Wednesday, April 12, 2023

Define Your Terms

What I expected to write about today:

  • Ellicott City Spring Fest
  • Green Fest at HCC
  • April Spring Preview Market, Clarksville Commons
All three are this Saturday, April 15th.

What’s actually on my mind? Two words.
  • Grassroots
  • Luxury
I am puzzled by some candidates running for CA Board who are identifying themselves as the Grassroots Candidates. As far as I can tell, the use of this word is to signal largely that “we’re not those other people that we don’t like.” I’ve spent some time reading up on the meaning of a grassroots campaign and honestly it doesn’t match up with how these local candidates are using it.

In this particular election, using the moniker “grassroots” appears to be more of a name-calling towards one’s opponent. It’s a new twist on saying “My opponent is in the pockets of developers.” Honestly, it feels lazy to me. My opinion is that you’re much better off ignoring a label like “grassroots” and taking a serious look at what each candidate is truly about. 

The other word on my mind today is the word “luxury.” It keeps popping up in online comments about the new lakefront library proposal. There are several definitions of the word but it seems to be used here to mean something that is wildly expensive that you don’t really need. Ten mink coats. Your own private jet. Lobster every night for dinner. 

Libraries are not luxuries. In July of 2021, when an earlier discussion of a new downtown branch brought similar pushback, I wrote:

Libraries are about opening doors for people so they can open even more doors for themselves. They are facilitators of self-actualization. As such they provide services, materials, and experiences to allow members of the community to lead better lives. The beginning of that mission may have been with the free circulation of books. Today it encompasses books, magazines, music, movies, computers, educational programs and circulating collections of toys, tools, and other items which not everyone can afford, but everyone can be better for learning about and using.

In March, actor and author Wil Wheaton presented the keynote speech at the Southern Kentucky Book Festival. Here is an excerpt.

And where is the one place anyone can go to find the truth behind the myths? To have access to the knowledge and ideas that these authoritarians are so determined to destroy? The public library. 

Recently, I saw a screen capture of a tweet from 2022 that read, “Today, a woman with developmental disabilities came into the library, and said she was lost. She didn’t know her address, but her phone number was in her pocket on a piece of paper with Elmo on it. She kept saying, “The library is a safe place.” We called and her guardian came right over. Apparently this happens pretty regularly. They even stayed long enough for her to check out some new books and Sesame Street DVDs. The library is a safe place, indeed.“

That hit me so hard, right in my heart. If the library wasn’t there, where would she go? Where would I have gone? Where will kids and teens and marginalized adults go? The people who wrote Senate Bill 150 have ideological partners all over this country, and if they have their way, all the safe places will be taken away, including our public libraries.

“The library is a safe place.”

Why libraries? Because the library is so much more than a building with lots of books, internet access, 3D printers, D&D programs for kids, and all the other things. The library represents and offers equal access for everyone to all of those things. Not just the wealthy. Not just the privileged. Not just the in-group. It is a safe place for everyone to be curious, to find inspiration, to sit in the stacks, as far away from the door and the world as possible, and just quietly exist for a minute. (Don’t you love the way those books smell?) The public library is a safe place for all of us, whether we are a kid who feels invisible, a woman who is lost, or a New York Times bestselling author who has the privilege of sharing their story with you.

The mission of the Howard County Library System is “Public Education for All.” When someone suggests that’s a luxury, they are telling you a whole lot about themselves, probably more than they realize.

So, if you come across these two words (in these contexts) while you’re out and about, perhaps you can ask the speaker to define them. 

“You say you’re the grassroots candidate. Define grassroots and how that applies to you.”

“The new library is a luxury? Explain what luxury means and how that applies to a library.”

The answers could be very educational.

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