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Special Project

Special Project
From the 16th Annual Shorty Awards

Artists Against Book Bans

Audience Honor in Multi-Platform Partnership


In the summer of 2023, MoveOn kicked off a campaign to combat rising book bans across the country. MoveOn toured a bookmobile across the country with a focus on purple states, distributing banned books and partnering with local organizations, libraries, bookstores, and activists along the way. MoveOn found members across the country were extremely energized and enthusiastically supported and engaged with the campaign. The book bans were a symbol of a larger culture war waged by the far right to censor, control, and erase marginalized communities. Books and stories were an accessible way to reach people on a personal level about the issue.

To punctuate and amplify the campaign and the various petitions with collectively hundreds of thousands of signatures that MoveOn’s book ban campaign already had, the Culture Team at MoveOn organized artists, musicians, writers, performers, and all creatives to band together and denounce rising book bans. Our goals were 1) impact public narrative around book bans in a highly visible way, 2) to raise funds to keep the book ban campaign going, and 3) to generate high energy from large audiences, which we could mobilize toward actions. We recruited LeVar Burton, literacy icon, to be the leader and face of the complementary campaign, which we called Artists Against Book Bans. We conducted additional outreach to a diverse array of talent, and were able to engage nearly 200 high profile celebrities and influencers, such as Ariana Grande, Amanda Gorman, Rosario Dawson, Bill Nye, Margaret Atwood, Mark Ruffalo, Idina Menzel, Emma Roberts, Gloria Steinem, Billy Porter, W. Kamau Bell, Kerry Washington, Judy Blume, Roxane Gay, Alok, and many more. This was fully volunteer, non-compensated participation for the celebrities and influencers.


Strategy and Execution

The campaign's first goals was to seed a narrative and back it through influential and trusted messengers. We launched the letter with an exclusive in The Hollywood Reporter. We produced customized graphics for the signatories to share on social media, directing folks to a landing page, where visitors could take action by signing a petition version of the letter. Here's the letter:

As artists, creators, entertainers, and activists, we recognize and are horrified by the threat of censorship in the form of book bans. This restrictive behavior is not just antithetical to free speech and expression but has a chilling effect on the broader creative field. The government cannot and should not create any interference or dictate what people can produce, write, generate, read, listen to, or consume. We cannot stress enough how these censorious efforts will not end with book bans. It’s only a matter of time before regressive, suppressive ideologues will shift their focus toward other forms of art, expression, and entertainment, to further their attacks and efforts to scapegoat marginalized communities, particularly BIPOC and LGBTQ+ folks. We refuse to remain silent as one creative field is subjected to oppressive bans. We must band together, because a threat to one form of art is a threat to us all. We're calling on everyone to join us in pushing back against these book bans, support free and open creative industries-regardless of personal or ideological disagreements-and use their voice at the local level to stop these bans in their school districts. There's power in artistic freedom, we refuse to allow draconian politicians to take that from us.

The second goal was to fundraise for MoveOn’s larger anti-book ban work and generate energy. We collaborated with LeVar Burton Entertainment on a merchandise collaboration: an exclusive “Read Banned Books” shirt for Banned Books Week. We worked with designer, Alex Basovskiy, who has a positive reputation in the music merch industry.  LeVar, along with around 60 celebs and influencers wore the shirt and posted to social media to amplify the message and cause. 

Some lessons learned:


We were able to impact the public narrative about the issue in a way that was visible in the press, on social media, and in communities. MoveOn’s media team secured an exclusive with The Hollywood Reporter for the letter launch, and it quickly aggregated across entertainment, music, and political press. It generated hits in 35+ outlets, including People, Book Riot, MSNBC, and The Root. Additionally, the shirt launch attracted an interview in GQ with LeVar Burton and MoveOn’s executive director, Rahna Epting.

We also found that the campaign created breakout energy with our audiences, who mobilized en masse. They mobilized to generate over 57K petition signatures, and purchased nearly 20,000 shirts, grossing over $790K, which led to additional resources for MoveOn's book ban work and the largest driver of new donations for the entire year. The “Read Banned Books” shirt continues to be MoveOn’s highest grossing and best-selling merch item of all time.

More than 60 influencers and celebrities posted photos of themselves wearing the shirt.  The popularity and saturation of the shirt ensured the message hit many eyes. We saw it at red carpet events and hip parties. We also had multiple high-profile celebrities reach out to our team to ask for a shirt. The total social media metrics are hard to fully encapsulate, but we estimate at least 2M views, 269,036 likes, 1,703 shares, and 1,330 saves just from what MoveOn was able to track from public posts.



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