In This Episode
- Republicans remain divided over who should lead their delicate House majority after Kevin McCarthy was ousted as speaker. A vote for his replacement is set for next week – and so far, at least three Republicans have signaled that they want the job.
- Banned Books Week, an annual event to draw attention to the harms of censorship, has taken on new significance this year. Legislation in some GOP-led states has forced schools and libraries to pull many titles from their shelves, disproportionately targeting books about race, sexuality, and gender identity. Conrrado Saldivar, president of the Wyoming Library Association, joins us to discuss how he’s defending the right to read.
- And in headlines: President Biden canceled another $9 billion in student loan debt, more than 75,000 Kaiser Permanente employees walked off the job as part of a three-day strike, and voting is open for Fat Bear Week 2023.
- Banned Books Week – https://bannedbooksweek.org/
- American Library Association: Unite Against Banned Books – https://uniteagainstbookbans.org/
- Explore.org: Fat Bear Week 2023 – https://explore.org/fat-bear-week
- What A Day – YouTube – https://www.youtube.com/@whatadaypodcast
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Priyanka Aribindi: It’s Thursday, October 5th. I’m Priyanka Aribindi.
Juanita Tolliver: And I’m Juanita Tolliver. And this is What a Day where we are thoroughly annoyed that the emergency alert test came 2 minutes early. And that did give me a bit of a jump scare. Mm.
Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, listen, we knew about it ahead of time, us especially, but still freaked out, didn’t know how to turn it off. It was a bad time. [music break]
Juanita Tolliver: On today’s show, thousands of Kaiser Permanente health care workers have walked off the job. Plus, Fat Bear week is back, y’all. And I’m so hyped.
Priyanka Aribindi: Hallelujah. Yes, [laughter] best time of the year. But first, there is a job opening in the Capitol after former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy got the boot from his own party on Tuesday. Republicans remain divided over who should lead their very fragile House majority. As a reminder, while they squabble over who should take McCarthy’s place, there will be no votes, no new legislation, nothing of substance from the House. And this could not have come at a less convenient time with government funding set to run out in just 43 days.
Juanita Tolliver: Honestly, with that description though, Priyanka, it sounds like what it was like under McCarthy’s leadership anyways.
Priyanka Aribindi: Pretty much.
Juanita Tolliver: So, not much has changed, you know, Republicans losing and they’re dragging all of us down with them.
Priyanka Aribindi: Absolutely. I mean, at the moment there is a temporary speaker. It is Representative Patrick McHenry of North Carolina. He was actually chosen by McCarthy back when he was originally elected as speaker to fill in the position if it ever became vacant. Little did he know it would happen so soon. But this appointment is not permanent.
Juanita Tolliver: I know there are four names already floating around, so tell us about the prospects here.
Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah. So a vote for a new speaker has been planned for next Wednesday, October 11th. And so far, three House Republicans have thrown their hat into the ring. The first is House Judiciary Chair Jim Jordan of Ohio. You might remember his name from the Trump years. He was a very close ally of the former president. He has supported lawsuits that challenged the results of the 2020 election. He was also the founding chair of the ultra right wing House Freedom Caucus. Just gives you a sense of his vibe. Then there is House Majority Leader Steve Scalise. He has been the second ranking House Republican under McCarthy since 2019. And so far, he’s been thought of as sort of the frontrunner in this race, though this race has only been going on for one day. Uh. He has not had an easy go of it recently. Back in 2017, he was wounded in a shooting during a practice session for the annual Congressional baseball game. Earlier this year, he was diagnosed with a blood cancer multiple myeloma. But last month, he told reporters that his condition had improved with treatment. Representative Kevin Hern of Oklahoma has also said that he’s considering a run for speaker. He’s the chair of the conservative group called the Republican Study Committee. And some hard liners in the Freedom Caucus have floated his name as well, but he hasn’t confirmed whether or not he will be officially joining the race. And you did say there were four names. The last one happens to be a very familiar one. One, Donald J. Trump.
Juanita Tolliver: Ugh.
Priyanka Aribindi: Outside of the Manhattan courthouse where the civil fraud trial against him is being held. He said that a lot of people have been calling him up about taking the speaker’s job. This man who uh currently unemployed, I think. Not even in the House at all.
