The Hoboken City Council unanimously approved a resolution declaring the municipality a “book sanctuary city” at last night’s meeting.
By Daniel Ulloa/Hudson County View
“Books bans are nothing new. Last year, we saw a record number of attempts to ban books … This movement is hardly an isolated one,” Hoboken Public Library Director Jennie Pu exclaimed during public comment.
She noted most banning efforts are on a large scale and directed toward stories featuring people of color and members of the LGBTQ+ community.
Pu noted that in June, the library held a Banned Books Read-a-thon, which drew the ire of Republicans across the country after the event was shared by popular far right Twitter account LibsofTikTok.
“The intense vitriol attacks we received were fed by misinformation from advocacy groups outside our region. Book banning and censorship do not reflect the values of Hoboken,” Pu continued.
” … In this era of unprecedented censorship and challenges to intellectual freedom, our work takes on new urgency and vital importance. By creating a book sanctuary, we’re raising awareness of the ongoing attack … We are showing solidarity with our sister libraries and book sanctuaries all across North America. We are doubling down on our commitment to our freedom to read.”
She explained the Hoboken Library is 130 years old and has focused on highlighting different books and ideas and fighting book banning.
3rd Ward council candidate Ed Reep began by noting that in 2021 after the January 6th insurrection, Amazon removed “The Turner Diaries” from purchase due to it’s anti-Semitic and neo-Nazi ideology.
He continued that the local legislation in front of the council could use some changes.
“These are the amendments we’d like to be see made because I think we can all work together and stop censorship, I’ve been a victim of censorship before, I’ve been banned from Hoboken social media, I’ve written books, self-published them, and they’ve been censored,” he asserted.
“I don’t like censorship, but I also recognize the reality that everyone here recognizes, whether they’ll state it publicly but we all agree, that obviously there are common sense standards – whether it’s neo-Nazi hate and anti-Semitic stuff … or whether it’s actual pornography – and the problem with this resolution is it jus tdoesn’t include this language.”
Hoboken Council President Emily Jabbour, who sponsored the resolution with 5th Ward Councilman Phil Cohen, as she said on Tuesday, reiterated that the Library Board of Trustees passed a similar resolution in August.
“I think a lot of that event was overshadowed by which was discussed on social media,” Jabbour said of the June read-a-thon, adding that Twitter discourse made the event seem far more “salacious” that is actually ended up being.
“Chicago took this up last year as a way to speak out against this concerning trend … Hoboken is a fair and welcoming city. I think the principles reflected in this resolution are what Hoboken really stands for. I can’t believe we’re having this conversation in 2023. Isn’t this what America is about? Freedom of speech?”
Cohen also thanked the library and their trustees for prompting this discussion.
“It’s often African American history, LGBTQIA sources that are frequently challenged in book bans. There are presidential candidates running on this platform,” he noted, claiming that board of education candidates have run on banning books elsewhere in the state.
Councilman-at-Large Joe Quintero said he found it ironic that people who advocate for smaller government involvement call for local governments to decide what people are allowed to read.
“As the 1st outwardly gay person to serve on this city council, it’s always been an honor to offer a diverse perspective. I’ve always found open ears. Everyone’s been extraordinarily supportive,” 1st Ward Councilman Mike DeFusco said.
“For the better part of the queer community’s history, we had to live in the dark. Because society had a tendency to kind of … put you in a box. It caused irreparable harm to so many I know and love.”
He also praised Mayor Ravi Bhalla for standing next to him at the read-a-athon.
“I’m definitely happy to support this tonight. Book banning is just rooted in a small group of people who want to make choices based on hatred. That’s not just consistent with being an American,” 2nd Ward Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher declared.
“We need to have access to information, as broad of sources as possible.”
3rd Ward Councilman Mike Russo, a lifelong city resident, said the Mile Square City has always been a loving and welcoming community and was happy to support the measure.
4th Ward Councilman Ruben Ramos also spoke in favor of the resolution as a way to uplift people.
“I live my life by this one rule: don’t be an A-hole. There’s too many people out there struggling to find their voice,” he added.
Ultimately, the council passed the measure unanimously (9-0) to applause.