply a lens of racial and gender bias , right , that history of racial and gender bias to understanding how we got where we are , that it gives us the ability to really transform how we engage in politics , how we pursue democracy for all , and how we understand social justice. So when we talk about ethnic studies or critical race theory or African American history or gender studies , what we're talking about is something that is not just history. It's history with the capacity to produce justice , equity and democracy for everyone. And that is both incredibly important and powerful and understandably for some incredibly scary.

S1: You're listening to Kpbs Midday Edition. I'm Jade Hindman speaking with Sarah Clarke Caplan , executive director of American University's Anti-Racist Research and Policy Center , about various threats to democracy and what it means for the next generation. Professor and the Dobbs decision. It made abortion access even more complex for adolescents.

S3: Not only do they have fewer options to seek access to medical termination without parental consent , but even the places where they might go that might be safe are now increasingly being shut down , being underfunded , being surveilled. And we know that adolescents are far less likely to be able to travel to another state to be able to get online and order medical support for a pregnancy termination online because they won't have the resources or the funds or the access to do so. So we know that adolescents fall into that incredibly vulnerable population who have less access than adults who are pregnant to seeking what they need to control their own reproduction.

S1: And another decision earlier this year , the Supreme Court ended race conscious admissions in private universities.

S3: Were on the representation of traditionally underrepresented people in higher education in California. We know that the elimination of race conscious admissions has a profound chilling effect on not only the acceptance rate , but the the attendance rate of students of color in higher education , that students of color are not only less likely to be admitted , but they are also less likely to attend universities with demographic underrepresentation of other students of color. We're now seeing that same consequence be carried out across the nation and what it means combined with these attacks on things like African American studies , ethnic studies and gender studies in schools , is that we're going to not only see less representation in the curriculum of marginalized peoples and marginalized histories , we're also going to see fewer of those bodies in our college classrooms. There's literally a kind of return to the 1960s happening here , where we're seeing a kind of desire to imagine a colorblindness without any of the programs in place to ensure that we know the histories of where this has taken us before the limits of these kinds of policies and the profound and uneven effects that they will have on young people of color. Hmm.

S4: Hmm.

S1: So we've been talking about these attacks on public education , schools and reproductive rights.

S3: I think what we're seeing here is the desire to return to a very narrow understanding of whose lives matter in America and whose lives have value , whose histories are true or real , whose who should be reproducing and who should not , what babies should be being born and being encouraged to be being born. What students and people should be have access to higher education and in fact have the level of civic engagement that comes out of this. I would go further and say that there is not only a relationship between the attempt to control what students learn about gender and sexuality and young people's access to reproductive autonomy. There's not only a connection between who's bodies will have access to higher education and whose histories will be taught in those college and elementary school classrooms , but that all of these are connected to the attacks on voting rights , that these are connected to the attempts to gerrymander voting districts in states throughout the South and parts of the West. We see here an attempt to return to an era of a so-called Great America in which a small , middle to upper class , white heteronormative family had access to power and everyone else was seen as a second class citizen.


S3: And what we're seeing here is the creation of policies of access and of education and information that truly make it difficult for those of us who have traditionally been marginalized and lacked access to rights , to equity and to opportunity. The once again , we're losing those opportunities to have our voices heard and to be part of the democratic process and to benefit from our society in the ways that others do.

S1: I've been speaking with Sarah Clarke Caplan , executive director of American University's Antiracist Research and Policy Center. Professor , thank you so much for joining us.

S3: It's been a pleasure , Jade. Happy Democracy Day.

S1: Happy Democracy Day. Coming up , we'll break down what educational intimidation is and how it's impacting our democracy.

S5: It's essentially trying to chill students. So across the board , you know , what's the common factor ? It is this effort to intimidate and undermine faith in public education.

S1: You're listening to Kpbs Midday Edition. Welcome back. You're listening to Kpbs Midday Edition. I'm Jade Hindman. Education is a key part of democracy. Studies show that schooling promotes civic participation , like voting and organizing , and teaches young people how to interact with others. But there's a coordinated effort to censor certain themes in the classroom. So how might that impact the future of democracy ? I'm joined by Jonathan Friedman to explore that question. He is the director of Free Expression and education programs at Pen America. Jonathan , welcome.

S5: Thanks for having me.

S1: So glad you are joining us. So we're seeing this surge in what Pan America dubs educational intimidation bills.

