Thursday, June 13, 2019
Wednesday, June 12, 2019
NYC's Libraries Battle Against $11M Budget Cut
Libraries say the reduced funding could lead to cutbacks on weekends. "You can just get so much blood from a stone," one official said.
New York City's public library systems face the opposite problem: The upcoming municipal budget could leave them with a lack of cash that may result in cuts to programs like the story time Johnson held.
Mayor Bill de Blasio's executive budget for the 2020 fiscal year includes about $387.1 million for the New York Public Library, the Queens Public Library, the Brooklyn Public Library and city research libraries. That's about $11.7 million less than the library funding that ended up in the current year's budget, records show.
The reduction would deliver a blow to libraries following an expansion of their services and physical footprints in recent years, forcing them to cut hours and programs that patrons depend on, library officials say.
"Our communities have come to rely on what we're doing today. We'd like to continue at that level," Linda E. Johnson, the Brooklyn Public Library's president and CEO, said at a rally last month.
Bolstering library funding is a top priority for the City Council as it negotiates the budget with the de Blasio administration. The Democratic mayor and the council must agree on a budget before the new fiscal year begins July 1.
Lawmakers have joined the libraries in calling for City Hall to add $27 million in library funding and baseline another $8 million that the council threw into the current budget. Continuing to support libraries should also be a priority for de Blasio, who is campaigning for president as a progressive leader, council members argue.
"Libraries are one of the most egalitarian things, not just about New York City but about society," Johnson, a Democrat, said June 6. "And libraries are a gateway to new immigrants, libraries are laboratories for learning, libraries are places for children and for seniors. They're free, and it's really about greater personal education and evolution."
City funding accounts for the majority of the budgets of all three major library systems. All of them have built new and larger facilities, with the de Blasio administration's approval, that require extra books and staff, said Iris Weinshall, the New York Public Library's chief operating officer.
The libraries also offer many services including some that de Blasio has championed, such as immigration counseling and work with the city's Thrive NYC mental health initiative, according to Weinshall.
The cuts could particularly affect libraries' weekend service. Seven of the New York Public Library's 88 branches in Manhattan, The Bronx and Staten Island are currently open on Sundays, but that number would likely drop to zero if the budget forced cuts, Weinshall said. The library may also have to reduce Saturday hours, she added.
Those reductions could affect kids — libraries saw more than 1.1 million visits to story times and other free early literacy programs in the 2018 fiscal year, about 10 percent of which came on weekends, the NYPL says.
"You can just get so much blood from a stone," Weinshall said. "You just have so much staff and so many hours in the day, and if we don't have the staff to be able to cover these branches, we will have to cut back on hours."
Weinshall and Johnson conceded that de Blasio has been good to the libraries during his tenure. His administration has increased city funding for libraries by nearly 30 percent and made a significant investment in their infrastructure, according to City Hall.
"We've made a record level of investments in the City's libraries," de Blasio spokesman Raul Contreras said in a statement. "This includes funding for six-day service in every borough, and investing more than $1 billion over the next ten years for facility improvements across the three systems. We're in regular contact with the libraries about their needs, and look forward to continuing our conversation with the City Council."
But that hasn't stopped library officials from pushing hard for more.
The NYPL says New Yorkers have signed more than 70,000 letters demanding increases in library funding. Their campaign has gotten support from celebrities including "Sex and the City" star Sarah Jessica Parker, a faithful patron of Greenwich Village's Jefferson Market Library.
"People feel very passionate and very close to their local library," Weinshall said. "It becomes a part of their lives.
Tuesday, June 11, 2019
This conversation has been edited and condensed.
Ta-Nehisi, for those who may not have read the article five years ago, what, exactly, is the case that you make for reparations—which is a word that’s been around for a long, long time?
The case I make for reparations is, virtually every institution with some degree of history in America, be it public, be it private, has a history of extracting wealth and resources out of the African-American community. I think what has often been missing—this is what I was trying to make the point of in 2014—that behind all of that oppression was actually theft. In other words, this is not just mean. This is not just maltreatment. This is the theft of resources out of that community. That theft of resources continued well into the period of, I would make the argument, around the time of the Fair Housing Act.
So what year is that?
That’s 1968. There are a lot of people who—
But you’re not saying that, between 1968 and 2019, everything is hunky-dory.
