"More than machinery, we need humanity."
Y’all, it’s bad out there. In case a second concurrent pandemic, Roe v Wade being overturned, and deadly weather caused by climate change weren’t enough, the rising tide of fascism is, well, continuing to rise.
It is no surprise that libraries are not exempt.
I think there has been a collective ear plugging from the public, when it comes to libraries (and other common institutions, for that matter). Surely it will be fine, because we aren’t doing anything wrong! Because what’s there even to get mad about! Because everyone loves libraries! Because decorum or social pressure will prevent it! Because…surely, SURELY, it can’t be this bad! We still have to pay bills and do the laundry and go to work and think about what’s for dinner. It can’t be that bad if we still have to vacuum the house.
I’m here to tell you that it is that bad. It is already “that bad.” My co-blogger asked us, some years back, to define for yourself what it would take to make you get off your ass (though he probably said that nicer), what the indicators would be that told you things were bad and needed your actions to help correct the course. I hope you did that exercise, and defined for yourself what the metric would be, what events would tell you that you needed to act.
If you did that exercise, were any of your personal metrics library staff getting fired for trying to keep teen programming for queer youth & youth of color, or fired for not removing books about race and gender (gofundme here), or fired organizing against policy brutality (sorry, no link for that one, it was conveyed privately), or threatened with firing for displaying queer books? How about white supremacists storming children’s story hours? Or an entire public library closing because everyone quit from anti-queer harassment? What about books banned for depicting people of color and queers in a positive light, providing accurate information about health and sexuality, or for acknowledging the truth about American history? Bills (that thankfully didn’t pass) to fine and jail librarians for “obscene” (read: queer, comprehensive sex education, anatomy) books? Or librarians being told they can’t help patrons find information about abortion, or even say the word?
Shall I stop? Where any of those your personal metric for when you’d become politically involved beyond casting a ballot once a year? Is your stomach sinking yet? Because widespread attempts by a revanchist right wing to ban information and criminalize speech about race, racism, queerness, reproductive health, and history should make you reflexively nauseous.
Or maybe you think that it’s not your problem, because it’s not happening where you are.
Well, book – and thereby staff – challenges are happening (and I am again sorry for not being able to share a link with you), as are Proud Boy attacks on Drag Queen Story Hour, in Massachusetts. A “white lives matter” (vomit) group has been defacing books in upstate New York and the Pacific Northwest (once again, sorry). And you’ll remember that the Proud Boys, who are now storming story time all over the place, began in New York City. In New Jersey, librarians are getting the same libelous attacks about “grooming” via queer content in books as in Texas. If it can happen in all of these places, it can happen — and possibly already is — where you live.
In research for something entirely different, I recently came across the term “glocalization.” It refers to the way neoliberal capitalism is at once globally interconnected while still having intensely local causes and effects; “the twin process whereby, firstly, institutional/regulatory arrangements shift from the national scale both upwards to supra‐national or global scales and downwards to the scale of the individual body or to local, urban or regional configurations and, secondly, economic activities and inter‐firm networks are becoming simultaneously more localised/regionalised and transnational. In particular, attention will be paid to the political and economic dynamics of this geographical rescaling and its implications. The scales of economic networks and institutional arrangements are recast in ways that alter social power geometries in important ways.” We can think about our current fascism problem in similar terms – the relationship of the local level to the national or international level, and the feedback loops between them.
For decades, conservative organizations such as the American Legislative Exchange council (ALEC) have been writing template and trial balloon “model bills” that right wing state and local legislators can lift wholesale or adapt to their local needs, so that we see the same copycat legislation barring basically anything good in state after state. This exhausts the sparsely funded grassroots efforts that then have to organize to oppose them, leaving justice-oriented people and organizations depleted. It’s throwing spaghetti at the wall, knowing that eventually something will stick, and some jurisdiction somewhere will eventually get that astroturfed bill passed.
Similarly, there are now social media-enabled organizations, if they can even be called that, such as “Moms for Freedom” (my eyes just rolled out of my head), which are largely responsible for the proliferation of our current anti-library – and, frankly, anti-kid, despite their claims to be “protecting” children – book challenges, staff harassment, and attempted law-making. In both of these instances, the former level of regulatory structure – a US state, a county, city, or town – have been forced to cede power both to a superstructure (nation-wide organizations, national or international level social media influencers) and a substructure (individuals connected via social media to fellow travelers).
In short: all our grievances are connected, and one of the reasons they are so very well connected is that our opponents are.
But – just as all cataloging is local, so are these fights. Which means that, in addition to clucking over what’s happening elsewhere, you and I need to pay eagle-eyed attention to what’s happening in our own communities. Go to your school board meetings. Run for positions on the library or school board, or for local governance. Give pride of place to the most minuscule local election or ballot measure, over national elections. Make a scene at those local board meetings in support of librarians being able to do their damn job, and hold a hard line on justice. Find the other people around you who feel as you do, and encourage them to do it with you. Talk to the nice fence-sitters who might get taken in by the right’s ”protect the children” rhetoric and explain what’s really going on. Then do it again next week to make sure it sticks. Let your local teachers and librarians know that you will go down swinging with them. No pasaran!
All of that is what the right has been doing for the last half century, and that’s exactly how they have accrued so much power. If we don’t fight them with the same weapons, we’re just taking a book to a gun fight. Which has become less and less of a metaphor lately, as the radical right has actual, non-metaphorical guns, and this false “protect the children” drivel gets closer and closer to being an excuse to use them. Which is why we need to nip it in the bud ASAP. There is no other way to fix this — the only (effective) thing we can do is to meet them at every turn, which means meeting them in your town, and in mine. We could quote Churchill about it (“We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.”), but perhaps an antifascist named Murray, quoted in Mark Bray’s book Antifa is just as apt: “You fight them by writing letters and making phone calls so you don’t have to fight them with fists. You fight them with fists so you don’t have to fight them with knives. You fight them with fists so you don’t have to fight them with guns. You fight them with guns so you don’t have to fight them with tanks.” Right now we’re somewhere between letters and fists most days, and somewhere up in knives and guns on bad ones, so there’s no time to waste.
Unlike the tides, which wax and wane with the movements of the moon, so that any high tide can be expected to eventually slide back out, fascism does not go away on its own. For that, we need to start bailing, before the whole ship goes down. If you need a kick in the pants before you’ll pick up a bucket, consider this it.
 Swyngedouw, Erik. 2004. “Globalisation or ‘Glocalisation’? Networks, Territories and Rescaling.” Cambridge Review of International Affairs 17 (1): 25–48. doi:10.1080/0955757042000203632.