December 30, 2008

Straws In The Wind #2: Philadelphia Library Revolt

[In April, I started posting sporadic economic bits called "Bite Size Bad News." The idea was to highlight the unfolding economic meltdown by examining one or another particularity from the economic news. I stopped because no one likely to read FotM really needs my help to understand that we are in the early stages of something mighty like a depression.

Hence, this new feature. "Straws In The Wind" posts will focus on how the burden of the crisis is being placed on ordinary working folks and on their developing consciousness and resistance. I am taking the liberty of renaming my most recent post Straws In The Wind #1. That makes this #2.]

As 2008 draws to an end, and with it the tax year, we are seeing what will rapidly become a tsunami of cuts in public services starting to gather force around the country. Every state and municipality will be hit in different ways, but no place is gonna stay high and dry.

Want an example? The estimable Suzy Subways (one-time literary voice of Brooklyn's bike delivery folk) has done my homework for me. Mayor Michael Nutter of Philadelphia announced just last month that 11 of the city's 54 libraries will be shuttered, effective New Year's Day. This has produced a riptide of anger in neighborhoods all over the city, and several City Council members have gone to court to block the closings.

But I recommend a look at this cable broadcast of one of the neighborhood meetings Nutter and Library Director Siobhan Reardon held to try and quell opposition to library and other cuts.

It's a long meeting--folks in predominantly Black Southwest Philly are steamed--but Suzy has put in the time to transcribe the highlights, and included time checks so you can slide straight to the exchanges she typed up below.

Do these folks seem like they are gonna sit quietly and watch their communities stripped of libraries? Not to me. I'm gonna be checking the news from Philadelphia over the next few days.

TRANSCRIPT (courtesy Suzy Subways)

Minute 25:50
Crowd chanting, “Tax the rich!”

Minute 58:26
April Turner – “You said once our libraries close, our children can go to their schools or they can walk to the library…. Can you tell me how many schools do not have libraries in our area? I need this answer from you!” Nutter scrambles but has to admit he doesn’t know.

Turner -- “Wilson Alexander School is the only elementary school right here that has a library – that will be only operating 2 times a week.”

At Minute 59:51, she asks about Kingsessing Library getting sold. Nutter actually says, “I never said anything about selling the libraries, ma’am.” You can hear people yelling, “Liar!”

Minute 60:20

Lucille Walker -- “Being a schoolteacher, I know what it’s like to lug books from this library to Mitchell school. I know what it’s like to bring my students to the basement of this library to listen to storytime, because we didn’t have a library at Mitchell School! And not only did I work at Mitchell School, I worked at Huey School which does not have a library! …I know a lot of parents that have volunteered in the libraries. They have volunteered because there’s no librarians!”

Minute 94:38
A woman with her elementary school age daughter – “I’m a single mother of four…. When they say, ‘Mom, we need to look up something on the internet,’ we don’t have internet. Where do I say go?” [passing the mic to her daughter]

Child – “The library.”

Mother – “The library. When there’s things I don’t understand, and I need to educate myself, I go to the library…. My children’s schools don’t have Apple computers. They don’t have laptops they get to carry around. You say they can go to the schools, but there are no books in the school….
[she continues speaking at Minute 97:44] Thank God I drive, because I have to take my children to the high-class neighborhoods just to get a good book. We can’t get DVDs. [To daughter] Where do you get your DVDs?”

Child – “The library.”

Mother – “At the library!”

Minute 125:20

Young Man -- “I spoke to you at the first town hall meeting, and it seems like you’re still getting a lot of heat, and there’s a lot of confrontation that’s still going on. And the reason is these people are tired, massa. We’re tired, boss. We’re tired of the oppression, we’re tired of the abuse, we’re tired of the neglect…. I don’t think that you really understand the effect of what you’re doing right now as in taking away these libraries and taking away these pools….

You’re not going to feel that effect. Every last person up there is content, y’all are comfortable with the positions that y’all are in…. It don’t harm y’all, because you have power…. I just want to know, how do your wife and kids feel about the decision that you have made?”

Nutter – “It’s the toughest decisions that I’ve ever made….” He asks community members to do more volunteering, etc….

Young Man – “The financial crisis that we’re going through right now, are all of you being affected by that financial crisis?”

Nutter – “well, I’m personally affected by the decisions I have to make, I’m personally affected by reducing my pay.”

Audience -- “How do you sleep at night?”

Young Man to audience – “We need to come together!”

Minute 138:55

Carolyn Morgan – “[Library Director Siobhan] Reardon, I find you to be an enemy to the Southwest Philadelphia area, to the libraries throughout the city, because it stands to reason and you show it, you have no intention of even wanting the libraries to survive.…

[to Nutter] Your children don’t suffer….Talking about our children walking 2 miles [to the nearest library], that’s 4 miles a day. Is your daughter going to walk 4 miles a day? That’s putting our children in danger…. Don’t you tell me, buddy, because I was born in this neighborhood 66 years ago! And I’ve lived 66 years in this neighborhood! So don’t tell me! You and Reardon come up with your asinine idiosyncrasies, and we’re not going to tolerate them! We are not dumb. We are not stupid… We are tired of y’all smudging our faces and our children’s faces, our grandchildren’s faces. We are not going to tolerate it. Now is the time for you to piss or get off the pot, both of you. And I’m tired of you trying to cut our throats!”

Minute 146:50

Young Man – “From the beginning, your administration has really demonstrated a pretty base abuse of power. From your campaign, like the proposal of “Stop and Frisk” policy…. Taking the libraries away, and then this recent announcement of allowing cops to carry bigger guns, up to .45 caliber. This is actually for you, Mr. Ramsey -- and hopefully you’re better at lying and dodging questions than the mayor, but -- are you a sociopath?”

Police commissioner Ramsey, rising from his chair, leaning over the table and pointing his finger – “I don’t need that from you! You got a problem with me, we’ll talk about it, you understand what I’m saying?”

1 comment:

sida 2008 said...

Thanks so much for posting this and spreading the news!
I also noticed that the first segment I recommend starts almost a minute later than the spot I said it was, 25:50. But it gives you a feel for the mayor's line of BS.