I’m not saying everything was hunky-dory at all! But if you were speaking to the most intellectually honest dubious person—because, you have to remember, what I’m battling is this idea that it ended in 1865.
With emancipation and the end of the war?
With the emancipation, yes, yes, yes. And the case I’m trying to make is, within the lifetime of a large number of Americans in this country, there was theft.
A lot of your article was about Chicago housing policy. It was a very technical analysis of housing policy. When people talked to me about the article—and I could tell they hadn’t read it—“So, Ta-Nehisi’s making a case for”—no, no, no, I said. First and foremost, it’s a dissection of a particular policy that’s emblematic of so many other policies.
Right, right. So, out of all of those policies of theft, I had to pick one. And that was really my goal. And the one I picked was housing, was our housing policy. Again, we have this notion that housing as it exists today sort of sprung up from black people coming north, maybe not finding the jobs that they wanted, and thus forming, you know, some sort of pathological culture, and white people, just being concerned citizens, fled to the suburbs. But beneath that was policy! The reason why black people were confined to those neighborhoods in the first place, and white people had access to neighborhoods further away, was because of political decisions. The government underwrote that, through F.H.A. loans, through the G.I. Bill. And that, in turn, caused the devaluing of black neighborhoods, and an inability to access credit, to even improve neighborhoods.
Now, your article starts with someone who lived through these racist policies, a man named Clyde Ross. Tell us the story of Clyde Ross. How did he react to the article?
So, Mr. Ross was living on the West Side of Chicago.
He started out in Mississippi.
Started out in Mississippi, in the nineteen-twenties, born in Mississippi under Jim Crow. His family lost their land, had their land basically stolen from them, had his horse stolen from him. He goes off, fights in World War II, comes back, like a lot of people, says, “I can’t live in Clarksdale[, Mississippi]—I just can’t be here. I’m gonna kill somebody or I’m gonna get killed.” Comes up to Chicago. In Chicago, all of the social conventions of Jim Crow are gone. You don’t have to move off the street because somebody white is walking by, doesn’t have to take his hat off or look down or anything like that, you know. Gets a job at Campbell’s Soup Company, and he wants the, you know, the last emblem of the American Dream—he wants homeownership. Couldn’t go to the bank and get a loan like everybody else.
And he was making a decent wage.
There’s such a moving moment in the piece where he’s sitting with you and he admits, “We were ashamed. We did not want anyone to know that we were that ignorant,” and felt that his ignorance had extended to his understanding of life in America, in Chicago, which had seemed, to use the phrase of the Great Migration, the Promised Land.
Right, right. And he felt like a sucker. And he felt stupid, just as anybody would. And I don’t think he knew, on the level, the extent to which the con actually went. And then living in a community of people—and this was somebody getting a piece—but living in a community of people who were being ripped off. And they couldn’t talk about it to each other because they wanted to maintain this sort of façade, or this front, that they owned their homes, not that somebody else actually held the deed. And so for a long time there was a great period of silence about it.
Did Mr. Ross react to your piece?
Yeah, he did.
What did he say?
He said reparations will never happen.
So, in the aftermath of the piece—piece comes out, fifteen thousand words in The Atlantic, tremendous interest in it. You said this about the piece, I think it was in the Washington Post. You said, “When I wrote ‘The Case for Reparations,’ my notion wasn’t that you could actually get reparations passed, even in my lifetime. My notion was that you could get people to stop laughing.” What did you mean?
Well, I mean, it was a Dave Chappelle joke, you know? And what the joke was was, if black people got reparations, all the silly, dumb things that they would actually do.
You know, buy cars, buy rims, fancy clothes, as though other people don’t do those things. And once I started researching not just the fact of plunder but actually the history of the reparations fight, which literally goes back to the American Revolution—George Washington, when he dies, in his will, he leaves things to those who were enslaved. It wasn’t a foreign notion that if you had stripped people of something you might actually owe them something. It really only became foreign after the Civil War and emancipation. And so this was quite a dignified idea, and actually an idea there was quite a bit of literature on. And the notion that it was somehow funnier, I thought, really, really diminished what was a serious, trenchant, and deeply, deeply perceptive idea.