S5: And what a lot of the public focus has been has been concentrated around what I would call explicit directives , you know , prohibitions on teaching certain things about race or gender or sexuality. But there has actually been alongside it a set of what we have called these intimidation bills. And what we're essentially doing is saying that these are a group of different kinds of proposals , but share the commonality that their goal appears to be to create the conditions to intimidate teachers. And they may not , you know , include explicit prohibitions of a more censorious nature. But what they do is they do things like , say , that every teacher must record for any member of the public everything that they teach in a way that opens up the classroom essentially to activists who want to file challenges. Now , of course , you know , lots of information about curriculum ought to be available to parents known as objecting to that. But what is happening so much in this legislation that we're we're calling attention to is an effort to kind of twist the existing agreements around the ways in which this work to put new burdens on teachers or librarians and essentially create these conditions under which , you know , every teacher or librarian , you know , will feel like they need to , you know , check over their shoulder. And then some of these bills are deeply anti-lgbtq. And what they do is they put new pressures on teachers or school administrators to essentially monitor the ways that students behave or dress in school. So it's essentially trying to chill students. So across the board , you know , what's the common factor ? It is this effort to intimidate and undermine faith in public education.


S5: Some bills concentrate the power to make decisions about curriculum or library materials in new politicized bodies. Other bills include new criminal penalties for teachers or other educators or other personnel on staff in a school. And then there have been , you know , a wide range of other things that haven't been passed into law anywhere yet. But you can see the kinds of ideas that are being what I would say is just sort of like introduced willy nilly , you know , to put video cameras or live feeds in classrooms or to open up any day of professional development for teachers so that any member of the public could sit in on it and sort of like comment or disrupted in some way. And so , you know , each of these things in one way or another seems designed to put new pressures on teachers and new pressures on school districts.


S5: We're talking about over three years now , a range of proposals to make it harder to be a librarian , to make it harder to be a teacher , to , you know , monitor students , to ban books and put new powers in the hands of a vocal minority. And it's pretty clear when you look across the board that this is a kind of maybe loosely federated but somewhat coordinated movement , a campaign of a kind to either a undermine faith in public education entirely or be concentrate the powers to control education and public schooling in the hands of a vocal , you know , ideologically oriented minority who have made no bones about the fact that they want to remove references to LGBTQ people from schools entirely or references to racism. They have freely opposed books just because they contain , you know , characters of color or like Martin Luther King or Rosa Parks. ET cetera. And I think it's the carelessness , actually , with which , you know , all kinds of books are being banned or all kinds of lessons are being channeled. That is so concerning here , which is that a lot of this is really vague. And so it's having this much bigger chilling effect on the ways in which people teach.


S5: You know , how does that happen ? It happens through copy and paste. Everyone's , you know , a favorite , you know , bill making mechanism. And so a lot of these bills seem to have come from right wing think tanks or other allies behind the scenes. They appear in multiple states relatively quickly. They jump from one state to another. If you look at something like a bill that has passed into law in Iowa , SF 496 , which was in the news recently for leading to some schools banning books. That bill is modeled on what was once the don't Say Gay bill in Florida. And it's a very similar language. But then it's also picked up some other bits of language from other bills in other states. So it's clear that there is a degree of coordination here in how this is moving and that , you know , it's not like this was being demanded by some , you know , wave of parents. You know , every poll that I've seen , a parent says that they actually like their public schools. You know , people were upset about the school closures during the pandemic. I think that most parents are concerned about the learning loss in that circumstance and because of it and want schools to not become the sort of culture war battlegrounds that they're becoming. And so I don't think that they have made these demands of politicians in the ways that the politicians are claiming.


S5: We have a strong commitment to the notion of free speech and open access to ideas. And when you look for templates for what is happening in the United States right now , they most readily come from authoritarian countries , either historically or , you know , around the world today. When you look at the kinds of countries that are trying to censor and suppress historical narratives and books in schools and , you know , threaten teachers and , you know , declare that certain books with gay characters can't be accessed in the public sphere. I mean , all of that is tactics that we do associate with authoritarian countries and for good reason. And they're the kinds of things that in the United States we have historically opposed. And so all of that is ultimately in service of undermining democracy. You're undermining the power of the people to make these determinations , whether that's the power of local school boards or local governments or local parents. And one of the biggest ironies of all of this is that it is actually the vast majority of parents whose rights are being undermined , you know , by bills that are being passed in their name. And that's that's the , you know , the cruel irony , I think , at the center of a lot of this.

S1: You're listening to Kpbs Midday Edition. I'm Jade Hindman. I'm speaking with Jonathan Friedman , the director of Free expression and education programs at Penn America , about educational intimidation bills and what it means for democracy. And , Jonathan , I want to talk about the impact on our youth.