Juanita Tolliver: Unemployed Florida man. [laugh]
Priyanka Aribindi: Pretty much. But that is technically allowed under the rules of the House. But luckily for all of us, he reiterated that he is focused on his presidential bid. I, he did not say that he was bogged down with all the indictments, the legal drama that he is wrapped up in, but he also has his hands full with that. So our lucky day, he’s a little too busy to take this vacancy seriously. So we got out of this a little better than expected.
Juanita Tolliver: Yeah, I’m just going to be real and not put anything past Trump, right? Like, he’s looking for any diversion or distraction he can. And when he says that, a lot of people are calling him, Look, we all know Sean Hannity called you because he’s talked about you on his show. That’s it. Nobody else is calling you about this, I promise.
Priyanka Aribindi: Absolutely no one has called this man. Everyone has deleted his number. But here he is.
Juanita Tolliver: Yeah, well, there are still remnants of Donald Trump out in the ether, including the effort to ban books. And so that’s why right now it’s the most important week in literature, if you ask me, anyway, because it’s banned Books Week 2023. And even though the American Library Association started this annual event 40 years ago, it’s taken on new significance due to the hyper targeted and coordinated push from the right to ban books and have them removed from libraries in schools across the nation. For the sake of clarity, these are often books which people requesting to have them removed have often never opened or read. It’s like the inverse of the Pizza Hut Book it Summer program. I know you’ll remember this.
Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah. Listen, Juanita had to read me in, had to fill me in on what this program was. I just want to say summer reading was my shit.
Juanita Tolliver: Yes.
Priyanka Aribindi: If I knew that this was around, I also–
Juanita Tolliver: Okay.
Priyanka Aribindi: –will be eating a lot of more pizza.
Juanita Tolliver: Yes.
Priyanka Aribindi: I have regrets.
Juanita Tolliver: I feel like your parents owe you at least 50 personal pan pizzas from Pizza Hut. [laughter]
Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, I’m about to take that up with them right now. [laughing]
Juanita Tolliver: So this year, the theme for Banned Books Week is Let Freedom Read, and the ALA has used the week to feature targeted books and draw attention to the harms of censorship. Earlier this year, the ALA reported a 38% increase in books targeted for censorship from 2021 to 2022. Considering that the latest iteration of book bans is focused on texts by or about LGBTQ people and Black and Brown people. The impact will most likely also be targeted in these same communities, especially younger generations. And I wanted to know what it was like on the front lines in a red state right now. So I recently spoke with Conrrado Saldivar, president of the Wyoming Library Association and Tech Services manager at the Natrona County Library. I started out by asking him what he thinks about this coordinated push from conservatives to ban books and why he thinks this is happening right now.
Conrrado Saldivar: Free access to information is a vital part of our democracy. This isn’t happening just in Wyoming, but what I’ve seen is a lot of targeted attacks on public libraries and school libraries here in Wyoming. Some of them have even gone for personal attacks on library staff. We have had–
Juanita Tolliver: Ooh really ooh.
Conrrado Saldivar: Yeah, it’s gotten pretty, billboards and mailers telling people to force this person to resign.
Juanita Tolliver: In their hometowns. Wow.
Conrrado Saldivar: Yeah. Yeah. So pretty nasty rhetoric that we’ve had. We’ve been called terms that I don’t want to repeat, but lots of challenges against, particularly against books um that are written by and about um members of the BIPOC and LGBTQ communities. That’s kind of where it started here in Wyoming was in summer of 2021, uh was about a Facebook post about Rainbow Book Month, which is an annual kind of celebration of pride and the LGBTQ community, and it kind of just spiraled from there. This point last year we were gearing up for our legislative session. It was a full general session, and we actually saw three bills come up that were targeting an obscenity exemption that librarians have in our Wyoming statutes. We had to call on our supporters to contact their representatives, contact committee members three separate times.
Juanita Tolliver: Wow.
Conrrado Saldivar: And testify against those bills three separate times. To say, you know, here’s how this is going to affect not only libraries, but here’s how this could affect library staff. Here’s how the communities will be affected. Here’s how those people who, all they want to see is a little tiny sliver of shelf space that represents their lived experiences.
Juanita Tolliver: And I want to talk a little bit about the impact, because you said it’s about representation, it’s about storytelling, it’s about inclusion. So with that trend of what types of books are being targeted, can you talk about the impact that has on young people, on students, on families and community members?
Conrrado Saldivar: Yes, I think we’re definitely worried about, again, as you said, the young people. I am born and raised here in Wyoming. I grew up here. My parents immigrated here from Mexico. But what’s happening now is those voices are being removed. Libraries are seen as safe spaces for students to be themselves. And when you take a book off and say this lived experience is not okay, you’re essentially telling that kid, that teenager, whoever is looking at that book, that their experience doesn’t matter, doesn’t have a place.
