Friday, October 27, 2006

JCLC Conference Notes, Day Three: Plenary Session with Juan Williams

(Day Three would be October 14, 2006)

Plenary Speaker: Juan Williams, NPR Correspondent and Fox News Commentator.

  • His new book, Enough, subtitled The Phony Leaders, Dead-End Movements, and Culture of Failure that are Undermining Black America--and What We Can Do About It, asks where the Civil Rights Movement is to go in the 21st century. Much of this will be moved along by our libraries' successes. The great struggle now is the class line. The struggle is to make sure people can step through the doors opened by previous members of the Civil Rights Movement, to make sure that people now have the resources to do so.
  • Now is the time to say enough. It is the time to tap into the traditions of self-reliance, of fighting to rise.
  • We need to acknowledge the crisis of the poverty rates in the United States. While Wall Street has its record days, no one sees the poverty crisis.
  • The Black community needs to call on the creativity and perseverance, the spirit of those like Sojourner Truth, Frederic Douglass, Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. DuBois, among others.
  • This is a call to arms. We need to undertake the challenges of our day.
  • We know the great leaders of history but often forget those who spark a movement. We need new models of social change.
  • Librarians of color come together at a historical moment. It is not time to be self-involved but to see the big picture. Don't be afraid to face the facts on the ground. Today's challenges require us to rise above ourselves, recognize we are truly about helping others. Enough of wasting time on excuses, phony leaders and movements. Rather than waiting on a new leader, it is time to tap into ourselves, time to stand up and say people are a priority, children and libraries are a priority. What will we say when a new librarian 20 years from now asks, "did you understand what happened at the start of the century?" Be the one who can reply, "yes, I did, and we came together to solve and work."
Various notes based on replies and questions from the audience. Mr. Williams is a passionate speaker, and he ellicited much reaction from the audience.
  • It is time to hold people and politicians responsible. This idea should not be controversial. Find what can be done in the communities. Don't let the idea of politics as a large machine distract you. Learn about your opportunities and be ready to walk ahead.
  • On a comment about what was the role of libraries: The library has to be a part of the community, a place to learn, to tap into traditions. Allow the children to discover the library. It is not just a place of Internet access (this remark got applause from the audience).
  • Replying to a comment asking about how he felt working as a Fox News contributor and the role of news: News has become a niche format with stories that confirm people's prejudices. A journalist should seek truth, comfort some, and bring discomfort to others. We live in a media driven society. Fox taps on those threatened by immigration, taps on an older and white audience. The challenge is not to worry about those who worry about the status quo. Worry instead about creating the coalitions and moving forward. Speak of opportunities, not just grievances.
    • Along with this, he made some remark about having a lot of scars. It was in context to him remarking that on some days he felt like a piñata. This was figurative, referring to scars from debates. He opened his jacket as he talked for emphasis, only to have some rowdy female librarian yell out, "Juan, take your shirt off." This was a light moment in the presentation. Ah, those frisky librarians.
  • On Hurricane Katrina: Katrina represents a squandered moment of conscience. The lesson of Katrina now is an opportunity to learn. New Orleans already had a great storm in the poverty concentrations. We saw that family was important. We saw that many who "coped" better with Katrina had good families. Katrina should teach us how to deal with poverty. Ask what you can do to help yourself? (This ellicited a lot of reaction and murmur, a sign this is still a very open question. I think his point was for people not to let others tell them "you are a victim," not to simply wait on the government to save them, a government that should be held accountable as well).
  • On how to keep it together: Power and opportunity in greater numbers and voices. Use each other as resources, become vital parts of the larger organizations. Note the example of the vendors at the conference: they show up for the larger stronger groups. Use the power of the coalition that has been built by this conference.
I missed the morning concurrent session following the presentation since I went to get a copy of his book and get it signed. It was a long line, but well worth it. Mr. Williams was always gracious with all the people he met, and unlike many writers who seem anxious to just move along, took the time to talk to people and write something unique as he signed, which accounted for the long line, but I would say it was worth it. Besides, while I waited I had a chance to talk to other librarians from other places. As soon as I read his book, I will post a note about it.

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