S5: I think that's a real detriment to young people. And , you know , when you see , you know , a group of ten year olds in Florida who are saying they went to school and there were no books on the shelves , I mean , that is just such a sad state of affairs. And so I think that that right now is a time where young people are being said that they are , you know , on college campuses like censors , you know , that they are stopping free speech of other people. But at the same time , you know , those students are looking to their elected leaders and this is what they're seeing them do.


S5: And that's the element of the pushback. And I think it's really important that people realize that there are organizations like Pan America and our allies and local parents groups and students groups around the country who are trying to push back about this , who are trying to raise public awareness , who are trying to make it harder for school districts to remove books or for politicians to , you know , claim that all of this is made up. But right now , you know , there is a deficit in public awareness. And I think that for a lot of people in a lot of parts of the. Who might feel compelled to do something about this issue. They're sort of asking themselves , well , what could they do ? What power do they have ? And so , you know , the next part of any response to this is going to be trying to link up with those people and essentially empower them , because this is an effort to disempower an effort to concentrate power in the hands of the few.

S1: And if you can connect the dots for me between these bills and book bans , that's also something pen America has tracked across the country.

S5: That has been quite effective. And it's taken on a few different tactics in different parts of the country. But some common things that are done are sending long lists of books to schools saying that you object to everything on the book on the list , or that you say that the books that have any sex in them whatsoever are pornographic. School districts buckle under the pressure and they immediately remove all those books and sometimes they launch these sort of long winded reviews of the books. Sometimes the books go back after a long period , other times they don't. They decide to remove them. And a degree of public commentary and evaluation of books like this is absolutely acceptable. But it is the scale and scope of this that's getting so out of control. The thing is , you can't have a library like that. You can't run public schools like that. You're basically going to be catering to or trying to create some kind of lowest common denominator as opposed to a kind of rich educational environment where people are challenged and exposed to different ideas and able to ask questions. And that's the kind of school that most of us want kids to to go to and how most of us think , you know , when we reflect on our own educations , what we prize , you know , about those experiences. So I think that that , you know , all of this is deeply interconnected. And in fact , many of the laws , one of the things that they do that seems , you know , maybe not maybe doesn't seem nefarious , but it a lot of the times , a lot of these state laws grant new powers to those who want to challenge books , but they don't really offer the same protections for those who want to keep books in schools.


S5: And then if you look at like public school libraries , if they're removing books , you know , most school libraries do not have endless budgets. They're making decisions about what books to put on shelves. So , you know , decisions from this year and last year and the year before that are impacted by this climate , you know , are going to carry forward for the years ahead. And so even if today , even if right now all of this went away , the fear mongering and the intimidation and the punishments for teachers and all that , and the people who want to remove all LGBTQ books from schools , I think it would still take a little bit for schools to return to where they were. And that's what I worry about , that that we may not actually even be able to get to a place where teaching once again and schools once again are seen as , I don't know , places of community where people can ask questions , work out issues , learn and serve a kind of greater public , shared public good.

S1: I've been speaking with Jonathan Friedman , director of Free expression and education programs at Penn America. And Jonathan , thank you so much.

S5: Thank you so much.

UU: What thoughts do you.

S1: Have about our democracy ? Do you think it's in decline ? If so , why ? Give us a call at (619) 452-0228. Leave a message or you can email us at midday at We'd love to share your ideas and if you ever miss a show , you can find the Midday Edition podcast on all platforms. I'm Jade Hindman. Thanks for listening.

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These books have been banned in several public schools and libraries across the U.S. amid a wave of book censorship and restrictions.
Ted Shaffrey
These books have been banned in several public schools and libraries across the U.S. amid a wave of book censorship and restrictions.

The 2023 theme for International Democracy Day is “Empowering the next generation.”

In Wednesday's Midday Edition, we explore various threats to democracy and what it means for young people.

Plus, a look at these risks to democracy through an ethnic studies and critical gender studies perspective. And finally, why “educational intimidation” bills are spreading across the country — and what it means for students' freedom of expression.


Barbara F. Walter, Rohr Professor of International Affairs at UC San Diego’s School of Global Policy and Strategy

Sara Clarke Kaplan, executive director of American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center

Jonathan Friedman, director of free expression and education programs at PEN America

Democracy Day is an effort that started in 2022 to draw attention to the crisis facing American democracy, provide the public with the context and information they need, and bring all types of media together to sound the alarm collectively. KPBS is a media partner in this collaborative.