Juanita Tolliver: Right.
Conrrado Saldivar: Growing up here in Wyoming, a phrase that I heard all the time was live and let live. That’s not the case here anymore. That is–
Juanita Tolliver: I was like, come on, if that’s the mantra, that’s not what’s happening.
Conrrado Saldivar: No, no. And that’s a that’s so true. I mean, live and let live except for and there’s all of these different um exceptions that are now being added on. Oh, not that oh not that. And it’s just kind of just making it very hard for our young people to find that place of solace I would say that they had in a library um hanging out with their peers, um making connections with their school librarian or with their teen librarians um just to feel seen, I think is the what it boils down to, is that’s what they’re missing out on um as they’re reading all of these stories that says you are not appropriate for the library.
Juanita Tolliver: And can you talk me through the process of having a book ban? I feel like it’s a lot more simple than it should be. But what is that process like, banning books from public libraries?
Conrrado Saldivar: Sure. So um it kind of varies. Um. Each local library has their own policy and process, but after a book is added to the library, basically a community member can say, Can I have a request reconsideration form? You know, ideally, before they even get to that point of starting the formal process, they’re having a discussion with the person behind the desk, with their local librarian, just to say, Hey, I saw this on the shelf. Um. Why is it there?
Juanita Tolliver: Hmm.
Conrrado Saldivar: Just to have that one on one component now instead, it’s more so I heard about this book. Let me get the request reconsideration form. Um.
Juanita Tolliver: Oh my gosh. Before reading it, before talking to a staffer, before asking any substantive questions.
Conrrado Saldivar: Exactly. So they’re very much going with quotes, and especially now um the book Genderqueer, that’s kind of at the top of the list of books that people want out of the library. Here’s an image that I saw online, this is why I want it out of the library. But they should be able um you know, the formal process is to fill out the form. That form usually goes to the person who ordered the book. So the selector as, as we call them, for them to say, here’s why I added it. Um reasons ABC and D, here’s why it should stay in the collection. You know, they’ll send it back to the patron saying we think it should remain in the collection because of all of these reasons or agree we should move it to a different collection, a different part of the library, and then there’s a chance for an appeal. If they don’t agree, they can go to the director. If they don’t agree with that, they can go to the library board who’s overseas and they’re all appointed by our county commissioners. So there’s lots of steps in the process. Unfortunately, what we’re seeing is that people think that takes too long, uh so they’re kind of just trying to cause an uproar, a stir, overwhelm public comment periods with all of these, you know, little snippets that are taken completely out of context. So we’re not able to evaluate the books as a whole, which is part of the obscenity requirement, is you take all of these books as a whole. So, yeah, there is a process. Whether it works or not is a different story.
Juanita Tolliver: The other thing I wanted to bring up is that more libraries across the country are declaring themselves to be book sanctuaries that protect people’s right to read whatever, whenever and wherever. Is this something being considered in your county’s library network, and what drives your passion to protect people’s access to books?
Conrrado Saldivar: I’m excited to see all of these libraries that are really solidifying just the right that their community members have to access their library collections. So far in Wyoming, we’ve only seen that in Teton County. Um. They did change their board bylaws to say board members have to support intellectual freedom um they have to support access to materials which for the time when they pushed it through, when they got that approved, was something that we hadn’t seen in Wyoming. I don’t know how far it’ll get in some of our other communities, but it’s exciting to see that. And I think, you know, the reason that I’ve been able to continue on as president of the Wyoming Library Association for so long, you know, as someone who grew up in Wyoming, someone who looks darker than everyone else around him, I am a minority within a minority here in Wyoming. So if I don’t use my platform to stand up for these BIPOC and LGBTQ voices, it’s one of those, if not me, who. And so that’s really what’s allowed me to go on, especially through all of the legislation and all of the calls for people to move away from the Wyoming Library Association and the American Library Association, is that I have the energy right now and I need to use my voice to speak up.
Juanita Tolliver: That was my conversation with Conrrado Saldivar, president of the Wyoming Library Association and Tech services manager at the Natrona County Library. And I hope you all take his call to action seriously, like support your librarians and get engaged in this fight early because this right wing effort to ban books has no end in sight, y’all. Check out our show notes below for some more resources on how to fight bans on books. [music break]
Priyanka Aribindi: Let’s wrap up with some headlines.
