How a Book Burning Party Saved the Library
Frederick Clarkson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Sun Jun 17, 2012 at 07:07:16 PM EST
What good is knowledge, if no one has access to it?  That was the underlying question in Troy, Michigan where Tea Party activists sought to thwart a small tax increase to keep the award winning library open. This was the third effort, and the anti-tax crowd was well organized.

But the people who wanted to save the library had an idea.

Chris Meadows at Teleread, writes:

So the library approached ad agency Leo Burnett/Arc Worldwide Detroit and asked what they could do with a $3,500 budget. The company produced a guerilla and social marketing campaign (PDF) in which they pretended to be a clandestine group urging people to vote to close the library so they could hold a book-burning party afterward.

They put up yard signs all over town, placed a classified ad asking for clowns and caterers for the party, and posted a Facebook page for their campaign where they made cute little inflammatory announcements like "Our agenda's pretty simple. We want the library to close so we can have a book burning party. What's not to get?" This had the effect of focusing the public's attention away from the question of a tax increase and onto the question of losing a library's worth of books. (They did reveal it was a hoax before the actual election.)

The campaign apparently worked; voter turnout in the election was 38%, double the anticipated 19%, and the vote won by a significant margin. And the campaign ended up winning an Effie Award, the marketing industry's equivalent of an Oscar or Grammy.

The campaign ultimately revealed that the book burning party campaign was a hoax and that their intention was to send a message: "A vote against the library, is like a vote to burn books."

There is much to learn from this amusing and heartening victory. And there are certainly implications for other issues, and perhaps even for broad agendas. But one comes immediately to mind for me.

For many years the principal strategy of the antiabortion movement in all of its factions -- including the Religious Right -- has been to find ways to reduce the number of abortions performed by restricting access. This has been the unambiguous intention in the Obama era as well. The extraordinary escalation of the number of abortion restricting bills introduced in state legislatures is a logical outcome.  It is completely consistent with movement thinking for a generation, and since they have the power to act in many legislatures thanks in part to gains in 2010, they are acting on their beliefs.

"We have opportunities before us which if properly exploited," declared militant strategist Mark Crutcher, of Life Dynamics in 1992, "could result in an America where abortion may be perfectly legal, but no one can get one."

The right to abortion, like any other right also means having access to that right. You may have the right to read, but not have access to books if there are no libraries.  You may have the right to vote, but may not be able to do so if you are a victim of what we euphemistically call voter suppression tactics.

The takeaway lesson for me is that we need to do better, much better, at building a culture of democracy, that includes not taking vital institutions like public education and libraries, or basic civil and human rights for granted.

The library issue in Troy, MI should have been a no brainer -- that it  wasn't, and voter turn-out was expected to be only 19%, underscores how chronic, long term lack of participation in the basics of democracy are threatening vital institutions and basic human rights. That an imaginative and provocative guerrilla campaign intervention saved the library is a heartening tale. But that the situation required one is sobering.

Just a note to say that if the real goal was to reduce the number of abortions performed, the answer would be simple--look to the countries where it's legal, easily available, and free! The real agenda is power and control over other people's bodies between the navel and the knees. Canada and European countries with easily available and cheap birth control, good birth control counselling, and comprehensive sex education in school that's age-appropriate, have fewer abortions that the US, even though the procedures are easier to get, and paid for with federal or state funds. Most of these factors don't require a lot of re-juggling "Obamacare" provided the Supremes OK it. I'm going to do my best to get the story about this library's recovery plan on my denomination's website.

by arachne646 on Wed Jun 20, 2012 at 12:17:42 PM EST

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