UPDATE: The “no” campaign won in Pella by 2,041 votes to 1,954 (51.1 percent to 48.9 percent). Original post follows.
AJ Jones is a writer. She is a creator of art and expresses herself across different mediums. She embraces her neurodivergence as a unique way to view the world and create a better future.
“No more apologies for a bleeding heart when the opposite is no heart at all. Danger of losing our humanity must be met with more humanity.” -Toni Morrison
It isn’t by mistake that I begin with a quote from an author whose books have been banned in more than a dozen Iowa school districts. Nor do I think it is a mistake that five women in Pella have been fighting a clean fight for democracy and have conducted themselves in a way that is neatly depicted in the second sentence of the quote.
These five women, driven by a sense of community, civil rights, civil liberties and fair play have been standing up for an American institution under attack within their community. They are encouraging Pella residents to “Vote No” for the public library, so that the library board can maintain exclusive authority to manage library affairs.
They have kept honorable methods of outreach and truth. They have focused solely on the idea of community and talking to each other, as neighbors do in a pristine, village-like community located in central Iowa. When a “bait and switch” measure ended up on the ballot, they responded by reaching out to EveryLibrary.org for guidance.
I had the pleasure of speaking with John Chrastka, founder of EveryLibrary.org, who has been assisting the “Vote No” campaign in Pella for the past eighteen months. “’Vote Yes’ folks are a special interest group with a social agenda,” Chrastka explained. In effect, the “Vote Yes” folks banked on the idea that Pella residents would automatically support giving the city council oversight of the library. They made that bet because when “library” and “yes” are on the ballot together, the usual assumption is that the measure would be good for the library. People who expect a “yes” vote to be something good are being deceived.
I was surprised to find out this is not the first time activists have used this bait and switch. EveryLibrary.org has been called in to help other libraries navigate through murky policy concerns. Chrastka offered up a community in Michigan (which like Pella has a large Dutch Reformed population) as an example. Their platform was about eliminating groomers and pedophiles, which is something we can all get behind. Except: it was actually about book banning.
Now, Patmos District Library in Jamestown Charter Township, Michigan, is in danger of closing. The library is not in compliance with state law, which has resulted in no funding. “It is a small place,” Chrastka reflected. “There are subdivisions being built there now and they are wanting to build a school. They shouldn’t be losing their library.”
There is also Jonesboro, Arkansas, where 150 “frustrated banners” got together to get a measure on the ballot. Again, Vote Yes. People voted in good faith, and the “yes” side won by 54 votes. People who thought they were doing something good for their local library ended up shrinking the funds available to the facility by 50 percent.
“Vote No campaigners moved from being a group of volunteers who have hope for their participation in the democratic process to being a group of volunteers who have come together to really form what I think is a very American thing, which is a local political action group,” said Chrastka. “They are focused on maintaining the freedom to read…“
The First Amendment isn’t just about the freedom of speech; part of the First Amendment is the freedom of assembly. You get together and you talk about the things that matter to you. You move public policy forward. And their right to assemble is as core is that freedom of speech. It’s a nice thing to see that intersection point between those two freedoms in the First Amendment like that.
Libraries provide the space and location for both parts of the First Amendment to occur. Any assault on such a necessary institution is a direct assault on a community’s First Amendment rights.
Win or lose in Pella’s election today, the Vote No volunteers have shown what it is to be American. They have done so using truth and honest dealings with their friends and neighbors. Isn’t that what community is all about?