In my formative years, our government waged an unjust war and we compelled our politicians to end it.
Black Americans were denied voting rights and equal access to public institutions, and enough people stood up and got legislation passed to ensure basic civil rights for all Americans.
We faced up to the inequities of employer-based health insurance and created Medicare and Medicaid.
We created public broadcasting, which has enriched my life greatly since childhood.
We put a man on the moon, and I remember watching it live along with millions of people around the world.
We made abortion legal and safer, to protect countless women who suffered while terminating unwanted pregnancies.
We found the malfeasance of our 37th president so intolerable that we forced him to resign.
These were not easy times.
But they were times when acts of citizenship were stronger and more frequent. This was before the corporatization of America sucked all the oxygen out of the civic environment — when people with shared values found each other and worked to better our laws and our government and our lives.
Public libraries as sites of civic engagement
I give a damn about public libraries because they’re among the few places left that can serve as sites of civic dialogue and action. They’ve been beacons of good government and freedom of access for decades. They represent ideals and aspirations for millions of Americans, even those that have not stepped inside one for years.
We’re now at a pivotal moment, for our country and our libraries. Let us dedicate our time and shared values for both. There is lots to do, even using past achievements as a guide.
- We’ve got two wars that must be ended.
- We’ve been discriminating against people-of-color by singling them out for sub-prime mortgages, toxic waste dumping and food deserts. We must band together to stop this injustice.
- We must confront the dysfunctional health insurance system that will bankrupt this nation and enact Medicare-for-All as a first step toward meaningful reform of our health delivery systems.
- We must stop devastating our environment.
- We need to run scoundrels out of public office. They don’t seem to be taking money in paper bags anymore but they’re taking insider stock tips1, breezing through the corporate revolving door and probably doing a whole lot more to work for their own interests instead of the public interest.
Over the past 30 years, we have come to accept the decline of our communities and livelihoods and become accustomed to government gridlock. It wasn’t always this way. Just think about the amazing things we accomplished from 1964 – 1974. We can do it again.
It’s possible. It’s necessary. It can start at our public libraries.
1Ziobrowski, Alan J. “Abnormal Returns from the Common Stock Investments of Members of the United States Senate.” Journal of Financial and Quantitative Analysis. 2004.