With free expression under threat in states across America, and press freedom and those who work to defend it continuously imperiled in regions around the world, PEN America plays a pivotal role in advocating for the protection and advancement of these fundamental liberties.
West End Strategy Team works closely with PEN America to cement its role as the leading voice at the intersection of free expression and human rights. Our work elevates PEN America’s research into the consequences of educational gag orders and book bans by placing PEN America’s experts at the center of the national conversation and harnessing the opportunities presented by the current political news environment.
To raise the alarm that book bans in public schools are a form of censorship, WEST developed and executed a comprehensive strategy to highlight PEN America’s Index of School Book Bans nationally and in key states, providing stakeholders with the data necessary to push for the preservation of the First Amendment rights of students, teachers and librarians. WEST also played an integral role in the launch of PEN America’s August 2022 report documenting an alarming spike in state legislative proposals seeking to restrict teaching and learning.
WEST continually monitors the news to create opportunities to insert PEN America’s experts into the conversation. For example, when the New York Times Editorial Board declared that “America Has a Free Speech Problem,” WEST secured interviews for PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel including on MSNBC’s Morning Joe.
When a Florida school district, under pressure from a fringe group, placed warning labels on 110 books they deemed “unsuitable,” including several children’s books and disproportionately stories featuring LGBTQ+ characters and themes, WEST lined up an exclusive with NBC Out and connected them with PEN America’s Jonathan Friedman to discuss this egregious case of censorship and the broader stakes of Florida’s ongoing attacks on free expression in schools.
WEST also positioned PEN America to fact-check a fake viral list of banned books, discuss the implications of a new gag order law in Kentucky, push back against book ban momentum coming from Republican members of Pennsylvania’s Congressional delegation, and promote a letter objecting to Oklahoma downgrading the accreditation of two school districts for allegedly violating a new gag order law.
As state legislatures passed a growing number of restrictions on teaching and learning in higher education, WEST collaborated with PEN America to conceptualize and stage a media briefing promoting a joint statement with the American Association of Colleges and Universities. WEST strategically focused outreach on priority higher education writers, resulting in coverage from three major media outlets within the sector, including the Chronicle of Higher Education, Inside Higher Ed and Higher Ed Dive.