There was a town hall immediately following an ALA Council session at ALA Midwinter 2017 in Atlanta, probably to address a lot of upheaval that is happening following the election of and transition to a US presidential administration that ran on a campaign of general xenophobia, specific anti-Muslim xenophobia, specific anti-Mexican xenophobia, extreme misogyny, open disrespect to people with disabilities and LGBTQ people, mind-boggling disregard for science and scientific advice, and rampant lies. Among other things. The town hall was what you’d expect of a town hall – members took turns to speak about their thoughts and concerns about the librarian profession and the ALA association based on recent events, including a pretty wide #NotMyALA movement springing from intimations in official press releases that our association will “work with” the new presidential administration on certain legislative issues. Here is what I would have said if I were a mentally healthy person who processes and verbalizes thoughts in a reasonable time frame:
I am a millenial member of ALA who is currently involved in ALCTS, ACRL, APALA, NMRT, and the Emerging Leaders class of 2017. In the past months, I have seen much that troubles me in communications from individuals and groups of power in this organization, and I have deep concerns, centering around the events that sparked the #NotMyALA movement.
Following the election and appointment of a number of violently racist, misogynist, and anti-LGBTQ fascists to high offices within our nation’s government, there was an official press release expressing willingness on the part of our largest professional association to work with the new administration on some legislative issues tied to library funding. Following predictably loud outcry from a largely liberal membership, a second press release expressed a desire to take back the first press release, as well as what I considered a lukewarm and hollow apology. I hoped to see open and honest clarification of how that first jarring and horrifying press release came about. And I hoped to see Council and individual Councillors call on the ALA President’s office and our Washington Office to give open clarification on what happened in communications between the two offices, perhaps ::gasp:: even honestly owning up to mistakes made on both sides. I hoped to see more official communications from high-level groups of ALA explicitly acknowledging members’ concerns that the campaign that the new US presidential administration ran on was rife with policy proposals, policy promises, and sentiments that run deeply against our association’s stated values. I hoped to see more official communications acknowledging my worries that, much as we may need our lobbyists to help us on legislative issues that bring our funding to the forefront, I personally and professionally want reassurance that this will not force us to compromise on our commitments to our communities. I feel that I have not seen much of any of these things that I hoped to see.
I want to express a reminder to Council at large that there are Councillors among you who are there to represent and center the needs of professionals from marginalized communities; they were elected by blocs of very invested voters in the ALA membership. When any one of them speaks out to say that any given resolution does not go far enough, or that their voices are being unheard or disrespected, I want to remind you that they speak for those blocs of invested professionals. They are telling you that you are preventing them from doing the work that they were elected to do, that you are refusing to hear their voices, voices with long histories of marginalization, which many high-level entities within ALA have purported a desire to hear more from. Even when your feelings are hurt by these accusations, this is something that you signed on to handle when you expressed commitment to mainstreaming equity, diversity, and inclusion within the library profession as a Councillor. It may seem as though your work/conversation is being derailed, or the conversation is suddenly outside the wheelhouse of what you can treat within your committee or working group, but I assure you from the guts of my personal experience that it is most likely not. Please try to listen, try to hear us, and try to do better.
I want to take a sec to mention a moment when the moderator of the town hall talked down and cut off an elderly black woman expressing her long experience in the profession and the way it intersected with her life as a woman who married someone of another race when interracial marriage was much more dangerous. I found this moment viscerally disgusting. The moderator, a white woman, literally said the words, “You need to let others speak,” to an elderly black woman expressing her relevant experiences in a hostile social and political climate, at a town hall that was ostentatiously for the purpose of hearing “everyone’s” voices. Just for the record, that moment exemplified EVERYTHING about #NotMyALA that I identify with.