Free Expression Friday: Red Wine & Blue (Ronna Dewey)

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Red Wine & Blue is a national advocacy organization dedicated to friend-to-friend organizing among suburban women to fight extremism and book bans. Ronna Dewey is the Pennsylvania Program Director and a passionate advocate for education and inclusion. 


For folks who aren't familiar with you yet, could you describe what Red Wine & Blue’s mission is? 

Red Wine & Blue is a powerful, national grassroots community of suburban women who work together to fight extremism. We empower women to reach out to their networks and do some friend-to-friend organizing, because we know that our friends and family trust us the most. And extremism — particularly in Pennsylvania these past few years — has a lot to do with book banning and attacks on public education. That's definitely where I've been focused, particularly in the last year as we’ve had school board elections. 


What is your role at Red Wine & Blue, and what made you get involved? 

I am the Pennsylvania Program Director. I got involved because, back in 2021, there was a group, little known then but very well known now, called Moms for Liberty, who showed up in Pennsylvania. They showed up at my local school board. My youngest child at the time was in high school. He identifies as part of the LGBTQ+ community. And when they showed up trying to ban books, it really felt like a very personal attack on my child and on my family. And so that's when I started doing a little digging, and trying to find out who they were and how we could fight back. And I found Red Wine & Blue, who at that time had just started their Book Ban Busters campaign


Book bans are out of control, nationally as well as in Pennsylvania, where your work is focused. What is Red Wine & Blue doing to fight book bans in 2024? 

We have a lot of ways that we work with our members and our volunteers. We have our Freedom to Parent movement, and that is in direct opposition to the “parental rights” movement. Because as we know, when they say “parental rights”... whose parental rights? They're not looking out for my parental rights. So in the Freedom to Parent movement, we have lots of different approaches. We have some really fun digital media that you can share on your own social media, which talks about book banning and what these extremist groups are trying to do in our schools and in our libraries. We have our Banned Bookmobile, which we launched last year. And we're going to continue to have that. We will show up at a local event and we will hand out some banned books to folks, while also educating about why it's important to have diverse books available for all kids. We have our Troublemaker Trainings. (I don't know if you can see, I have a “troublemaker” necklace on right here. We call ourselves troublemakers.) And our Troublemaker Trainings are really focused on real skills: how to organize in your own community, how to pay attention to your own school board and what is happening there, how to craft a statement to talk at a school board meeting… and just in a really supportive environment.  One thing that I'm really proud of in Pennsylvania — one of our amazing organizers, Shari, came up with this idea, and we've launched it this past year — is Banned Book Bingo. It's been really successful. We've helped some organizations, some nonprofits, raise money for their own causes in fighting book bans, and we have fun and educate while we do it.


Is there anything you're especially worried about on the state level in Pennsylvania? 

In Pennsylvania, I'm very worried about some proposed legislation right now. We have a State House in Pennsylvania that is very much looking to pass legislation that would protect students, that would protect books and curricula, that would help focus on diversity and equity, and support Black and Brown students and LGBTQ+ students. But unfortunately, in our State Senate, that is not the case. There has been a lot of really great legislation that did pass in our House that our governor would sign into law. But unfortunately, it doesn't even get to a vote in the Senate, because it doesn't even get to committee. So it's going nowhere. So yeah, I'm really worried. In the State Senate over the past two years or so, maybe three years at this point, they have passed legislation that would ban trans athletes from competing according to the gender that they identify with, trans bathroom bans, banning any talk of LGBTQ+ people in the curriculum, as if that would change something for somebody.We will really be focusing on keeping the House to have a pro-education majority, and hopefully flipping the Senate so that we can really do some great protections for our kids. And for books, and teachers and librarians. I never want to forget about our amazing teachers and librarians.


Has there been anything besides what you've already mentioned that has really inspired you?

Really, it's just the people on the ground. There's a school board in Pennsylvania called Central Bucks, and it made national news. In 2021, a school board was elected that was a Moms for Liberty majority. They just decimated the school as far as Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. Attacks on LGBTQ+ kids. Putting gag orders on teachers so that they couldn't speak about any of this. They removed Pride flags from the walls, Black Lives Matter flags from walls, they took down an Elie Wiesel quote from the library. Horrifying. But this group really worked hard. And what they did was, from the minute the attack started, they got organized, and I was just so inspired by the amount of work they did. And I am happy to report that they not only flipped the school board to this common-sense majority, they won all five seats that were up for election. 

That's something that we know at Red Wine & Blue, is that we're actually the majority. It's just this loud, vocal minority who stands up and tries to take over. And when we show up, we win. That's what we're trying to do at Red Wine & Blue, is make sure that everyone is talking to their friends, knows what's going on in their own community, and shows up to vote on Election Day.


In addition to book bans, what issues does Red Wine & Blue address? 

As I said before, we focus on fighting extremism, and along with book bans and attacks on public education, we're very focused on reproductive rights and freedoms, that women should be able to make their own decisions about their own bodies, and that politicians should stay out of it. Gun violence prevention — it comes even back to our schools, and our movie theaters, and our churches, and our parades. Are we safe in our communities? We really want to make sure that there are real, actionable gun violence protections put into place. I've mentioned LGBTQ+ rights, in as far as book bans and schools, but in Pennsylvania in particular, we do not have any non-discrimination laws that include LGBTQ+ individuals, gender identity, or gender expression. So right now, even in Pennsylvania, you can get married — a man can marry a man, a woman can marry a woman — but that doesn't protect you from housing discrimination or employment discrimination. And we really need to focus on that as well, so that in all parts of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, you're protected.


What can folks do to get involved? 

Red Wine & Blue is on the ground in five states. We're in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio, Virginia, and North Carolina. We have programs on the ground there. You can come to our website and find lots of information there. If you don't live in those states, though, we have something called TroubleNation. And what that is, is we have a program where you can get trained and receive resources to create programming in your own community. And so even if you're in one of the states that we're in, we might not be in every corner of the state, you can start your own program, and we will support you through TroubleNation. We also have an amazing podcast called “The Suburban Women Problem,” and are very soon going to be launching our “Cost of Extremism” podcast. It'll be season two of that.