If you visited Israel between the fifties and a certain time, you would see Mercedes-Benz taxis all over the country, and you’d wonder. This is not a particularly rich country, at least not yet. This was reparations—this was part of the reparations payment from Germany to Israel in the immediate aftermath of the Holocaust, Second World War. What do reparations look like now?
Right, because they gave them vouchers to buy German goods, right.
What’s being asked for? The rewriting of textbooks, the public discussion—what? In terms of policy, how do you look at it?
So first you need the actual crime documented. You need the official imprimatur of the state: they say this actually happened. I just think that’s a crucial, crucial first step. And the second reason you have a commission is to figure out how we pay it back. I think it’s crucial to tie reparations to specific acts—again, why you need a study. This is not ‘I checked black on my census, therefore’—I’ll give you an example of this. For instance, we have what I would almost call a pilot, less significant reparations program right now, actually running in Chicago. Jon Burge, who ran this terrible unit of police officers that tortured black people and sent a lot of innocent black people to jail over the course of I think twenty or so years. And then, once he was found out, in Chicago there was a reparations plan put together with victims, [who] were actually given reparations. But, in addition to that, crucial to that, they changed how they taught history. You had to actually teach Jon Burge. You had to actually teach people about what happened. So it wasn’t just the money. There was some sort of—I hesitate to say educational, but I guess that’s the word we’d use—the educational element to it. And I just think you can’t win this argument by trying to hide the ball. Not in the long term. And so I think both of those things are crucial.
As of this moment, in 2019, there are more than twenty Democratic Presidential candidates running. Eight of them have said they’ll support a bill to at least create a commission to study reparations. What do you make of that? Is it symbolic, or is it lip service, or is it just a way to secure the black vote? Or is it something much more serious than all that?
Uh, it’s probably in some measure all four of those things. It certainly is symbolic. Supporting a commission is not reparations in and of itself. It’s certainly lip service, from at least some of the candidates. I’m actually less sure about [this], in terms of the black vote—it may ultimately be true that this is something that folks rally around, but that’s never been my sense.
Are there candidates that you take more seriously than others when they talk about reparations?
Yeah, I think Elizabeth Warren is probably serious.
In what way?
I think she means it. I mean—I guess it will break a little news—after “The Case for Reparations” came out, she just asked me to come and talk one on one with her about it.
This is five years ago, when your piece came out in The Atlantic?
Yeah, maybe it was a little later than that, but it was about the time. It was well before she declared anything about running for President.
And what was your conversation with Elizabeth Warren like?
She had read it. She was deeply serious, and she had questions. And it wasn’t, like, Will you do X, Y, and Z for me? It wasn’t, like, I’m trying to demonstrate I’m serious. I have not heard from her since, either, by the way.
Have you talked to any candidates about it?
You published your article five years ago. Barack Obama was President. We are now in a different time and place. How would you place the reparations discussion in this moment?
Yeah, I think people have stopped laughing, and that is really, really important. Does it mean reparations tomorrow? No, it doesn’t. Does it mean end of the fight? No, it doesn’t. But it’s a step, and I think that’s significant.
Now, what would you like to see the outcome of a conversation, or the American equivalent of a South African study into American history, be?
A policy for repair. I think what you need to do is you need to figure out what the exact axes of white supremacy are, and have been, and find out a policy to repair each of those. In other words, this is not just a mass payment. So take the area that I researched. The time I wrote the article—less every day—the time I wrote the article, there were living victims, and are living victims, who had been denied—
Who were on the South Side and the West Side of Chicago.
Yeah! All over this country. People who had been deprived, who had been discriminated against. Set up a claims office. Look at the census tracts. Are those people actually still living there? You know, maybe you can design some sort of investment through resources. Maybe you can have something at the individual level, maybe you can have something at the neighborhood level, and then you would go down the line. You would look at education. You would look at our criminal-justice policy. You would go down the line and address these specifically and directly.
Is your job to just break the glass on a subject, the way you did with reparations, or is it your job to then follow through the way a scholar would for years thereafter?
That’s a great question.
Do you feel your work here is done, and now I’m moving on to the next thing, as you have with any number of subjects? Or do you have to sustain it? Is that on you?
I don’t know. I really don’t know. I would like to be able to move on. But I recognize that’s not entirely up to me.
Monday, June 10, 2019
'This is what you shall do; Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body.
― Walt Whitman