Priyanka Aribindi: Five people were shot and injured in a shooting at Morgan State University in Maryland on Tuesday night. It happened after a coronation ceremony for Mr. and Ms. Morgan State, which is an annual homecoming tradition at the historically Black college. The gunfire broke out as attendees were making their way from the campus auditorium to a coronation ball at the student center, leading to an hours long lockdown as police searched for suspects. The five people who were shot were between 18 and 22 years old, four of whom are students at the university. Officials said yesterday that all five were being treated for gunshot wounds that were not life threatening. Police also said that they believe that the shooting broke out during a dispute and those who were wounded were likely not the intended targets. As of our recording time at 9:30 p.m. Eastern, no arrests have been made in connection with the shooting.
Juanita Tolliver: President Biden canceled another $9 billion dollars in student loan debt yesterday, making good on a promise to find relief for borrowers despite the Supreme Court striking down his signature student loan forgiveness program. More than 100,000 borrowers were approved for this round of debt relief through three existing programs. They include borrowers working in public service roles, folks enrolled in income based repayment plans. And borrowers with permanent disabilities. The announcement comes just days after student loan payments picked back up after a three year hiatus. This now brings the total amount of student debt that President Biden has canceled since taking office to $127 billion dollars for more than 3 million borrowers. Take a listen to what President Biden had to say while making the announcement at the White House yesterday.
[clip of President Joe Biden] This kind of relief is life changing for individuals and their families, but it’s good for our economy as a whole as well. By freeing millions of Americans from the crushing burden of student debt, it means they can go and get their lives in order. They can think about buying a house. They can start a business. They can be starting a family.
Juanita Tolliver: And they can have that breathing room that we know President Biden talks about so regularly. Like, I appreciate him understanding the impact of this. And I’m sure there are still millions of borrowers across the country saying, pick me, I’m next. I got next, please. [laugh]
Priyanka Aribindi: Absolutely. I mean, it’s amazing. $9 billion dollar on a casual Wednesday.
Juanita Tolliver: Yeah.
Priyanka Aribindi: –is amazing. And I’m really happy for these people because, as you said, there’s a lot of things that they can be doing now rather than stressing out about paying back these loans. So let’s just keep it coming. More than 75,000 Kaiser Permanente employees walked off the job in multiple states yesterday, kicking off the largest health care worker strike in U.S. history. We told you on Monday that Kaiser and the coalition of unions representing these workers failed to reach a deal for a new labor contract by last week’s strike deadline. Doctors and nurses aren’t participating in this three day strike, but nursing assistants, X-ray technicians, pharmacists and other staff walked off the job in California, Colorado, Oregon, Washington, Virginia and D.C. to put pressure on Kaiser to meet their demands for increased wages and better staffing. Issues that they say were made worse by the pandemic. Their walkout is scheduled to last until Saturday. And meanwhile, in a statement, Kaiser says that it has hired thousands of temporary employees to fill in for those striking workers. Clearly, their work is really important, they had to hire people to do it.
Juanita Tolliver: Critical.
Priyanka Aribindi: Maybe you should just pay these people to do their jobs?
Juanita Tolliver: I feel like that’s been the theme for the year. Just pay me.
Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah. Like–
Juanita Tolliver: Pay people what they deserve.
Priyanka Aribindi: You keep saying that these jobs are so important. Yeah. Then maybe take them seriously when they’re like, we can’t live on these wages.
Juanita Tolliver: And turning our attention to some great news in the world of sports.
[clip of unspecified news sportscaster] Gold medalists for the seventh straight time.
Juanita Tolliver: Simone Biles once again led the U.S. women’s gymnastics team to victory on Wednesday at the World Gymnastics Championship and took home her 20th gold medal from the event. And as you heard from the clip, this is the seventh time in a row that the U.S. has placed first. Setting a new world record for consecutive team wins. China’s men’s gymnastics team held the previous record of six wins in a row. And I feel like we just need to appreciate this moment– [laughing]
Priyanka Aribindi: Absolutely.
Juanita Tolliver: –as a reality that these women are such huge dominating athletes. Respect.
Priyanka Aribindi: Absolutely.
Juanita Tolliver: Yesterday’s win officially made Biles the most decorated female gymnast in history. She now holds a total of 33 medals from both the world championships and the Olympics. She’s bouncing back from a two year hiatus to take care of her mental health after she bowed out of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Meanwhile, Brazil and France’s women’s teams rounded out the historic podium. Second place, Brazil earned their first world medal and France earned bronze after not placing in the top three since 1950. Huge, huge, huge celebrations across the board.
