Occupy Wall Street's Librarians Make Demands At Rally
On Wednesday afternoon, the People's Librarians of Occupy Wall Street gathered together to mourn the volumes lost and destroyed in last week's pre-dawn raid of Zuccotti Park and to demand that the city make amends.
Nine days ago, during what the NYPD described as a temporary cleaning of Zuccotti Park, more than 4,000 books were thrown in dumpsters, along with the tents, medical supplies, kitchen equipment, and laptops the protesters had accrued during nearly two months of occupation.
Hours later, the Mayor's Office tweeted that the property taken from Zuccotti, including the library, was safely stored at a Sanitation Garage in Manhattan and could be picked up the following day. But when the librarians visited the storage facility, they said they found only about 800 books from the collection in usable condition, while 79 percent of the books had been either lost or destroyed.
"The People's Library signified everything that Occupy Wall Street was about," Frances Mercanti-Anthony, an actress and writer who joined the Occupation at the beginning of October, said on Wednesday before the gathering began. She began to tear up. "It's heartbreaking. I want our books back, I want our space back, I want our movement back."
Mayor Michael Bloomberg's office did not immediately respond to request for comment.
On Wednesday, the recovered books were displayed before a crowd of media, protesters and legal experts. The group gathered in a hot, tiny room in a lawyer's office in midtown Manhattan, around a long, polished wood table piled high with ruined books. A copy of Shakespeare's "Macbeth" was cracked, its cover torn. Several Bibles lay in the heap alongside books by Maya Angelou, Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, all marked with the People's Library stamp along the side. A copy of the mayor's biography, "Bloomberg by Bloomberg," had been part of the original collection in Zuccotti, but it wasn't displayed on the table -- it was among the 2,900 books still unaccounted for. Emotions ran high.
Whatever the problems that have cropped up in Zuccotti Park -- assaults, drug use, arguments among protesters -- the People's Library had remained one of the occupation's few uncontroversial points of pride.
"There was a magic that sprung up there and now it's gone," said Stephen Beyer, hugging a large white binder to his chest. Beyer had lived and worked in the library for six weeks. On the night of the raid, he was only able to rescue his personal belongings and the large white binder -- the Occupy Wall Street poetry anthology, comprised of hundreds of poems supporters sent in since September 17th.
The librarians and their legal allies -- including Norman Siegel, the long-time former director of the New York Civil Liberties Union who is involved with a number of other OWS legal actions, Gideon Oliver of the National Lawyers Guild and Hawa Allan, a Fellow at Columbia Law School -- had three demands for the city: replace the books that were lost or destroyed, acknowledge that what happened to the library was wrong, and provide a new space for the People's Library to reside.
"The destruction of this library was an attempt to silence and destroy our movement, but we're not going to allow this to happen," said Mandy Henk, an occasional weekend librarian at The People's Library and full-time librarian at an academic library in Indiana. Henk first visited Zuccotti after reading a story online that posted a wish list for the library. One request was for a librarian.
On Wednesday afternoon, Henk also grew teary-eyed as she talked about the loss of the books -- all of which had been donated, catalogued and marked with International Standard Book Numbers (ISBN). The People's Library, she told the crowd, "was in every single possible sense a real and a true library. What kind of a people are we if we can't create a public space in which people can come and share ideas with each other?"
Henk is not sure when she will be back in New York. She has a winter break coming up and would like to return to the library, she said, if there is anything to return to.
Whatever the future of the movement, NYCLU's Siegel said at the meeting's conclusion, "you cannot move forward without addressing what happened on the night of the raid."
Last Sunday, Siegel and a number of other lawyers and lawmakers sent a letter to Mayor Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Kelly questioning the legality of the raid, including the destruction of occupiers' property and the roughly 220 arrests. The mayor has not yet responded, Siegel said.
"The mayor and I disagree about a lot of issues, but I can't believe that he knows this happened," Siegel said, gesturing towards the table of ruined books. "I can't believe Bloomberg wants a legacy that says his administration treats books like garbage."
The library, meanwhile, has continued to gather donations. The remaining and incoming books now live in a storage facility near Zuccotti Park.