Reflections on attending the DQSH Protest

Last Saturday I attended the Clearview Library Drag Queen Story Hour as a counter-protester. This was my first time ever making a political sign and exercising my First Amendment rights in this way, and was quite an interesting experience.

The story hour itself was a registration-required event, and had filled up in the prior week. Apparently there was a 200 person waiting list (the largest room in the library had a max occupancy of 80). Outside were about 100 people in the designated “free speech zone” – an area 30 feet from the entrance to permit library patrons and story hour participants to arrive. Of the 100, it was about a 1/3 to 2/3 split between protesters against the event and supporters/counter-protesters.

Protesters seemed to fall into two large camps: people protesting on religious/moral grounds, with signs citing biblical verses and various religious and moral messages about corrupting children, as well as conservatives there that were “fighting the Left”. It was questionable as to whether some of the protesters were part of the Alt-Right, but some of the protesters seemed to be part of some larger conservative-based movement.

As for the supporters, there were also 2 segments: those drawing attention to the LGBTQ issues, counter-protesting the intolerance, as well as those generally supporting the library, freedom of speech, and general opposition to the protesters. I would count myself among the latter group, but my nuanced position seemed to confuse people on both sides at some point.

When I got there at 9:45, it wasn’t clear where people were standing, so I just stood on the corner and held up my signs. A lot of people who would later stand with the “against” protesters told me they liked my signs and were conversing with me. Apparently, some event supporters yelled obscenities at me as well, but I didn’t hear them. Then when the lines became apparent and I saw someone I knew, I went and stood next to her, at which point I had a bunch of supporters come up and apologize to me. A lot of the protesters suddenly had problems with my signs. As the morning progressed, a few supporters from the back came up to me and said they liked my signs.

The protests were mostly civil, both sides chanting back and forth. There were a few minor confrontations, but the police did an excellent job making their presence known without interfering or infringing the free speech rights of everyone. Truth be told, I think both sides had some chants and actions that were bad looks. Protests are a blunt instrument, and when you remove nuance, you give way to stereotypes to take hold. You could see the protesters demonize the supporters as religious heretics that were enabling child endangerment, while the supporters generalized the protesters as religious nuts and Alt-Right hate groups.

I didn’t take part in any of the chants and mainly stood silently unless someone directly yelled at me about my sign, at which point I would engage back with them. One of the protesters that engaged with me finally said he couldn’t disagree with my points, so that was kinda cool. At the end of the event when the supporters disbanded, I walked back to my car past the police chief who shook my hand, then by a few of the “Don’t tread on me” protesters. I told them to have a good day and they said: “you too”.

In the end, I think this was a worthwhile event for our community. Diverse programming was offered at the library unimpeded, and there was a lively conversation about culture, morals, and freedom outside of the library. I realize that people may feel uncomfortable about social disruption, but protests (and counter protests) and demonstration are integral parts of our American heritage. Just because conversations don’t happen in the public square doesn’t mean that they’re not taking place, these events just enable communities to bring these views into the light for all to see.

New Windsor Library Defeated

The New Windsor Library Initiative, which I adamantly supported, was unfortunately defeated.  After spending this month reflecting on the reasons for the loss, I ultimately attribute it to the following factors:

  1. Members of the community disagreed about the inherent value libraries offer to our community, especially to those who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford access to the resources the library provides. Many ultimately decided that the elevated taxes would not result in a positive return on our community.
  2. Members of the community had a fundamental misunderstanding about the Library District, its boundaries, its relationship to other local municipal entities, and the way libraries are funded, both operationally and through facility expansion.
  3. Members of the community had confusion and misunderstanding about how the proposal came to be, how proposed funds would be allocated, and the previous attempts to solicit input and collaboration.
  4. Members of the community did not demonstrate an appreciation for present and anticipated growth, and its impact on current library capacity and their staffing – nor did they appreciate the future capacity planning with the proposed library, seeing it was something that was too large for the present time. I think we only need to look to our newly expanded recreation center to find out what happens when a community expands facilities with current demand in mind, where even mid-morning weekday classes are overfilled with attendees.

    …And finally

  5. Some opponents of the library measure were able to exploit the community’s lack of knowledge (especially for #2 and #3) and instead projected scandalous motives to explain issues that they did not understand. I found it most egregious that terms like “No Transparency” and “No Collaboration” were used when there were numerous public meetings and opportunities for input, as well as hundreds of pages of feasibility studies and proposals were available through the website. Rather than clarify their concerns, many simply used their lack of knowledge as justification for their distrust in our government institutions. While I do think it’s important for our society to be skeptical and scrutinous of our municipalities, many assigned nefarious motives for that which they did not understand, hiding behind their own ignorance.

Ultimately, I do think that our community needs to do a better job to improve issues #2-4, and hope that it can come through meaningful discussion, debate, and consensus towards what is best for our community. I do think there will always be those that fall into the #1 and #5 camps but hope that those can be diminished as we do attempt to improve #2-4. Perhaps it means more meetings and dedicated hearings. Having participated in two previous capital campaigns through my church, having an abundance of listening sessions and solicitation of input help quell concerns that many had. I would be very interested in doing my part to assist in any way I can, hoping that we can continue to provide a quality library that meets the needs of Windsor for generations to come.