Priyanka Aribindi: This U.S. women’s team, not just the best women’s team. What we’re saying, they’re the best all around of all time.
Juanita Tolliver: Period.
Priyanka Aribindi: Pretty incredible. And finally, I can bearly believe it. Bear spelled B-E-A-R. Because you couldn’t. You’re not reading you’re you’re listening. But Fat bear week is finally here. If you are new here, Fat Bear week is that wonderful time of year when brown bears at Katmai National park and preserve in Alaska eat as much as they can in preparation for their annual hibernation. I feel like Fat Bear week happens like four times a year here at What a Day. We are like the biggest fans.
Juanita Tolliver: Absolutely.
Priyanka Aribindi: And we, the public, get to decide which of the 12 contestants should take home the crown in a bracket style competition. The threat of a government shutdown last week almost derailed this year’s contest, but fortunately, we narrowly avoided that unbearable possibility. [laugh]
Juanita Tolliver: It’s so cringe.
Priyanka Aribindi: It really is. [laughter]
Juanita Tolliver: But in the most like dad joke delightful way.
Priyanka Aribindi: Among this year’s competitors are bear number 480 aka Otis, a medium large adult male who has actually won the contest four times already, must be a really fat bear. Some are saying it might be rigged. I don’t know. Just a lot of a lot of opinions out there. There is also bear number 32 or chunk, a large bear with a scar on his muzzle who park rangers say has gained confidence in recent years. Juanita, do you have any favorites?
Juanita Tolliver: Uh. Absolutely. 901 is back in the mix. I got to give her a shout out for multiple reasons. One Memphis 9012. Our girl has been through some things, y’all. She lost one of her little cubs–
Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah.
Juanita Tolliver: A few weeks ago, so she’s really out here struggling and she’s got two other baby cubs to take care of. So 901 all the way has my vote. What about you, Priyanka?
Priyanka Aribindi: So my favorite this year, 128 Grazer. She’s a large adult female, single gal. She’s had two litters, I believe, but my favorite details were that she often preemptively confronts and attacks much larger bears, even large and dominant adult males in order to ensure that her cubs are safe.
Juanita Tolliver: Respect.
Priyanka Aribindi: It seems like a lot of the bears in this area know about her. They are afraid. 151 Walker, who’s another bear in the mix, actually regularly avoided her approach. So people are trembling in their boots about this woman. So I think she’s my pick to take it all. Anyways, you all have a say in who goes home with the pot. Is it 901? Is it 128? Is it someone else? Voting kicks off today and will end on October 10th, also known as Fat Bear Tuesday.
Juanita Tolliver: Goodness.
Priyanka Aribindi: That’s a new one, but we’ll take it. Until then you have a chance to vote on your champ and even watch them live at explore.org, highly recommend, may the beary best one–
Juanita Tolliver: Oh no.
Priyanka Aribindi: –win. [laugh] I know. The third one was overkill. I’m sorry.
Juanita Tolliver: I mean, we love a pun. Well.
Priyanka Aribindi: Do we?
Juanita Tolliver: Y’all love a pun. [laughter]
Priyanka Aribindi: We do it for you guys. We obviously will be following this for the remainder of the week. So stay tuned for updates. But those are the headlines.
Priyanka Aribindi: That is all for today. If you like the show, make sure you subscribe. Leave a review, work on your double double dismount and tell your friends to listen.
Juanita Tolliver: And if you’re into reading and not just banned books to earn a personal pan pizza like me, What a Day is also a nightly newsletter. Check it out and subscribe at crooked.com/subscribe. I’m Juanita Tolliver.
Priyanka Aribindi: I’m Priyanka Aribindi.
[spoken together] And don’t body shame those bears.
Juanita Tolliver: Okay y’all getting fat is important for the bears.
Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah.
Juanita Tolliver: Hibernation is coming, so they got to pack on the pounds y’all. So this is a–
Priyanka Aribindi: They have to.
Juanita Tolliver: –celebration of their bodies.
Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah. [laughter] [music break] What a Day is a production of Crooked Media. It’s recorded and mixed by Bill Lancz, our show’s producer is Itxy Quintanilla. Raven Yamamoto and Natalie Bettendorf are our associate producers and our senior producer is Lita Martinez. Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka.