East Side Freedom Library Gives New Life to Carnegie Library & St. Paul Neighborhood

NOTE: Librarian has-been that I am, I regret to admit that I had not followed the creation of the East Side Freedom Library with the attention it richly deserves. Perennial information-sharer that I hope to remain, my intent here is to share some of the story of this community work-in-progress. ESFL thrives as a living legacy that breathes life into the stories of a neighborhood always in flux and of the people who have long shaped — and continue to enhance — this vibrant community.

Browsing a Friends of the Library book sale a few years ago, I picked up a copy of Twelve Branches: A collection of stories gathered from the dozen branches of the St. Paul Public Library published several years ago Friends of SPPL. I was reminded of that little tome when I learned recently of the reincarnation of the Arlington Hills Library on St. Paul’s East Side. It made me think about the subtle presence – the stories, experiences, spirit of a neighborhood that lingers within a library building. The stories survive, even when the bricks and mortar structure that once thrived as a public library is deemed a Digital Age Dinosaur.

The venerable Arlington Hills Branch was a Carnegie Library, constructed in 1918, located to serve the ever-changing flow of immigrant workers who continue to settle – and stay – on St. Paul’s East Side. Library patrons have always been new Americans.   Once they were-Post World War I immigrants from Europe, the immigrants who built the churches and schools, worked on the railroad, and labored in the industries that thrived on the East Side “back in the day. Today’s residents are a mix of immigrant newcomers from Southeast Asia, East Africa, and Central America, poor people seeking jobs and a place to rear their families. (http://eastsidefreedomlibrary.org/building/st-pauls-east-side/)

Once abandoned, the stately Arlington Hills Library building has risen Phoenix-like to preserve and share the stories of the neighbors and the neighborhood – stories that echo in the once-lonely structure while they reflect the ever-evolving vitality of the community.

The Carnegie building now houses the East Side Freedom Library, once a dream, now a reality. ESFL reflects the vision of labor historian Peter Rachleff, his wife theater artist Beth Cleary, and a host of determined colleagues including Macalester and East Side residents.

Readily evident in the library’s fledgling collection are the stories of organized labor, much culled from the personal collection of founder Rachleff. There’s more, however, including selection by and about African American History, especially works by and about W.E.B. DuBois, co-founder of the NAACP, and a mix of fiction and non-fiction that capture the lives of working people, stories of the East Side community. Soon to find their place on ESFL shelves are the Hmong Archives (http://hmongarchives.org), a collection of books and materials that capture the history and lives of the East Side’s more recent residents.

The ESFL also boasts a robust agenda of public programming that draws neighbors to the emerging community gathering place. Rachleff estimates that ESFL hosts public events six days a week. Neighbors gather to explore ideas ranging from this week’s discussion of the papal encyclicals of Pope Francis (http://eastsidefreedomlibrary.org/event/conversation-on-the-papal-encyclical-on-climate-crisis-july-29/) to next week’s documentary on Minnesota’s best known architectural feature (http://eastsidefreedomlibrary.org/event/who-built-our-capitol/)

The impressive story of the resurrection and evolution of the library building is told by those far better informed and more articulate than this blogger. My intent is to highlight – and link to – the stories that others have recorded, just in case the reader has somehow missed (as I did) this bit of history unfolding in our own time.

  • The first link is to the East Side Free Library’s impressive website which shares the stories of the library’s evolution and of the East Side community itself.   (http://eastsidefreedomlibrary.org

 

 

Taking a broad view of National Whistleblower Appreciation Day

Cowardice asks the question, ‘Is it safe?’ Expediency asks the question, ‘Is it politic?’ Vanity asks the question, ‘Is it popular?’ But conscience asks the question, ‘Is it right?’  And there comes a time when   one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular but we must take it because our conscience tells us that it is right. —Martin Luther King, Jr.

Historically and generally speaking, the term “whistleblower” is most often applied to employees sharing tales of malfeasance in government entities or corporations. In recent months Minnesotans, particularly MPR listeners, have heard the term applied even more frequently to allegations of fraud and abuse in universities, corporations and ecclesiastical circles. Whatever the setting, the risky role of whistleblowers – and their need for legal protection — will be feted on National Whistleblower Appreciation Day Thursday, July 30, 2015.

The date commemorates the July 30, 1778 passage by the Continental Congress of the first whistleblower protection law. By passing that law the Founding Fathers resolved that “it is the duty of all persons in the service of the United States, as well as all other inhabitants thereof, to give the earliest information to Congress or any other proper authority of any misconduct, frauds or misdemeanors committed by any persons in the service of these states, which may come to their knowledge.”

Robert Greenwald of Brave New Films as “a time to honor whistleblowers and push for the de-criminalization of truth telling describes national Whistleblower Appreciation Day.” Greenwald goes on to underscore that “whistleblowers are pioneers of change who risk everything – their livelihood, homes and freedom – to tell the truth in hopes of making the world a better place.”

It was activist Ralph Nader who first fashioned the term “whistle-blower,” derived from the familiar whistle that referees use to spot an illegal or foul play. Nader’s intent was to replace what he considered loaded pejorative terms such as “snitch” and “informer”, intentionally used to squelch unwelcome disclosure of workplace conditions.

Though much national  focus is on contemporary headline whistleblowers such as Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning, the roster of individuals who have earned the title is as diverse as it is extensive. Politico’s photo gallery of famous and infamous whistleblowers offers a broad swath of examples, some better known for their cinematic portrayals than for their real-life persona. (http://www.politico.com/gallery/2013/06/10-famous-infamous-whistleblowers/001091-015380.html)

Though there are many legal permutations, the fundamental legislation generally cited is the Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989, Public Law 101-12 as amended. This is the federal law that protects federal whistleblowers who work for the government and report agency misconduct. The law states that “A federal agency violates the Whistleblower Protection Act if agency authorities take (or threaten to take) retaliatory personnel action against any employee or applicant because of disclosure of information by that employee or applicant. Whistleblowers‪ may file complaints that they believe reasonably evidence a violation of a law, rule or regulation; gross mismanagement; gross waste of funds; an abuse of authority; or a substantial and specific danger to public health or safety.”

Clearly, the law refers to public information, federal agencies, employees and actions. Still, it sets a pace for industry, corporations, nonprofits, even faith-based entities, to pay heed to whistleblower protection.

In 2013 the effort to shield whistleblowers was strengthened by unanimous passage vote of a Senate Resolution offered by Senator Charles Grassley to establish the Senate Whistleblower Protection Caucus. The resolution requires that a bipartisan coalition of Senators be directed to “work to ensure whistleblowers in all sectors obtain meaningful protections.”

Key to implementation of the Senate Resolution is the National Whistleblower Center www.nationalwhistleblowersday.org), a prime organizer and sponsor of National Whistleblower Day. NWC promotes a bipartisan approach to whistleblower protection and plumbs the history of whistleblower law.

The National Whistleblower Legal Defense & Education Fund (NWLDEF) maintains a robust blog that traces over two decades of whistleblower laws and legal determinations. (http://www.whistleblowers.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=320&Itemid=141) The NWLDEF blog provides a reliable up-to-date report all things whistleblower-related.

A quick search discloses a wealth of resources for individuals seeking to know more about legal issues related to whistleblowers’ rights at the federal level. For example, the NWC offers a Guide to Federal Whistleblower Laws and Regulations, The Whistleblower’s Handbook, and a brief Know Your (Whistleblower) Rights FAQ that serves as a good starting point.

Needless to say, Minnesota law is a whole other issue. The State Law Library has updated its listing of whistleblower-related resources, including several cited in this post. Find that guide by clicking on http://mn.gov/lawlib/whistleblower.html.  Of special interest is Marshall Tannick’s lively narrative of Minnesota’s rather slow embrace of whistleblower protections. Though I am not legally trained or certified I was able to understand Tannick’s article. I was also able to comprehend much of the Bench & Bar 2013 review of whistleblower protection law in Minnesota (http://mnbenchbar.com/2013/09/the-canary-sings-again/)

Though most whistleblowers escape the headlines the threat of retribution silences many who know the facts but fear to blow the whistle.   The goal of National Whistleblower Day is to increase public awareness of the history, legal protections and unique role of whistleblowers, whatever the context, challenge, motivation or the impediments that inhibit whistleblower wannabes from taking action.

Whistleblowers and leaders from a mix of national organizations will be meeting in Washington, DC on National Whistleblower Appreciation Day for what is now identified as the Whistleblower Summit for Civil and Human Rights (http://whistleblowersummit.com/about/. Participants will continue efforts connect whistleblower and First Amendment advocates with each other and with the broader civil rights and global human rights movements. Theme of the 2015 Summit is Black Lives Matter—This Is the Movement!

Whistleblowers – from Ralph Nader to Daniel Ellsberg to Karen Silkwood to Coleen Rowley to Jennifer Hasselberger, along with countless anonymous truth-tellers – have changed history. Regardless of their work situation whistleblowers deserve protection from on-the-job retaliation and appreciation for a better-informed public.

National Whistleblower Appreciation Day ~Thursday, July 30, 2015

 

 

 

Remembering Zella Shannon – Library leader, visionary force

Though there was only one Zella Shannon, friends and professional colleagues recall wonderfully different facets of her legacy.  Known always as “Zella”, never “Ms Shannon,”  she is best known to many as a world-class librarian and library administrator.  Zella Shannon died at her retirement  home in Arizona on Tuesday, June 30, 2015.

The stories of Zella’s vision and leadership abound:

Retired State Librarian Bill Asp reflects on the role that Zella played in crafting what is now the taken-for-granted policy that an individual may use his or her public library card to check out items from any public library throughout the state – a truly revolutionary idea “back in the day.” Asp recalls that, during the late 60’s and early 70’s the push for reciprocal borrowing privileges, initiated among just three neighbor regions, had spread to the rest of the state’s regions – with the exception of the metro area. Asp appointed a task force to study statewide borrowing – Zella Shannon, representing the Minneapolis Public Library, served on that task force.  Asp writes, “Zella approached the task as a problem solver. She acknowledged that there would be problems and risks, but also that there would benefits. Zella was always positive. She was determined to find ways to make a statewide reciprocal borrowing compact work. Her support in bringing Minneapolis Public Library on board influenced other metropolitan public libraries and they all agreed to participate in the statewide compact.”

Similarly, many in the Minneapolis business community are likely unaware that it was Zella who imagined – then implemented – INFORM, the fee-based information service for business and industry crafted by Minneapolis Public Library in collaboration with the University of Minnesota and other metropolitan libraries. Long before the dawn of the Digital Age  Zella, always the visionary, posited that ready access to relevant and high quality information was of essential economic value. Thus, corporations would be willing to pay to enjoy ready access to the resources of the public library – the information itself and, even more, the high level skills of the library’s information professionals. (“Public Library Service to the Corporate Community, Special Libraries, 65 (January 1974).

One of my favorite Zella stories recounts her encounter with law enforcement agents who, in their quest for enemy agents or other un-American activities, demanded to see the circulation records of Minneapolis Public Library.   Zella, in step with librarians throughout the country, put a stop to that, declaring that “we’re not obstructionist of justice, but from our point of view, what someone reads in the library is private and sacred.”

In retirement, Zella pressed on to effect change. Though she ran with gusto and commitment to the principles of the DFL Zella was defeated in her run for a seat representing in the Minnesota Legislature.

Her beloved husband of many years, Floyd, died several years ago. To Zella’s regret, they had no children. Throughout her life, until her health and eyesight limited her mobility, Zella remained active in community and library activities as a member of Central Lutheran Church, as a member and one-time chapter president of Special Libraries Association, member of the Citizens League, the Metropolitan Senior Federation, and other DFL and library-associated activities. For the past couple of years she has lived in a nursing home in Arizona to be near family, always keeping in touch with personal, political and professional colleagues back in the Twin Cities.

The legacy of Zella Shannon, a committed, determined visionary, will live on in the library and political community of the city, the region and the state. A memorial service will be held on Saturday, August 1, 11:00 AM at Central Lutheran Church in Minneapolis where she once – or perhaps more than once – served as a Trustee

 

 

 

 

At the venerable age of 80 Social Security keeps up with the times

The 80th anniversary of Social Security completes the trifecta of progressive federal legislation that has changed the lives of millions and the social fabric of the nation; other monumental legislation we commemorate this summer include the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the 50th anniversary of Medicare. (https://marytreacy.wordpress.com/2015/07/17/milestones-mark-impact-of-major-federal-legislation)

Truth to tell, Social Security is so woven into the lives of every American that we take it for granted, fail to consider the path that led to this monumental legislation and to appreciate ways in which Social Security has adjusted, adapted and weathered eight turbulent decades.

Social Security emerged from the darkest days of the Depression, initiated by FDR, implemented in part by Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins) http://www.ssa.gov/history/fperkins.html). Perkins, who harbored some misgivings, observed later, when the dust had begun to settle, that “it is difficult now to understand fully the doubts and confusions in which we were planning this great new enterprise.”

Conservatives resisted, objecting to the expansion of the federal government and “the inevitable abandonment of private capitalism.” Playing to Americans’ premonitions of war, they spared no effort in their campaign to kill the concept; warning Americans “the lash of the dictator will be felt.” They fueled the fears by threatening the body politic that “this bill opens the door and invites the entrance into the political field of a power so vast, so powerful as to threaten the integrity of institutions and to pull the pillars of the temple down upon the heads of our descendants.”

In spite of the skeptics and Americans’ predisposition to a spirit of individualism, FDR persisted – persevered. His opponents caved, ultimately voting for the legislation that Roosevelt signed into law on August 14, 1935.

The 1935 legislation has been amended countless times in the intervening years. Some useful resources that offer context and trace the evolution of Social Security over the past eight decades:

There’s a great timeline of developments and changes on the SSA website at http://www.ssa.gov/80thanniversary/timeline.html.

The Wikipedia entry on the Social Security Administration offers a useful summary with copious links to original sources.

For a quick synopsis of Social Security beneficiaries as of May 2015, check this simple but revelatory chart. (http://www.ssa.gov/policy/docs/quickfacts/stat_snapshot/2015-05.pdf)

Needless to say, the digital world is replete with resources on the history, statistics, social and political impact of Social Security. For a quick synopsis of eight decades of SSA, the federal agency has created a convenient summary of highlights available at http://www.ssa.gov/history/orghist.html

If you prefer video, you may want to view this April 2015 documentary produced and available online from the Social Security Administration. This is actually a history of social insurance, placing 21st Century Social Security in the historic context of which is the primary manifestation. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=96Le2HoYaSA

As we stumble our way into an interminable campaign season it is probably a good idea to have a grasp of how we as a nation have struggled with hard times, personal needs, and social justice over the decades. We are not the first Americans to face tough choices – learning from history could possibly lead to informed decisions that are as wise as they are just. Though conditions evolve, the idea of progress remains a human aspiration and a social/political challenge.

Ode to Open Government

There are sins that are rated more mortal than errancy

They’re committed by those who would stymie transparency

Lack of access to data and facts that are hidden

Are more harmful to freedom than what is forbidden.

Though our founders were known for inherent division

The nation they shaped reflected a vision

While their concept of voters was pitifully dated

On one basic score they cannot be berated.

They figured that voters were basically wise

(In addition to white, land-owning and guys)

With no twitter or email, texting or iPad

Voters could winnow the good from the bad.

People looked to the press, turned to printers and ink,

To express their ideas, to read, write and think.

Voters owned the decisions, they claimed them as theirs,

Not a knee-jerk response to a few billionaires.

In ways we’ve progressed, we’ve opened the process.

More people are voting, but still we have less –

Less  access to options that lead to wise choices.

Worse yet, we fear no one’s hearing our voices.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Zen of public transit

Note: In light of the prolonged disruption of mass transit systems and interminable discourse re. expansion of LRT it seems timely to pause and reflect on the virtues of public transit, without which life in this community would be far more stressful than it already is…. In this class-conscious society there remains one environment that is generously shared by all who choose to avail themselves of the freedom that public transit offers. Public transit is the common ground that provides a unique shared experience with legendary equanimity.  One of the many advantages of public transit is that it gives the rider time and inspiration to ponder the mega-issues embedded in the economic, political technological and social conditions that typically pigeon-hole all of us, in spite of the revered premise that we were theoretically “created equal.” Though most public transit riders focus on their digital instrument of choice, my preference is to capitalize on the opportunity to observe the individuals who share the venture. The stories, created in my head to fit the visible presence of my fellow travelers, provide a unique mental picture of people who choose or need to share a seat and a bonding experience. Given my frequent, though geographically limited, travels my observations are personal, definitely not universal. It would be far more enlightening – and fun – to capture the reflections of a mix of transit riders. One conclusion drawn from personal experience is that, on the LRT, it’s every passenger for herself re positioning one’s perch;  meanwhile, on the bus, where civility persists, seats are reserved for the elderly and people with disabilities. The elderly arrive in droves after and before rush hour – the fare difference matters more than employed riders may be aware. With rare exception, reserved seats rule. Veteran riders know to relocate when they hear the ramp shooting out to welcome a wheelchair-bound rider. White canes signal a hasty shuffle of seats.   Agile youth defer to self-identified elders, often seniors grappling with a grocery cart or a few reusable bags from Aldis or Target. The reserved seat policy is broadly interpreted to include parents with strollers.  Failure to abide by the unwritten rules elicits disapproving glances from veteran riders. In the age of the digital device du jour, the level of public transit-related human interaction is in decline. Teens and YA’s threaten their eardrums and annoy their elders with the pulsating beat that must have some redeeming purpose. Voracious readers open their Kindles with one hand as they flash their Go-To card with the other. Some unreconstructed riders actually read the daily paper with a practiced dexterity that demonstrates rare facility with the print format; many others bury their noses and minds in a thriller or romance novel checked out from the public library. Conversation tends to be route-based. On the LRT there’s little chitchat. Riders are mission-driven, focused on their next stop, no time for sociability.   On less traveled bus routes friendships are forged as workers, shoppers, “regulars” first nod at each other, eventually dare to exchange words, venture to share observations on the weather or the last night’s game. When regular riders fail to board the bus, seasoned riders worry and wonder. On longer bus routes between the burbs and the workplace passengers have been known to share birthday and other celebrations. There are “hot topics” on the bus where conversation still survives. Altered routes and schedules top the list of common concerns. Recounting of the miseries of the day in the office tends to stifle the mood.   Young children capture the attention of work-weary riders, eager to get home to their own children and grandchildren. There is one intriguing passenger type that gives me pause – It’s the Zen-like rider who seems to create an island of mindfulness that somehow transcends the moment. This person shows no emotion, closes his/her eyes or fixates on a single object, seemingly oblivious to all surroundings, including cell phone abusers and exhausted toddlers. Though there is much to admire in their detachment, my people-watching predilection runs counter to the discipline it demands. Needless to say, the time-honored stereotype of execs clutching their brief cases has long given way to smart phones and related paraphernalia. A stealthy glance over the elbow of a nearby “suit” leaves the curious voyeur to wonder at the work-relevance of action figures, crossword puzzles and sports replays.   Thumb dexterity is a must for the regular commuter. Obviously, the public transit experience reflects the season – These are summer thoughts.  During winter months the mood changes, focus is on survival, the triumph of commuter over ice, un-cleared bus stops , unpredictable schedules – the thrill of finding a seat when valued space is reduced by requisite arctic outerwear. Though amenities are sparse, public transit is increasingly the choice of those who care about the environment, road safety, staggering parking fees and personal stress management. It’s all about attitude. Bottom line: Public transit is all about the opportunity to psychoanalyze one’s fellow traveler, to relinquish traffic navigation to a competent driver who knows the rules and the road, to let one’s mind wander, to experience the power of the Go-To card, to interact with strangers on common ground. Any one of these attributes of public transit trumps the frustration of being stuck in endless construction and/or rush hour traffic.

Milestones Mark Impact of Major Federal Legislation

An earlier post offered an intro to the plans for commemoration of the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) (https://marytreacy.wordpress.com/category/disability-issues/) There are scores of activities planned for the ADA’s “silver anniversary”, many – certainly not all – are mentioned in that post. One state event that seems particularly inclusive and experiential is the family day set for July 26, sponsored by the Minnesota Historical Society and the Minnesota State Council on Disabilities. There will be free admission to the Minnesota History Center for all, live music, dancing, film/video and more with ASL interpreters, audio describers, deaf/blind interpreters and open captioning. More at http://www.minnesotahistorycenter.org/accessibility.

Since that post I have come across several thoughtful and informative posts about ADA, including great information in the most recent issue of Access Press, now free and accessible to all. (Note the location of Access Press newsstands and resolve to read it regularly – if the newspaper isn’t handy, find out how to make this essential resource more accessible in your community.) Also since that post I came across a lovely editorial piece on “the beauty of the Americans with Disabilities Act” posted by Susan Henderson, Executive Director of the Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund. It’s a good read and reminder: https://usodep.blogs.govdelivery.com/2015/07/10/the-beauty-of-the-americans-with-disabilities-act/

By interesting coincidence, July also marks the 50th anniversary of Medicare and Medicaid, officially signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson on July 30, 1965. Today there are more than 54 million people enrolled in Medicare. In fact, there is a good deal of overlap between these two major federal programs. For example, in 1973 disability coverage under Medicare was introduced for people under 65 with long-term disabilities. Significantly, both ADA and Medicare represent the culmination of political “movements” – both represent federal action with profound and permanent impact on virtually every individual, family and institution.

As with ADA, recognitions and celebrations of Medicare/Medicaid are popping up everywhere – in health care facilities, senior centers, places of worship and more:

For armchair celebrants there are great online tools.

  • The January 29 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine carried a thorough and illuminating history of “Medicare at 50 – Origins and Evolution.” http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMhpr1411701. It’s everything you ever wanted to know about the legislation and didn’t even know to ask. The article is worthy of serious study and discussion, particularly in light of ongoing political forces and fomentations.
  • Earlier this month the New York Times Editorial Board published a helpful discussion of Medicare and Medicaid, with up-to-date information re. the relationship with the Affordable Care Act. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/03/opinion/medicare-and-medicaid-at-50.html?_r=0
  • The Henry J. Kaiser Foundation offers a history of the road to Medicare – of particular interest, perhaps, to those who’ve lived that history. http://kff.org/medicaid/report/medicaid-at-50/
  • Kaiser Family Foundation has also updated a video that traces the evolution of the legislation over the past half-century.
  • The Center for Medicare Advocacy has published a powerful resource entitled “Medicare Matters: 50 Insights for Medicare’s 50th Anniversary” http://www.medicareadvocacy.org/50-insights-for-medicares-50th-anniversary/ The informative narrative offers a great review of the powerful impact of Medicare.   Implicit is the parallel impact of recently passed federal legislation.

At the other end of the mobility continuum the Minnesota Nurses Association is sponsoring a Medicare 50th Birthday BBQ Bash on Thursday, July 30, 5-9 p.m. at Highland Park Picnic Shelter, 1227 Montreal Avenue in St. Paul.  It’s free and open to all who want to celebrate the life and legacy of Medicare. Check with MNA at 651 414 2800.

Finally, if you happen to be in DC on Saturday, August 1, fill your water bottle and join the Healthcare Justice March, 10:00-Noon at Potomac Park on the National Mall. The National Nurses United and the Labor Campaign for Single-Payer Healthcare are joining forces to commemorate Medicare at 50. More at https://www.facebook.com/events/1571769846-427625,

Too often there is a disconnect between the public and political negotiations inside the Beltway. Both ADA and Medicare/Medicaid are powerful examples of what happens when the body politic and its representatives communicate and create together. Reflecting on the past half century of systemic change reminds us how political and social forces shape the daily lives of everyone. It’s worth the effort to reflect on examples of how the system did, should – and could – work to create institutions that serve the lives of every American.

Update:  http://www.commondreams.org/news/2015/07/24/ada-25-years-after-landmark-civil-rights-law-some-wonder-wheres-equality